At the 10th anniversary of the Good Deals conference (combined with the 1st anniversary of Beyond Good Business), nestled within London’s Royal Institute of British Architects, hundreds of social entrepreneurs, social investors, intermediaries and sector experts came together to ‘explore how to do good business better’.
Social enterprise makes more than £55 billion for the UK economy, but in 2016 only 1,142 deals were made. Less than 1 per cent of UK social ventures have accessed social investment in the last six years. Can true impact be created more through philanthropy, or through mission-driven entrepreneurship? This was a question asked often, to nuanced responses.
‘[Social enterprise needs] to grow, because our problems are bigger than we are,’ said Kresse Wessling, co-founder of Elvis and Kresse. Elvis and Kresse hand make luxury bags and accessories from reclaimed materials, mostly notably fire hoses (with 50% of their profits going to the Fire Fighters Charity). As the general public grows more conscious of their consumer choices, it’s time for social enterprises ‘to deliver on multiple positive objectives and make the world better for other people’s grandchildren.’
However, the luxury of being able to ‘choose’ as a consumer is something not felt by all. Indy Johar, co-founder of Dark Matter Laboratories, asked the audience to think bigger in 2018 ‘as our problems are at a structural level’. Money is lost when it’s spent on enterprises alone – we need to think toward schemes such as the Universal Basic Income as a ‘means to unleash everyone. We need to see welfare as an investment and not a cost. Then we will see change.’ Johar spoke of making a dent by talking about the future of regulation and the institutional microviolences of poverty and racism. ‘Does Black Lives Matter make more impact than social enterprise?’
Workshops at the event included ‘Gender Lens Social Impact Investing’ and ‘What’s the Deal on Diversity?’. Both well-led panels argued that if diversity only improves within those leading and making investments, that it is not enough. Sado Jirde, director of Black South West Network (BSWN), spoke of the role of social investment in addressing global challenges – and that it hasn’t worked. BAME accessibility to social investment has also failed. Those farthest from the market don’t have access to it. Both Sado and Susan Aktemel, executive director of Homes for Good, agreed that it is important for social investors to supply funds toward infrastructure in order to help businesses to scale. To be a true partner in growth.
Future generations were a focus for many speakers at the conference. Amit Bhatia, CEO of the Global Social Impact Investment Steering Group (GSG) – the successor to the Social Impact Investment Taskforce established by the G8 – stated: ‘We have a unique opportunity to solve problems so that our children and grandchildren ask, ‘What went right?’ rather than ‘What went wrong?’. In providing a global solution, it could claim capital for a higher purpose. There was a strong sense of resolve in pushing capital, a heavy burden over the heads of so many, toward a less exclusive future with far-reaching potential. Mairi Mackay, who leads the British Council’s Global Social Enterprise programme, argued that ‘capital’ itself should not just mean ‘money’. That there needs to be a ‘combined systemic, individual and institutional approach to innovation to harness creative and social capital… and to heighten the conversation of values’.
As the conference looks to reconvene next year, we were left to ponder Amit Bhatia’s summary. ‘The question is, can the invisible hands of the market be guided by an invisible heart?’
Amy McGoldrick is Alliance‘s Marketing and Advertising Officer.