Businesses can help transform our communities

AS LONDON and the world gears up for London 2012, there has never been a greater opportunity for the business world to create a lasting social and economic legacy.

As politicians search for answers to stimulate growth, enterprise comes up time and time again as a solution. Small businesses are the lifeblood of our economy and the backbone of strong, prosperous communities. They have the power to regenerate and transform communities, providing much-needed jobs and stimulating economic growth.

This morning, together with BP and Deloitte, Business in the Community is launching arc, a new initiative to support the development and growth of social enterprises in the Olympic host boroughs.

London is already a hotbed of entrepreneurial talent, with 33 per cent of small and medium-sized enterprises (SME) now based in the capital. Yet the Olympic host boroughs are the greatest cluster of deprivation in England and Wales, with 77,000 more unemployed people then the London average. Social enterprises in the capital turn over £4bn a year alone. They have a greater potential to create much-needed jobs than other business models, recruiting more people in relation to turnover than their mainstream equivalents.

One of the first social enterprises we are supporting through arc is Blue Sky Development and Regeneration, which provides real, paid work for prison leavers. This one small business has provided employment to nearly 500 ex-offenders – that’s greater than the entire inmate population of some of Britain’s prisons. So imagine for a moment the impact on London, and its communities and economy, if more social enterprises were given the tools, opportunities and support to scale up their businesses.

Big business can learn much from social enterprises, in particular their agility, innovation and creativity. Similarly, the mainstream business community has a lot to offer social enterprises, and through arc will work with the sector to support its emerging business leaders and develop those businesses looking to achieve scale and create jobs through a combination of mentoring and tailored business support.

At Business in the Community our purpose is simple. We offer business the tools and expertise they need to transform their businesses. And we ask businesses to work in partnership with us to help transform communities and tackle serious social issues where business can make a real difference.

At a time when jobs and inspiration are much needed in our communities, businesses now have an opportunity to show leadership. Arc, and the 1,000 new jobs we aim to create, is one example of the powerful impact that can be created when businesses large and small collaborate to transform communities.

Stephen Howard is chief executive of Business in the Community. Business in the Community, BP and Deloitte are co-founders of arc, a new initiative launched today which aims to support social enterprise to create 1,000 new jobs in the Olympic host boroughs.