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Tom Rippin: New leaders to boost social enterprise

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The chief executive of On Purpose on developing the future leaders for social enterprises in the UK

This is an excerpt from Securing Britain’s Future – read the full publication online now:
London business leaders tackle skills gaps, leadership issues, youth unemployment and workplace diversity

MY KEY IDEA

Social enterprises are making a lasting impact on Britain, but more needs to be done to cultivate the sector’s future leaders. The focus needs to shift to managers who can achieve scale and growth to enhance the social enterprise sphere. With its unique leadership challenges, this sector has to become the new pinnacle of professional achievement.

Social enterprise in the UK is a very exciting world in which to work. It is full of innovation, maverick thinkers and valuesdriven people, held together by a generous spirit of collaboration.

Although social enterprise has been with us for hundreds of years, its current renaissance came about in the 1980s and 1990s. The definition of what is or is not a social enterprise is still hotly debated, but I define it as the application of a commercial business model to a social or environmental purpose. And social investment means investing money in social enterprises for a return that is partly financial and partly social or environmental.

In practical terms, this means that a social investor might accept a 5-10% financial return plus a particular social outcome in lieu of a 15-25% financial return.

Social enterprises are important for Britain – and so we must cultivate the sector’s future leaders. Social enterprises hold out the promise of a more sustainable society, where the best aspects of the traditional business and charity worlds are fused into financially self-sustaining but socially valuable organisations.

As a consequence, a large burden of expectation rests on this fledgling movement – expectation it is not yet fulfilling. That’s largely because few social enterprises are growing to become of national – never mind international – significance. But we can change this. A number of factors lie behind this disappointing growth, but the one that we at On Purpose focus on is talent, and especially talent for growth and scale.

Talent for growth

Historically, the social enterprise movement has been very good at attracting and celebrating entrepreneurs – the large number of awards, start-up grants and early-stage incubator services bear testimony to this.

However, entrepreneurs are rarely the leaders you need to scale or run a large organisation – the Builders and Runners, as we call them. Builders and Runners usually have different personality types, skill-sets and motivations from Starters, and they are in short supply in the social enterprise world. Many social investors have identified that a critical limiting factor to making investments (and hence supplying the financial capital for growth) is the lack of Builders and Runners. This shouldn’t be entirely surprising, as running and growing a social enterprise is difficult.

Social enterprises often, by definition, operate in markets that are difficult to serve. They also require a good working knowledge of both commercial and social ways of working.

Social enterprises are not just businesses with some social add-ons (or charities with some commercial-side activities) – they represent, at their best, a new way of working, which has to be learnt through experience and takes time to develop. If the social enterprise space is to fulfil its promise, it needs to find ways of attracting, developing and retaining leaders who will help to define the new paradigm of social enterprise and grow the fledgling movement into a credible economic force.

To do so, it needs to suffuse much of the rest of society with new (or maybe old?) values. As engineering was to the Victorians, and banking was to the Thatcherites, social enterprise has to become the new pinnacle of professional achievement. It certainly poses many of today’s most stimulating and pressing challenges, and offers a blend of rewards: financial, personal and social – much like those elusive deals the social investors are chasing.

Tom Rippin is chief executive of On Purpose

This is an excerpt from Securing Britain’s Future – read the full publication online now:
London business leaders tackle skills gaps, leadership issues, youth unemployment and workplace diversity

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