Stories in philanthropy

Insights from SEWF2017

Allan English, Jan Owen, Kevin Robbie, Catherine Brown, Dan Madhavan, Jay Boolkin and David Brookes share their reflections from the 2017 Social Enterprise World Forum.

Nicole Richards

More than 1,600 social entrepreneurs, philanthropists and changemakers from 45 countries attended the 2017 Social Enterprise World Forum in Christchurch held September 27-29. The program, which featured more than 170 speakers, was designed around the theme: “Ka koroki te manu – Creating our tomorrow” – with delegates urged to create a global legacy of positive change.

There was a strong Australian contingent, helped in no small part by the leadership of the English Family Foundation and NZ-based Akina Foundation which instigated a bursary fund that helped 63 social enterprises make the journey across the Tasman.

The fund, which was presented by Social Traders in partnership with the English Family Foundation, Philanthropy Australia and Akina Foundation, was also supported by The Ian Potter Foundation, Equity Trustees, Victorian State Government, Queensland State Government, Vasudhara Foundation, The Snow Foundation, Wheelton Philanthropy, Marist 180, Kofi Foundation, Hunt Family Foundation, Stuart Fox Family Foundation and Wise Foundation.

For philanthropist and entrepreneur Allan English, the highlight of SEWF2017 was the quality of conversation.

“People using their creative and entrepreneurial skills with a focus on benefiting others is a juicy environment that left me with an almost permanent smile on my face the whole conference!” English said.

“It was great to meet up with global leaders such as Peter Holbrook from Social Enterprise UK to learn the importance that social procurement plays in building the sector and I was really pleased to see the range of workshops that covered many of the important components of building a social enterprise. The social impact measurement sessions with Australians Kevin Robbie and George Liacos were very popular.”

“Innovation is going to be the key to solving some of our challenging issues we face in our society,” English said.

“Developing and supporting social entrepreneurs will create a greater community participation through purchasing goods and services that have a mission alignment to building a civil society.”

True to his word, English recently announced a $25,000 social procurement challenge to spur the capacity and scale on the supply side of 'good procurement'.   

For FYA’s Jan Owen, who presented in three sessions, the gathering of changemakers represented a “global tribe, which is being regenerated with the participation of social enterprise.”

“It was evident, from examples all over the world, that social enterprise is increasingly a key driver of collective economic development and social change,” she said.

Owen presented in three sessions during which she posed several key themes and questions:

Disruption: “Amid accelerating global challenges, are we curiously, openly and actively shaping the trends and shifts happening around us or are we ignoring them to pursue or personal passion paths or dismissing them as the machinations of ‘the oppressors?’”

Re-generation: “Social enterprise disruption has been around market failures but are we disrupting the institutions and institutional responses we see and understand to be the real system failures. The strength of social enterprise is local but the ability to share, replicate and learn still eludes us globally.”

Epic meaning meets urgent ambition: “The new actors in social enterprise are the 1.8 million young people globally with their own stories, ideas and vision for the future. We will fail the next generation of social change agents if we don't: build eco-systems; support risk taking, rigorous experimentation and future generations as 'apprentices' to understanding the complex, systematic failures they are trying to address and #flearn (fail whilst simultaneously learning).”

Catherine Brown from Lord Mayor’s Charitable Fund said one of the strongest themes at SEWF2017 was collaboration between social enterprises.

“This is not only collaboration to share ideas and learnings about founding, growing and scaling a social enterprise, which takes business skills and a focus on social impact, but also collaborating to win contracts from government to provide services."

Jay Boolkin, Myer Innovation Fellow and co-founder of Social Change Central, said the highlight of SEWF2017 was the “opportunity to be surrounded by and meet so many people from all over the world who are committed to unleashing the potential of social entrepreneurship.”
“One of the most interesting things I learned was that more than 50 per cent of attendees think impact investing is not working for the social enterprise community,” Boolkin said.
Closer collaboration between intermediaries was something that Boolkin said he would like to see more of, adding that when it comes to social enterprise in Australia, “This is just the beginning.”  

