Social enterprises are businesses which trade for a social purpose that reinvest or donate over half their profits to further this social or environmental mission. They are an increasingly important part of the U.K. economy contributing £60 billion ($77 billion) and employing 2 million people. Estimates are there are 100,000 in the U.K.. SEUK’s State of Social Enterprise report shows a healthy picture where social enterprise is leading the way in diversity and innovation. According to this report, 41% of social enterprises are led by women and over half (51%) have a majority female workforce, 12% are BAME led and 34% have BAME directors.
However, Voice4Change England, a national ethnic minority lobbying body, observed that the BME sector is not “properly engaged in policy-making structures and networks relating to Social Enterprises, and that funding is not reaching the BME groups that are developing as social enterprises.” As I was named as one of the leading women in social enterprise in the U.K. on the WISE100 list, and invited to give a keynote talk, I looked around the room filled with some of the most inspiring women, and could not help notice that there was not much diversity around us.
Are we giving out some kind of subliminal message, creating an unconscious bias that social enterprise is not for the more marginalised members of the community?
Unconscious Bias can be projected through the words that we use, the images that we use, and the messages that we put out. I know, from my own experience, as a woman of color, and yes, I prefer to use that word, however politically charged it might be, of setting up and running a social enterprise of the kind of challenges I have faced accessing information and financial support for my enterprise.
I have found it frustrating to access financial support as social enterprise often falls into those tiny cracks where it is not a charity, but also not a “normal” business, and hence can be disqualified for a lot of other grants. At the start of 2018, London Mayor Sadiq Khan launched a £7 million ($9 million) initiative to help get more young people from diverse backgrounds into the capital’s technology sector, while over 20% of its £400m ($514 million) in lending has been given to BAME entrepreneurs to date, equating to 11,000 people. However, again, many of these grants and financial opportunities are limited to the south. There is still a huge north-south divide even though there are recent attempts to mobilize the impact economy in the North. The Office for National Statistics showed that the gap between the north and the south was widening. For instance, in the last survey in 2014, the economy in the north showed a growth of around 3% which was considerably lower than that of 6.8% in the south. Employment, the quality of schools and life expectancy follow a similar pattern. This limits the diversity of the sector as the opportunities available in the north of the country lag behind that of the south.
As I talk to members of my community and network, I find that there is still much confusion about the social enterprise model. Is there enough awareness amongst not only the BAME community but generally amongst people? In my facebook group for women social entrepreneurs, there are so many people who find the boundaries between non-profit, charity, community enterprise and social enterprise vague. The School for Social Enterprise and other organizations are doing important work in raising awareness of the social enterprise sector and setting up training programmes. It is worth considering whether this information is reaching diverse sectors and communities.