Rising social awareness is driving a business start-up revolution

by

George Clooney Visits 'Social Bite' (Source: Getty)

It’s a growing global movement reflecting a shift towards a more inclusive business model: social entrepreneurship promotes new approaches to solve old social problems, creating shared financial and social value.

The UK is viewed around the world as a leader in social enterprise and creating social value through entrepreneurship. According to the UK Government, there are more than 70,000 social enterprises in the UK, contributing £24bn to the economy and employing nearly a million people.

Statistics show that social businesses consistently outperform their mainstream SME counterparts in terms of growth, innovation, business optimism, start-up rates and diversity of leadership.

40 per cent of UK social enterprises are led by women, a figure that increases to 60 per cent in Scotland whilst 49 per cent of today’s social enterprises were formed within the past five years.

Few social enterprises in the UK have attracted as much publicity as Social Bite in Edinburgh. High profile partnerships with Hollywood A-listers George Clooney, in 2015, and Leonardo DiCaprio, last November, have placed Social Bite firmly on the map. The business provides employment opportunities and support for the homeless, enabling customers to pay forward for meals that can be collected later by those in need.

Inspired by the work of Bangladeshi social entrepreneur professor Muhammad Yunus, Josh Littlejohn, MBE and his long-time friend Alan Mahon opened their first shop in August 2012. The business has since grown to be one of the largest independent corporate caterers in central Scotland, with sandwich shops in Edinburgh, Glasgow and Aberdeen.

Employment, food and suspended items aren’t the full story however. “There’s a greater need for secure housing and psychological support, which has led to the launch of the Social Bite Academy,” says Alan. The Academy aims to support 10 homeless people each year, helping them to find accommodation, access training, gain qualifications and ultimately find a full time job. The business is currently fundraising for its Social Bite Village – a community of low-cost, eco-friendly homes providing those marginalised from society with a roof over their heads, as well as access to counselling, addiction therapy and budgeting advice.

What’s more, Social Bite’s success has paved the way for a further collaboration with Scottish brewer, BrewDog. Launched in early 2016, Brewgooder aims to provide one million people with access to clean drinking water.

It’s typical of the sector’s ambition and track record of innovation in Scotland, where more than 5,000 social enterprises contribute more than £1.68bn GVA to the Scottish economy, supporting more than 100,000 jobs.

Edinburgh is at the forefront of this business revolution. The city is home to 13 per cent of all of Scotland’s social enterprises, and home to The Melting Pot, a coworking business accelerator for social innovators.

Supporting sustainable social business

Founded in 2007 by Claire Carpenter, Social Enterprise Scotland’s 2016 Social Enterprise Champion, The Melting Pot (TMP) provides a cost effective, 3,000 sq. ft. flexible working/meeting space. Based in the city centre, the business has been backed by the Scottish Government and is preparing to celebrate its 10th anniversary.

“I discovered that people get involved in social change when they connect with others who inspire them. I also knew many social start-ups secure two to three years funding and then struggle to survive,” says Claire.

“I wanted to break the boom and bust cycle by harnessing the power of networks. Working with others who share the same values in a hosted space, increases motivation, provides stimulus and synergies and allows knowledge share. The result is a cost effective, nurturing environment for social start-ups.

“We have 170 members, many of whom have been with us since day one. As members they can access a wide range of services and events, with over 10,000 delegates attending events at The Melting Pot annually.  However, our co-working space is available to anyone.”

Members are attracted by the concept of quality co-working.

Claire Carpenter, The Melting Pot, founder:

It’s about creating community: building intellectual, social and economic value through support and collaboration."

Ultimately, Claire and her team want to see the lessons learned through The Melting Pot applied to support social innovators around the world. Her ambition to promote quality coworking space internationally has led to the launch of The Coworking Accelerator Network, delivering proven templates and business systems in support of local social collectives.

Social enterprise goes global

Businesses such as The Melting Pot and Brewgooder reflect an increasingly international outlook among social enterprises. Launched in 2016, Ginerosity is supporting disadvantaged young adults here in the UK and abroad. Created by Pickering’s Gin at Summerhall Distillery in Edinburgh, the business is aiming to support 130 disadvantaged young adults this year, offering an intensive 12-month International Citizenship Programme.

Chris Thewlis, a board member of Social Enterprise Scotland and founder of GTS Solutions CIC, Scotland’s only social enterprise private security firm, was part of the team responsible for launching Ginerosity. “From conception, through development to production and launch, the entire process took just 45 days; quite an achievement for an international product available through Amazon and retailers across Europe.”

Chris continues: “For me, the social enterprise model works because I think it’s the right thing to do. From the consumer’s perspective however, the usual fundamentals apply: is the product good? Do I enjoy the experience? Is the product reasonably priced? Even better, by buying this product I’m also doing some good.”

It’s this ability to deliver added social value that is increasingly being recognised and sought by today’s more socially aware consumer and those willing to pay a premium to support businesses that serve the world, not just shareholders.