Like many others, Dan Madhavan from YGAP was inspired by the calibre of the delegates. “An old boss of mine once said to me ‘Dan, there are two types of people in the world. The first type see a problem and walk as fast as they can in the other direction. The second type see a problem and start running towards it. The second type are rare.’ I feel like I had the opportunity to spend time with an insanely large group of type two people in Christchurch and I am very grateful for it.”

Knowing that social enterprise needs to be both big and small was a key learning for Madhavan who said that the ability for social enterprise to stay small, local and connected was important but not the end of the story.

“If that is all social enterprise ever becomes then an opportunity will have been lost. There is an opportunity to make social enterprise big.  Not as individual organisations but as a movement that influences the way business sees its role in society and its responsibility within community. “

Another key point for Madhavan was that power matters. “It changes the way we see people, how we engage with them and what we expect from them,” he said.

“We need to be careful of seeing people as a beneficiary. That says more about my need than it does theirs. I loved learning that. Social enterprise often provides the opportunity for us to see people as potential not as an object of charity.  We can see them as customers, employees, suppliers and members all of which have far more power than beneficiaries.” 

Kevin Robbie from Think Impact, who has been a member of the SEWF steering group and lived through the emergence of the social enterprise movement in his native Scotland, said the highlight of this year’s event was the energy that surrounded it.

“There is still a massive challenge for social enterprise to get from where it is to where it wants to be,” Robbie said.

“There was lots of talk about an emerging new economic model/social enterprise challenging the status quo but the reality is that most of the businesses are marginal, operating in niche markets and, as yet, not fully committed to proving their impact (as survival is more important!) To get to where the movement wants to be will require greater collaboration and focus on articulating impact.

“Like Scotland in the early 2000s, Australia has a number of great social enterprises and a growing sector, but we do not have a clear voice. I think the key thing the sector needs to do is find a common voice on a few key issues and collaborate around lobbying for change. That will require changemakers, social entrepreneurs, social enterprises to work together and philanthropy to back the sector.”

Back in Australia, Robbie said he hopes to work with social enterprises around how they can articulate their impact story.

“This can be one of the most powerful tools we have to begin to see change,” he said. “If we can get more stories of impact told it will build greater awareness of the movement.”

David Brookes from Social Traders also has a long history of involvement with SEWF and has seen the event grow dramatically.

“SEWF09 held in Melbourne, attracted a little over 500 people, the first international social enterprise gathering of its type,” he said.

“SEWF09 along with Finding Australia's Social Enterprise Sector 2010 Research Project were, in my view, instrumental in putting social enterprise on the map here in Australia.

“Eight years later, SEWF17 brought together well over three times as many people and a personal highlight for me was to see the way in which SEWF has been a platform for the growth of the global social enterprise movement,” Brookes said. 

“Since the inaugural 2008 forum held in Edinburgh, we've seen a progressive increase in awareness, interest and engagement from all quarters, including the philanthropic sector and social impact investors.

“Though growing strongly, SEWF17 highlighted that social enterprise still faces some obstacles. There was ongoing discussion and debate at the conference about:

  • The need for a consistent definition of what a social enterprise is and the tax and investment benefits this should confer.
  • The importance of bridging the early stage funding gap for high impact, low margin social enterprise and the critical role philanthropy can and is playing to address this gap.
  • Designing and developing performance metrics that enable enterprises to more easily measure their social impact.

“Another issue raised was the challenge for philanthropy in knowing whether to make funding available to social enterprise as an investment through their corpus or to make a grant. Positively, there is a growing trend for philanthropy, at least in Australia, to use its corpus for investment, which is opening up a new source of finance for social enterprise.”


Read more about the goings on at SEWF2017 here.

The Social Enterprise World Forum heads to Edinburgh in 2018.


Photo courtesy of SEWF2017

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