Involvement in social enterprise gives students untold benefits

Keep-On-Keep-Up, Clintouch, Give Me Tap, 4Lunch, The Ash Company, Invisible Manchester and Bundlee. These are just some of the social enterprise businesses that the University of Manchester and Alliance MBS have been supporting in recent years.

We are not alone. Indeed today social enterprises contribute more than £50bn a year to the UK economy, often filling gaps where problems are not solved by governments or councils. But whilst social enterprises are run in many ways as a normal business, with a financially sustainable model and with the founder hoping to make a living from their activity, the business also has very clear social aims driven by the passion of the founder.

Aims can be wide ranging from environmental issues such as reducing food waste or plastic, to helping vulnerable or underrepresented groups such as women, BAME, refugees or prisoners. For instance Manchester-based Keep-On-Keep-Up, a system for helping prevent accidents in the elderly in their homes by keeping them active, has proved invaluable during the pandemic. Social enterprises also often employ disadvantaged people, furthering their social impact. In fact, in contrast to ‘regular’ businesses, research has indicated that about 40% are led by women and 35% by BAME.

Higher profile

Of late, social enterprise has gained from a higher profile and a clear pipeline of help and support has developed such as mentoring organisations and incubators and accelerators.

More funders are seeing the benefits of investing too. While the Manchester based Co-Operative Bank has had a focus on ethical and sustainable investments for many years, venture capital companies are also now turning to social enterprise investments as part of their mission. Funders such as Mustard Seed, Earth Capital and the Bridges Fund are looking for social as well as financial outcomes.

Interestingly, here in Manchester many social enterprises have been founded by overseas students who have identified social issues in their adopted city and want to help. This fits with research that suggests that immigrants are twice as likely to start a business compared to the indigenous population, and bringing ideas from different cultures to a new environment is often a successful way of starting a business.

Summer activities run for students by MEC have shown a large interest from overseas students who are interested in a variety of issues including plastic waste, healthier food and less waste, skill building for young people, reducing loneliness and helping vulnerable communities.

Pandemic impact

Talking of vulnerable communities, the pandemic has also focused many students’ minds on existing problems that have been magnified during the crisis.

For example Mohammad Afridi trialled Delikart, which delivers any item to your door, as a not-for-profit venture during the height of the lockdown, . Mohammad has now successfully applied for the universities’ entrepreneurship visa scheme managed by MEC. And Manchester graduate James Augustin used his CoronaUnity platform, which matches student volunteers who want work experience with community projects, to link up students with small businesses which were struggling due to Covid-19.

Uncertain future

With an uncertain job future for graduates, having entrepreneurial skills is important for any career and involvement in social enterprise gives students benefits beyond simply helping out at a charity or fundraising.

Indeed the practical skills of running your own business are identified in the EntreComp Entrepreneurial Competencies Framework developed by the European Commission. This is a comprehensive list of attributes agreed by scholars that are important in being an entrepreneurial individual. Practical experience can complement the competencies that are taught in class, such as dealing with uncertainty, mobilising resources and working with others. Indeed many students feel that starting a social enterprise gives a sense of real involvement and leadership, which is not only more personally satisfying but also better for the C.V.

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