There are three strands to the way in which the church can exercise community engagement to bring about change in the social environment – Social Action (hands-on involvement), Social Justice (advocacy) and Social Enterprise (transformation through business). The last, Social Enterprise, is the one most likely to produce lasting personal and community transformation with financial sustainability. It was thus with great interest I attended a half day conference on this important topic organised through the Jubilee+ Initiative of the Newfrontiers family of churches on March 16th. This was then followed on 17th by the Everything Conference which, on occasion, touched on the same subject.
What is Social Enterprise?
Social Enterprise is attaining a growing profile in the UK. Increasingly businesses are being launched or re-aligned to help those who are socially disadvantaged, often through circumstances. Businesses are being run with the dual aims of making money (an essential goal of a successful business) and helping those who need support and training in order to become contributing members of society.
Mow and Grow
By intentionally employing former prisoners, for instance, and giving them on-the-job training they become equipped to achieve independence with dignity. Such is the approach of Mow and Grow in East Anglia, and the umbrella Grow Organisation described, in a Case Study presented by the founder and entrepreneur Alexandra Cosgrove. They ‘specialise in working with those who are farthest removed from the labour market by tackling the roots of issues, dealing with people’s perceptions and facilitating a change in attitudes in both themselves and others’ and have the goal of ‘offering recognised training and qualifications, volunteering opportunities, placements and professional work experience to individuals farthest removed from the labour market’.
The impact has been remarkable in the four years since their foundation. Police statistics show a drop of 37% in crime as well as many other benefits such as an increase of 90% in social inclusion.
Make and Bake
Another Case study presented by the impressive Sarah Dunwell showed us how Make and Bake, launched only 4 years ago and producing high quality food and drink in their own chain of six excellently run restaurants, has had a huge impact on giving hope to young people in Leeds. Her Create Foundation has the vision to help ‘all children and young people with a care experience have the opportunity to reach their full potential’.
Listen to the talks
The talks from this important conference, which also included presentations about the theology of Social Enterprise, about the place of Social Enterprise in Kingdom advance and about practical matters of setting up a business, are available on the Jubilee+ website. I urge those who are in business or are working with people who are poor or disadvantaged to listen to them. Prepare to be challenged. Through such initiatives the church and individual members can contribute significantly to long term sustainable solutions which can address some of the most challenging issues facing society at this time.
At the Everything conference there was another illustration of a successful social enterprise, shared through an interview with two women, Natasha and Lavinia, who were greatly impacted by a visit to India and where they observed those caught up in the sex industry. As a result they have set up the successful fashion house Beulah London. One purpose is to help these women by ‘producing exceptional quality garments, without compromise….. meaningful fashion, bridging the gap between high-end fashion and style, and ethical sourcing of products’.
How good it is to learn about initiatives by Christian entrepreneurs to make businesses work to bring about significant social change. But it is not only for entrepreneurs. Can your church, or a member of it, create opportunity to help the socially disadvantaged in your area through business? Consider – and be creative!