Last week, I attended a round table discussion about Social Enterprise and Higher Education Institutions at the department of Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS). The meeting was part of a larger event on social enterprise that was organised by Social Enterprise UK and UnLtd to mark Social Enterprise day.

The discussion explored different aspects in which universities operate and interact with the area of social entrepreneurship. It is just natural that when trying to argue a specific point, usually only one aspect of universities was in focus. So the discussion meandered through the areas of education, research, local economic impact and citizenship. The education aspects of teaching entrepreneurial skills and social commitment can be integrated in social enterprise activities. They are also hosting entrepreneurial staff who might want to extend their impact beyond scholarly contribution and spin-off activities that are based on their research. Universities are also a node in a wider knowledge and research network that can support social enterprises in the locality, beyond only working with students and staff. They are also large public bodies that can create significant impact through their contracts and procurement policies.

However, as the Universities UK report on social enterprise that was launched on the day demonstrated, the story is more complex. We have seen it at UCL in the report on staff engagement in third sector activities that was prepared for us by the Institute of Volunteering  Research.

The complexity is emerging because, inherently, the functions are not separated. Student education is closely linked to research, so if a student is participating in an enterprise society, and working on a research that will support a local social enterprise then we are mixing several of these functions. Staff members are also expressing this mix when they are viewing engagement with a social enterprise as part of their role as researchers and educators.The UCL SIFE society is working on a project they titled “UCL+” to explore the local impact of UCL and improve the impact.

In short, this complexity is not a bad thing – it shows that there is a lot of potential of embedding social enterprise in universities activities. It might be something that doesn’t obey clean taxonomies, but the more the various aspects are mixed, the better. 

At the end of 2010, UCL’s Office of the Vice-Provost (Enterprise) ran an internal competition to identify several Knowledge Transfer (KT) Champions across the institute.

‘KT Champions will distinguish themselves as leaders of knowledge transfer and research impact within their field, and contribute to UCL’s enterprise strategy as a whole… The activities of a KT Champion will include: (i) leading others through their own knowledge transfer work; (ii) building an understanding of opportunities and relations within their area and facilitating the growth of projects and partnerships; and (iii) supporting colleagues in developing their own knowledge transfer portfolios. KT Champions will be proactive and visionary in working with their counterparts and UCL Enterprise to develop the UCL enterprise strategy.’

Based on my work in setting up Mapping for Change and securing the UnLtd HE Development Award, I felt it was important that the area of Social Enterprise will be represented within the range of activities that KT Champions cover.

After a successful application, I am starting 2011 as the KT Champion in the area of Social Enterprise. During the coming year, I aim to develop this area within the wider UCL community. The activities that will be carried out over the year include: an implementation plan based on the findings from the Perception Mapping project in which the community that surrounds UCL told us what connection they would like to have with UCL; identifying existing third sector work at UCL – publicising it,  understanding barriers to growth and devising solutions; running a Social Enterprise ‘clinic’, with widely published opening times, to assist any member of the UCL community to start a social enterprise; and extending the activities of Mapping for Change.

During the launch of the programme, I was approached with questions about the concept of Social Enterprise, and my experience of establishing one, so I guess that it is going to be a busy year.

For more information about the UCL Knowledge Transfer Champions programme, see here.

Today I attended the UnLtd reception event for their Spring 2010 Level 2 Award winners. It was a very enjoyable and inspirational afternoon at the Huxton Apprentice, which is a Social Enterprise in its on right. The food was very good, so if you are looking for a place for a future event – you should consider it.

UnLtd is a charity that focuses on helping social entrepreneurs to develop their projects and achieve a better social impact. The level 2 Awards are for  ‘inspiring people who have innovative and entrepreneurial solutions to some of biggest challenges facing communities, wider society and the world.’ So it is a real honour to be awarded one together with Louise Francis who is running Mapping for Change.

