Five big themes coming out of Big Social 2016
Last week we held Big Social 2016: The Big Share in London – giving social entrepreneur supporters the space to learn from each other, connect and collaborate, and build the future of social entrepreneur support.
Over 140 people brought their passion and energy to the table over two days, from a range of organisations including universities, grassroots community organisations, social investors, national and international businesses – as well as social entrepreneurs themselves. Throughout the course of the two days some themes came over loud and clear. Here we pull out just a few of the highlights.
1. Finding sustainable business models is a core challenge when helping social entrepreneurs to achieve their potential
Margaret Mountford kicked off our keynote talks – being interviewed by UnLtd Trustee Natalie Campbell to get her thoughts on social entrepreneurship. True to her Apprentice persona she was prepared to challenge a lot of the positions taken by social entrepreneur supporters. She questioned the need for the term ‘social entrepreneur’, asking whether it was ‘holier than thou’; and thought it was probably mainstream already – citing the fact you could get a masters in it at Cambridge.
She was sympathetic to the work that social entrepreneurs did – explaining that more and more people are worried about the kind of planet they’re going to leave to their children – but wanted some social entrepreneurs to be a little more hard headed.
Pioneers Post report more on Margaret’s views from big business and the challenges felt by social entrepreneurs in finding the right support.
The question of sustainability for social entrepreneurs was a key theme that we returned to throughout the event:
— Vidhya Alakeson (@vidhyaalakeson) February 25, 2016
— Roland SK (@Roland_SKS) February 25, 2016
2. Going mainstream is a shared goal, but we can’t do it alone
We recently launched our new strategy Going Mainstream: how can social entrepreneurs break through?. Big Social 2016 was a chance for us to talk more about some of our hunches and open debate around about what we might need to do individually and collectively as supporters to break down the barriers facing social entrepreneurs.
Speakers on three different panels, including Vidhya Alakeson of The Power to Change, Ed Anderton of Access Foundation and Alastair Wilson from School for Social Entrepreneurs, shared what they thought we need to do as supporters to help break down those barriers. One major theme was collaboration between supporters, to make it much easier for social entrepreneurs to find the right support for them. They echoed the views of social entrepreneurs, stressing that supporters have to be mindful of the realities that social entrepreneurs work under and improve support for social entrepreneurs’ soft skills as much as hard skills, including providing networks of support.
The goal of going mainstream was shared by the majority of the room.
— UnLtd (@UnLtd) February 25, 2016
And what does ‘going mainstream’ mean to other supporters? This is what our audience said:
— Doug Morrison (@6W2X) February 25, 2016
— Marika Finne (@marikafinne) February 25, 2016
3. Connecting is important – in the UK and internationally
Three highlights of Big Social 2016 were keynotes from social entrepreneurship figureheads from India and Australia and Youth Business International.
Pooja Warier, co-founder and CEO of UnLtd India, and member of the Global Social Entrepreneurship Network gave her insight on supporting social entrepreneurs in India – that social entrepreneurship is not only changing the way people do business in the country, but also the legal structures business is built on.
Andrew Heslop joined us live from Australia to talk about his experience setting up Neighbour Day – which has progressed from a reminder to connect with elderly neighbours to an annual celebration of strong communities and friendly streets. Founded after a death went undiscovered for several years, one of the challenges Andrew explored was moving from a single issue campaign to something much broader – now involving many community organisations, local councils and social businesses.
— Andrew Heslop (@AndrewHeslop) February 26, 2016
Andrew Devenport, Chief Executive of YBI spoke about the importance of collaboration between supporters here and around the world – to be a catalyst and a facilitator and not to compromise on quality for the sake of scale; whether a supporter or a social entrepreneur.
4. Social entrepreneurs need emotional support too
Several social entrepreneurs were involved in workshops and panels, which ensured the focus of defining great support was seen through the lens of their experience.
Chris Rawlins of SoFab Sports and Colin Crooks of Tree Shepherd gave their views on the reality of being a social entrepreneur – highlighting the challenge of doing something rewarding tinged with the struggle against failure.
Wellbeing of social entrepreneurs was explored in two sessions which were packed out – itself a sign that this issue resonated with participants. In response, UnLtd will be continuing to work on developing wellbeing support for social entrepreneurs.
5. Practical tools are out there
Roland Singer-Kingsmith of UnLtd lead a session on practical tools for supporting social entrepreneurs which proved popular – sharing UnLtd’s favourite resources and gathering new suggestions from workshop attendees.
We’re now collating a collaborative list of some of the best tools for supporting social entrepreneurs, so please watch this space.
Keeping the conversation going
Big Social was engaging, inspiring, packed full of great ideas and we’re keen to keep collaborating with other supporters of social entrepreneurs. Check out storify for days one and two and let us know your best bits on Twitter. We’ll be sharing more in-depth insights from our workshop leads and panelists over the coming weeks on our Big Social page.
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