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Bringing Social Business to the Valleys

April 1st 2019

Today, Helen Cunningham discusses social businesses and how Unltd is bringing them to the valleys.

Social businesses, that is, businesses that put a social purpose at the heart of what they do, contribute about £2.37 billion every year to the Welsh economy. There’s around 1,700 of them in Wales but there’s scope to expand the sector, as it currently provides for only 3% of employment. We discovered this in our work last year with the Wales Co-operative Centre on creating an inclusive economy. We think it could be an important part of the mix for building better economic resilience especially in the valleys; something we are currently doing work on.

What’s so good about social business?

Social businesses tend to be more rooted in their local community for starters, so there’s far less risk of them upping and leaving and it also means more money circulating in the local economy.  Second, they create local jobs and sometimes opportunities for people who find it difficult to get work. Social businesses usually have higher levels of employee commitment and job satisfaction and tend to be more value driven. Successful social enterprises also act as demonstrators of alternative forms of business and that’s important where the sector’s profile is still quite low.

Unltd

The Bevan Foundation recently attended workshops that Unltd are delivering for people in the valleys who are, or want to become, social entrepreneurs. Unltd is a charity that offers support, advice and funding for people with a business idea that has a social purpose. Their term for this; “profit with purpose”.

It’s always a good to attend an event for the valleys, in the valleys and true to the principles of social purpose, they were hosted by grassroots, community run venues. The sessions brought together people to share ideas, experiences and support by taking a step by step approach to thinking about what’s involved in setting up a social business and putting them in touch with others who can help them in their venture.

It was fantastic to hear from social entrepreneurs who’ve been there, done it and overcome the hurdles, hiccups and surprises along the way. First-hand stories are nearly always more powerful and memorable than statistics and facts alone, so the honesty of one woman who shared the tale of her carpeting business that started out over ten years ago and now employs ten people was refreshing. She was candid in sharing her mistakes, disappointments and what she would have done differently. The mistakes and disappointments paled in comparison though to her enthusiasm and sheer love of her social business.

The social enterprise eco-system

By bringing people together to discuss, work through and exchange ideas and knowledge this way, it makes something that may seem daunting far less so. Dispelling myths and hearing from people who are doing it themselves or offering different types of start-up support seemed to instill a new level of confidence in budding social entrepreneurs and ferment seeds of ideas into firmer plans. The mix of people in the room naturally leads to a making of connections between organisations and partners, and a coalition of like-minded and willing people quickly emerges.

The power of bringing people together, making connections and sharing can’t be overstated. We’ve previously said that we need a thriving social enterprise ‘eco-system’ in Wales to help grow the sector. In practice that looks like appropriate business support, good networks and collaboration, exchanging ideas and disseminating good practice.

The work of Untld is certainly helping to add to this eco-system. Just imagine if we could double the number of social businesses in Wales. That’s another £2.37 billion in the economy, more people in work and, we suspect, better economic resilience.

Helen Cunningham is project officer at the Bevan Foundation.

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