I’ve just had a lovely weekend with my parents, with lots of nice chats in the garden. As a career in social enterprise is my future ambition, I found myself debating the sector with my dad. I assured him social enterprise is no fad and often they’re very viable and scalable businesses but how big is the sector? And what’s the history?
How big is the sector?
The best government data is the Annual Survey of Small Businesses UK from 2010. It estimates there are approximately 68,000 social enterprises in the UK and these contribute over £24bn to the economy, employing over 800,000 people. It’s a little larger than I thought, I should have reeled these stats off to my dad.
What’s the history of social enterprise?
In Rochdale in 1844 a workers’ co-operative, the Rochdale Pioneers, was set up. The workers decided to team together and open up a food store between them, selling affordable quality food (they couldn’t have otherwise). Over 150 years later and their set of principles called the Rochdale principles are the foundation on which co-ops around the world, base themselves on today. Ten years after these principles were first set up, the British co-operative movement had already grown to nearly 1,000 co-ops.
We’ve had a resurgence of social enterprise since the mid 1990s with Thatcher and the decline of state welfare and public funding. It created a shift and belief in some, that business should have social aims which can be measured, not just line our pockets and external shareholders.
The social enterprise sector offers exciting opportunities for charities to innovate and diversify their income. I’d be interested to guess the size of the industry from 68,000 in 5 years time?