Earlier this year, UnLtd teamed with the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE), to create a new set of awards which will encourage Social Entrepreneurship in the Higher Education sector. The Higher Education Social Entrepreneurship Awards programme was designed to ‘provides financial and non-financial support across Higher Education Institutions (HEI’s) in England to develop their expertise, skills, knowledge base and business support structures in social entrepreneurship and social enterprise activity’. I understand that many applications were submitted, so winning the award does mean that Mapping for Change was evaluated as a useful enterprise and I do hope that the support that we will receive will help us to grow more rapidly in the coming year.

What was especially wonderful about the event today is that it provided an opportunity to meet other award winners across the country, and learn about their projects. These include Jess Jowers from the The Global Bee Project, which are working to encourage ‘bee guardians’ and by so doing increasing local bee diversity, or Graham Barker, who run KPAC in Knowsley and provide training to people with disabilities, or Jane and Simon Berry who want Coca Cola to use its supply chain to deliver medicine across the world, and also another colleague who I met in the past researching Social Enterprise, Tim Curtis who has now integrated social enterprise into the teaching at University of Northampton. All the other projects and awardees were not less impressive – just check the Giving World Online or Enabled by Design or Student Hubs.

I must say that in terms of Social Enterprise ‘energy’, the Ordnance Survey funded GeoVation have a long way to go compared to the activities that UnLtd nurturing…

It is one thing to read about the different projects, but it is amazing to be in one room with so many people with such great ideas and passion to work on their area. I do hope that we will have opportunities to work jointly some other UnLtd awardees!

As part of a research project with UnLtd, the foundation for social entrepreneurs, I’m co-organising a session in the RGS-IBG Annual International Conference, 27-29 August 2008, on the geographicla aspects of social enterprise research. The detailed call is:

Social enterprise and social entrepreneurship have grown in quantity and strength in the last decade in the UK. Positioned within ‘Third Sector’ social enterprises are characterised by their business-like approach to social action and have grown in the UK under New Labour. The relevance of social enterprise to Geography has previously been by-passed by particular discourses that debate the political-economic and socio-economic nature of non-state, non-commercial organisations – namely volunteer or non-profit organisations. This work helps to define and map the landscape of the Third sector but is yet to give adequate attention to organisations and individuals who use their entrepreneurial ideas to deliver social change while aiming to be financially sustainable.

There is a need for more social and cultural geographers to examine the nature and emergence of social enterprise/entrepreneurship in the UK. Whilst some work has explored the interrelationships between people, place and volunteering (Milligan, 2007), work on social enterprise/entrepreneurship in this field is scarce. Social entrepreneurs identify social need at the local, national and global scales; generate interest from a variety of social, cultural, economic and political spheres; and create tangible/intangible social impacts on individuals, communities, and cultures through their encounters with people, environment and place.

For social and cultural geography, social entrepreneurs not only present the opportunity to revive long-standing debates over agency, community, citizenship, space and place but also to make contributions to recent work on mobility, diasporic geographies, geographies of enchantment and especially to rethink the links between modes of economic activity and the creation of social goods.

This session aims to move current debates in geography, e.g. within geographies of volunteerism, forward by looking at individuals as drivers of social change from a new perspective. This is also pertinent given that social entrepreneurship/enterprise is fast becoming the major force of change in UK society. This session stems from a collaborative research between UCL and a leading supporter of social entrepreneurs (UnLtd), and we want to create a forum for debate about the emergence of and contribution to be made by geographies of social enterprise.

We invite proposals from geographers to present papers on:

  • Geographical patterns of social entrepreneurial activities
  • The role of Social Enterprise, Voluntarism and Charities in shaping places
  • The concepts of space within the third sector, and how its geometry changes as result of social enterprise
  • The merits and demerits of mapping social impact
  • The relevance of non-spatial mapping to better understand social entrepreneurial activity.

If you are interested, please send expressions of interest to both m.haklay@ucl.ac.uk and LauraFry@unltd.org.uk

Deadline for title and abstracts (c. 200 words): 10 February 2008

This session is part of two planned sessions about Social Enterprise. The second one is a closed session organise by Dr. Sarah-Anne Munoz, which will focus on Social Enterprise, Social Theory and Geographies of Empowerment.

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