Duncan Thorp on building strong social entrepreneurial relationships between countries
The Social Enterprise World Forum (SEWF) 2023 took place in Amsterdam in the Netherlands recently.
The annual knowledge and learning exchange is a key feature for the global social enterprise movement.
The SEWF brings entrepreneurs together to network, build new relationships, share best practice and to grow our collective influence.
The stated key aim of the SEWF is to “strengthen the global social enterprise movement to accelerate our transition to a new economy”.
This is something that will resonate with all social enterprises and social economy organisations and anyone who supports community wealth building and related initiatives.
The first event of its kind, the SEWF was founded in Edinburgh in 2008 with social entrepreneurs, policy makers and other with an interest in raising awareness of social enterprise to build fundamental social change.
With more than 400 delegates from 29 countries at this initial event, it’s since been hosted in places as diverse as Hong Kong, Ethiopia and New Zealand.
The approach is one of always being grounded in and led by people with local knowledge and experience.
SEWF23 was a milestone in Amsterdam’s journey to creating a wellbeing economy that prioritises people and the planet.
Over 2,000 participants from 80 countries were represented this year, with over 70 Scottish delegates.
One of the key themes this year was “living and trading within planetary boundaries”, as well as trading and collaboration, equality and inclusion, migration and building a new economy.
The event included the launch of People and Planet First, a new initiative to unite social enterprises in the global ecosystem.
Social Enterprise Scotland is driving this international verification process in Scotland and encouraging our members to sign up for worldwide recognition.
The in-depth conversations, learning opportunities and sparks of new policy and business support ideas, can’t be underestimated.
These rare opportunities to gather in-person with people from very diverse backgrounds and cultures is so essential for our own ecosystem development.
What I found most interesting was hearing from entrepreneurs running social enterprises in Taiwan, the Netherlands, India and other places, who described identical challenges and opportunities to those facing us in Scotland.
It’s reassuring to get this intelligence and, while Scotland leads the way in so many policy and business support areas, we can always learn so much from others.
For example, procurement was inevitably a key theme. One conversation I had described how public sector commissioners could be encouraged to do social procurement with direct financial awards and incentives, as well as praising their efforts in social enterprise contracts with an annual award scheme.
There was a call to action to educate private sector businesses on how social enterprise can help them to achieve social and environmental aims, moving towards sustainable purchasing to benefit the business, beyond Corporate Social Responsibility.
We also saw Telos, who run the the Buy Social Europe programme, pledge to drive social procurement opportunities across Europe and elsewhere, by providing multinationals with social enterprise opportunities, building on the SEUK Corporate Challange.
Most notable at the SEWF this year was not just the usual brilliant diversity of speakers from across the globe but also hearing from the next generation of social entrepreneurs.
It was really inspiring to hear from so many young people who are tackling the climate emergency, poverty and many other key challenges head on.
Mindful of environmental impact, the in-person SEWF will now take place every two years, rather than annually, with an online event being held every year.
Social Enterprise Scotland is keen to continue building strong entrepreneurial relationships between Scotland and other countries.
We’re enthusiastic about supporting Scottish social enterprises to connect with and learn from entrepreneurs overseas and we look forward to another enlightening event next year.
Duncan Thorp is policy and public affairs manager at Social Enterprise Scotland