2018 was a particularly grim year for environmentalists. The IPCC special report spelled out that we had just twelve years to avert climate collapse; extreme weather events continued to become more frequent and intense; natural assets and biodiversity continued their decline.
At the same time, long-term economic restructuring and austerity underpinned an increase in personal precariousness and social fragmentation – creating space for the rise of strongman politicians who stepped their countries back from the hard-won commitments and obligations made just years earlier on the international stage.
But of course the world did not get to this perilous position over night. For decades, corporations and broader capitalist economic structures have been playing a key role in driving or exacerbating these trends. A relentless focus on profit maximisation for shareholders – at the expense of other stakeholders, such as workers, and the natural world – have consistently depleted human, social and natural systems.
As we look ahead to the next decade, it is almost certain these terrifying trends will continue on their current trajectory – unless we change the way we do business.
Community enterprise shows there is another way. Also known as community business or community-based social enterprise, the term refers to organisations or initiatives that are locally rooted, trade for the benefit of the community, and are owned by or accountable to the local community, leading to broad community impact.
These enterprises are entrenched in distinctive values: participation, self-help, solidarity, transparency, caring, and enjoyment. Diverse in nature, they encompass a range of business models, including co-operatives, social enterprises, and others. They have a long history, too, from mediaeval guilds and friendly societies to philanthropic model communities.
Community enterprises operate across a wide range of subsectors, from community energy to co-operative pubs and shops, and are supported by a range of local and national infrastructure organisations.
Power to Change, an independent charitable trust that seeks to strengthen community enterprise in England, estimates there may be as many as 7,000 such organisations operating in the UK, with a total market income of up to £1.2 billion in 2017.