Industrial Strategy: what’s in it for social entrepreneurs?

Industrial Strategy: what’s in it for social entrepreneurs?

We think that social entrepreneurs have the experience and innovation to help the UK economy and society thrive

The Government’s long-awaited Industrial Strategy was published this week. We took a look, hoping that it would recognise the important role that social entrepreneurs can play in creating a more inclusive and vibrant economy. We were disappointed to find no explicit references to social entrepreneurship or social enterprise within the Strategy.

However, we support the Strategy’s ambition that “anyone with a good idea and the entrepreneurial ambition to make it a reality should see the UK as the best place to do business”. It is also positive to see the Strategy’s focus on “Grand Challenges” and the Government’s plan to work in partnership with businesses, academia and civil society to tackle these. We encourage the Government to look to social entrepreneurs as a source of experience and innovation here – particularly on the Ageing Society challenge.

How social entrepreneurs can meet the needs of an ageing society?

This was identified as one of four Grand Challenges in the Industrial Strategy. The Government’s vision is of a “new generation of British businesses … thriving in the growing global market for age-related products and services”, with older people able to lead fuller, more independent lives. The Strategy foresees redesigned jobs and workplaces that value older workers and enable individuals to keep active and stay in work.

There are many examples of social entrepreneurs coming up with new products and services for people in later life. For example, Ben Atkinson-Willes set up Active Minds, a design company that specialises in creating products to support people living with dementia. You can read about his story here.

The Strategy emphasises the need for the Government, business, academia and civil society to work together, bringing their expertise and entrepreneurial spirit. We fully agree with the potential of bringing different sectors, social entrepreneurs and others together to tackle social challenges and come up with transformative solutions. This collaboration is at the heart of our Transform Ageing programme, which brings together social entrepreneurs, public sector commissioners and people in later life together to co-design solutions. The programme is initially based in the South West of England and is run collaboratively with the Design Council, the South West Academic Health Science Network and the Centre for Ageing Better.

Social entrepreneurs could also contribute to many of the other goals identified in the Strategy, including realising the full potential of communities and places, and tackling under-representation of disabled people and other groups in the labour market. We hope for a more explicit recognition of the role of social entrepreneurs when the Government publishes its plans to see a million more disabled people in employment.

It was also a missed opportunity to make deeper connections between the Industrial Strategy and the Government’s work elsewhere on responsible business and corporate governance. With trust in business at an all-time low, a bolder industrial strategy would have underlined the kind of business that society needs. The businesses of the future will not only harness the latest technologies, but will also be built around purposeful and inclusive business models. To help address this challenge, UnLtd has been working on an online tool which will enable businesses to embed their purpose into their DNA – their company articles. The tool will be launched in early 2018.

The Industrial Strategy’s subtitle is Building a Britain Fit for the Future. This is a worthy challenge, and one in which social entrepreneurs are already showing the way.

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