New Zealand tends to conjure up images of rugby, wine, sheep (possibly with mint sauce!) – maybe even Lord of the Rings or, to some of us from a certain vintage, Kiri te Kanawa. To its indigenous Maori population it is ‘The Land of The Long White Cloud’, but to the 1,600+ international delegates at the Social Enterprise World Forum in Christchurch (25 – 29 September), it is a land of creativity, enterprise and optimism.
Christchurch is a city recovering from 2 devastating earthquakes in 2010 and 2011 and is still under repair and regeneration. In 2011 185 people were killed and the city centre was virtually destroyed – rendering large parts of it a no-go area for over two years. Innovation, investment, and inclusive growth have become integral to its reinvention as it works hard to restore its Business District while addressing the many social issues emerging in the aftermath of the quake. Despite frustrations of slow progress, funding shortages and – at times – conflicted priorities, the city provided the perfect backdrop to a conference focussed on using business as a force for good, as well as a tool for economic restoration and growth.
The theme for the conference was ‘Creating our Tomorrow’ and, from the first session to the last; delegates were greatly inspired by a range of international entrepreneurs, investors, practitioners, policymakers and academics who generously shared their experience to date and vision for the future. Common themes coming out of the 50+ sessions and 25+ study visits included: an inherent desire across the globe to change the way we work (with sufficient success stories to show it can be done without compromising productivity); the future workforce has clear expectations of social justice that current employment practices don’t yet universally meet; integrity and profit are not mutually exclusive.
Mike Curtin from DC Central Kitchen, Washington, was just one of the many speakers who highlighted the synergy between economic and social impact through his expanding business model. His community kitchen trains jobless adults for careers in catering, then employs them to prepare the meals sold to external customers. In just over 12 years he has led the organisation to increase turnover from $500K to just under $9m. The Kitchen currently employs nearly 186 people, approximately 45% of whom are graduates from its own training programme. Mike will be coming to Scotland next year, to run a masterclass, before the 2018 Forum.
The talk o’ the Christchurch steamie was this new way of doing business and driving a global social economy movement that becomes the mainstream. However, it wasn’t just talk – there were robust examples on display at nearly every session from entrepreneurs coming through all walks of life. Scotland could hold its head up – the dual pillars of our Economic Strategy generated cheers from our new international colleagues. The Homeless World Cup and the Social Enterprise World Forum itself were created by Scottish entrepreneurs. Colin Downie from Wildhearts, one of SE’s own account managed companies, was repeatedly quoted online after a session where he talked of going beyond CSR to use economic success as a tool for social change.
Our collective input was very well received with over 30 people from the private, public and third sectors in Scotland presenting the workshops, furiously networking and participating in the handover ceremony. It was clear from feedback that, with 5,600 social enterprises for a population of 5.5m, we are respected as a nation that leads from the front. However, Angela Constance MSP used her position as Cabinet Secretary for Communities, Social Security and Equalities, to speak of ‘being part of a global movement for change’ in her presentation. She subsequently met with all Scottish delegates to discuss the importance of staying ahead of the curve and avoiding complacency.
It was an inspiring, powerful, life-changing five days for those of us lucky enough to represent Scotland. The good news is there are only seven months to go before the Social Enterprise World Forum comes home to Edinburgh for its 10th anniversary in September 2018. With over 1300 people expected to attend, there are at least 30 people across the four corners of the country who are determined to build on the energy, talent and potential we saw in New Zealand to help make it the best yet!
A mobile dance hall in the centre of a Christchurch demolition site assembled as a makeshift facility in the wake of the earthquake. This refurbished washing machine, operating as a jukebox, costs $2 for half an hour of music and lights – complete with glitterball! Used by dance troupes of all genres, this innovative design is now being marketed for wider distribution following interest in other NZ cities.
By Darah Zahran – Social Enterprise Manager – Scottish Enterprise
To register for SEWF 2018, click here.