Social enterprises are businesses, which may be non-profit or for profit, which seek to combat social problems. They are companies which use business as a means to achieve social or environmental improvements in communities around the world. The ‘social enterprise’ umbrella is large and definitions contested, and encapsulates a vast spectrum of businesses. On Monday Week 5, the Lancaster University Business & Sustainable Development Society hosted a workshop, led by Dr Matthew (Matt) MacDonald, from the Institute for Entrepreneurship and Enterprise Development at Lancaster. Dr MacDonald himself has run several social enterprises.
The event itself was three fold. Firstly, MacDonald grappled with what ‘social enterprise’ means, and in typical academic style, a social enterprise is a different thing to different people. The term may be used or associated with a variety of people; political leaders, NGO founders, community workers, business people with a social conscience, etc.
Secondly, the more interactive element of the event ensued. In groups of two or three, the audience was asked to address a case study and come up with solutions. The scenario was such that you were making a decision about running a nursery in a less well-off area, as you have identified this as a solution to reduce unemployment in a community by giving parents support. Simultaneously, you are running a nursery in a more affluent neighbouring area. You were to decide how you would run the company, for profit or not for profit, and why, and to consider the issues which might be caused in this situation. Would you subsidise the nursery in the poor area with the profits from the nursery in the affluent area? Would you use the nursery in the affluent area to create employment opportunities? Participants were asked to consider their mission. After a few minutes of discussion, the audience gave some feedback on their decisions. MacDonald would then challenge them about what issues may arise. One of the most important things about these events is the interactive experience and everybody got involved, which makes the session much more effective.
The event concluded with MacDonald sharing his experience of working with social enterprises. Having been a founding director of Shared Future CIC (Community Interest Company), a non-profit which helps social enterprises to form, he has a wealth of knowledge in this area. All profits from the company are reinvested into projects each year. LMOAO is another recent innovation of his, which is an entertainment company which organises street performers in Lancaster, and is growing to expand into other towns in the future. This enterprise is just weeks old and hopes to employ two or three full time staff members as the company grows. Other projects which he has been involved with include Diversity FM, LudusDance, Preston FM, amongst others.
Robert Gheorghiu, the President of the Business & Sustainable Development Society said of the event: “One of the aims of the Lancaster University Business & Sustainable Development Society is to spread awareness about the ways in which entrepreneurs can “give back” to society. I know it sounds like a cliché, everybody’s saying it these days, but businesses definitely need to put their profits in balance with their environmental, social and cultural impact. Social Entrepreneurship is one way of achieving this, so we organised this event together with Dr. Matthew MacDonald, to reach out to the students, especially non-business students, and let them know about this possibility.” If you are interested in building a social enterprise, Dr MacDonald or ‘Unlimited’ in the Base in Alexander Square are good places to start.