Community | SEWF Events

Which challenge is harder, winning the right to host SEWF or the Olympic Games?

by Mirabelle Morah / January 2023

In this witty and insightful interview, Gerry Higgins (SEWF Founder and Managing Director) speaks with Mirabelle Morah (SEWF Communications Manager) as he reveals the ‘not-so-dark arts’ of how SEWF host countries are chosen, the formal selection processes and assessments involved, planning costs as well as what’s in play for 2024. The Social Enterprise World Forum’s goal is to grow the global social enterprise movement to accelerate our transition to a new global impact economy. Read on to learn about some of the processes involved in hosting an SEWF event.


Mirabelle: Hello Gerry, it’s always been a bit of a mystery when next year’s host is revealed at the SEWF closing session, what happens behind the scenes to select a host country?

Gerry: We started with the aim of having a strict continental rotation so that each part of the world gets a boost from hosting SEWF and bringing its social enterprise community together with others from around the world. SEWF has been hosted on each continent but now that we have digital attendance, we have more of a time zone focus. We avoid hosting in similar time zones year on year so that if you are in New Zealand, Nigeria, Nova Scotia or Nepal if the times are very late or very early one year, it’s likely that the following year will be nearer and at better times.

SEWF 2008, Edinburgh
The first SEWF, Edinburgh, 2008 | L-R: participants networking and participants dancing

Mirabelle: That’s really inclusive and incredible. You mentioned “digital”, do host country venues need great and reliable broadband or can an event just be in person some years?

Gerry: We have limited in-person attendance to 1,500 to respect planetary boundaries but the number of people who engage digitally is many times higher than those who can attend in person. We went from 70 countries attending in-person to 132 countries attending when we included digital. For sustainability and engagement reasons, our future is hybrid.

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SEWF 2011 in South Africa Desmond Tutu, South Africa
SEWF 2011, South Africa | L-R: Participants with Desmond Tutu (right)

Mirabelle: So, does that mean any organisation can apply to be an SEWF host?

Gerry: We find that the best legacy impact is when our hosts are an integral part of the social enterprise sector in a country. We don’t accept bids led by convention centres, corporations or individuals, ideally a bidder will be part of a consortium which has widespread local support.

Mirabelle: That’s insightful but who pays for the event? Is it the host or SEWF and what’s a typical cost?

Gerry: The cost partly depends on whether the host country has a high or low-cost economy. A budget of $800k-$1.3m will be needed for a year which features a Youth Forum (digital), a Policy Forum (Digital) and SEWF week (hybrid). SEWF and the host will work together on sponsorship (75% -80% of the budget) and the rest comes from ticket sales.

SEWF 2012, Rio de Janeiro
SEWF 2012, Rio de Janeiro | L-R: a cross-section of participants attending SEWF and youth delegates on the stage

Oh, that’s very interesting and I guess a lot of people didn’t know this. Now to select hosts, do you make the decision by picking at random or is it more like a competitive tender? How does it work?

Gerry: This is how it works. We ask potential hosts to complete an expression of interest form and then we have a period of assessment. Often we have more than one bidder but we are mindful of the time and costs involved so we don’t encourage any bidder that doesn’t have a realistic chance of success. The decision is made using a detailed assessment process by the SEWF Board as the issue is both strategic, reputational and one of the most important decisions of the year.

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Mirabelle: And is there a preferred time of the year for SEWF, the flagship event itself to be held, or can it be held in any month?

Gerry: Our strong preference is late September to early October as this avoids peak Summer or Winter and it allows us 12 months to recover from the previous event. Planning for SEWF starts 18-24 months in advance.

Mirabelle: That makes for a properly planned event. Does the host need to have prior event management experience?

Gerry: It helps if the host understands event hosting but together, we will engage some local event managers to work with our SEWF team. We have built up considerable experience over 15 years and our systems are ready to be used in all settings. Our team is based in 6 countries so we can cover a lot of time zones (although some are kinder than others).

Mirabelle: Speaking of countries, are there any countries or regions that are off-limits for SEWF hosting?

Gerry: We won’t bring our delegates to conflict-affected areas or countries where participants would be excluded due to religion, race or sexual orientation. One of the delights of SEWF is the interaction of people from different cultures and regions sharing common purpose and values. If one country is more accessible and open than another, that certainly counts in their favour.

Mirabelle: So, 2021 was Canada, 2022 Australia and 2023 Amsterdam, will I need suncream or scarf and gloves for 2024? I’m excited to know where next we’re going!

Gerry: We are looking at South Asia or South East Asia for SEWF24. Asia is one of the strongest continents for social enterprise and it’s a pleasure to showcase the growth, innovation and best practice from that region. It’s great for our network in Asia to have the event nearby if they wish to network and attend in person, or to have the event in a friendly time zone.

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SEWF22
SEWF22, Brisbane | Top to bottom L-R: Young participants networking; a young participant speaking during a session; Australian Paralympian Dylan Alcott speaking; participants sharing insights during the 2022 Rural Gathering hosted by ACRE – Australian Centre for Rural Entrepreneurship in association with SEWF

Mirabelle: I’m curious which challenge is harder, winning the right to host SEWF or the Olympic Games?

Gerry: Well, I couldn’t possibly comment on the Olympics selection process, but we demonstrate our values by prioritising legacy and hosting in regions and countries where social enterprises are combatting inequality and providing hope. We select hosts so that each part of the world gets a boost from hosting SEWF while bringing its social enterprise community together with others from around the world.

Mirabelle: Where and how can social enterprises in South Asia and South East Asia apply to host the next SEWF?

Gerry: If you are a social enterprise or an intermediary in South Asia or South East Asia and you would like further information about SEWF Hosting criteria, please access the SEWF24 Expression of Interest Form online here, or alternatively download the offline version here or contact events@sewfonline.com for any further information.

Mirabelle: Thank you, Gerry! This has truly been an insightful conversation with you. And our readers can also learn about SEWF23 here.

Mirabelle Morah is the community and communications manager at SEWF