As the only international accreditation body for social enterprise, we have witnessed the growing interest in social enterprise from around the world. Almost a quarter of our website hits come from overseas and we now have 3 international Social Enterprise Mark holders.
We have also recently completed a piece of work for the British Council in China, advising on the development of a Chinese social enterprise accreditation system. Following a similar piece of work we did for the Russian Foundation in 2015, there are now more than 30 Russian social enterprises that hold their Social Enterprise Mark. Much of this interest is clearly being delivered and driven, at least in part, by universities and academics who have identified its potential.
An interesting report has just been published by the British Council, looking at how universities across the world are promoting and getting involved with social enterprise. The report responds to the growth of international interest in social enterprise and the parallel growth in interest from higher education institutions (HEIs). It highlights a number of ways in which HEIs are supporting the agenda, including:
- teaching and improving the student experience
- partnership opportunities
- addressing social inequalities and local need
- creating social impact
- acting as an incubator/catalyst given their potential economic multiplier effect
One of the major findings of the report is that there is challenge in terms of resourcing and time in partnering with social enterprises, particularly where social enterprise does not form part of a mission or strategy, as well as a lack of social enterprise international definition and understanding.
The Social Enterprise Mark and the Social Enterprise Gold Mark offer solutions to some of these problems. By getting buy-in from the whole university into social enterprise, and applying its own systems, processes and rigour to the definition and good practice of social enterprise, as defined by the Mark, the institution demonstrates that the principles have been embedded across the board strategically. It demonstrates to students, staff and partners that it is practicing what it teaches. It also tackles definition issues as there is a clear destination for partner social enterprises to work towards.
The short film that we have recently developed in partnership with HEFCE demonstrates, in the words of the universities that hold the Social Enterprise Mark, the value that staff and students gain from it. I would encourage you to have a look to see the breadth and diversity of work that is going on in UK universities that hold the Social Enterprise Mark and Social Enterprise Gold Mark.
We need to make the most of the fast growth and interest internationally in social enterprise, making sure it is not a fleeting fad. It offers a real alternative to the ‘business as usual’ model. Universities across the world are the leaders in thought and in teaching the next generation. The challenge of embedding it across universities is therefore a key plank in making sure that it is here to stay and that it does not get subsumed and side lined by the next fashionable topic.