Steffan Aquarone

Steff is a film producer and technology entrepreneur who speaks internationally on innovation, entrepreneurship and digital marketing

Social Enterprise 2010

This month I’m exploring social enterprise and where this relatively new movement is heading in 2010. Social enterprises are businesses trading for social and environmental as well as financial purposes. There’s a good introduction here.

My first visit to a functioning social enterprise was this morning. Textiles by St Anne’s (new website coming soon here), an offshoot of mental health charity Bita Pathways, is a soft furnishings manufacturer and registered Social Firm with the specific aim of creating jobs for people who find it hardest to get them. Their workshop was just like I imagined a furnishing outfitters to look, save for the fact that it’s located in the stunning St Peter’s Urban Village in Saltley – possibly the least likely destination imaginable for such a picturesque and progressive place.

At St Anne’s, people benefit from training, personal development and work experience especially around reestablishing their own confidence. Some directly develop and prototype new products (including some new releases at this summer’s festival scene), as well as fulfilling commercial orders and the proceeds of what they do are entirely ploughed back into the operation.

St Anne’s purpose is what I expected from a traditional social enterprise – a charitable cause with a trading arm basically. But so much more than I expected in terms of its strategy and business focus. “We’re aiming for self-sustainability in two to three years” said Pat Bend confidently. Pat’s a lady I’ve worked with before and she knows how to develop a business. She’s done it successfully three times for herself, not to mention the countless businesses she worked for in telesales including Fullrange shortly after we set up. Why is Pat, a business woman with a strong track record, working in a social enterprise for – as she puts it – for the love of it?

I think it’s for the feeling of satisfaction at watching something good grow – something where her business skills are being applied to a cause that truly makes a difference to the people it trains, employs and supports. It’s clearly immensely hard work by any business-owner’s standards and Pat has the additional roles of mentor, social worker and advocate to add to the usual tasks of strategy, business development and general management. I’ve no doubt that Textiles by St Anne’s will become a great success story when Pat fulfills the next step of developing greater awareness amongst potential customers with more events like Sustainability Live at the NEC where they’re exhibiting this week.

Vital Statistic: the Social Firms sector saves an estimated £30 million in welfare benefits annually

Starkest realisation: the number of stories of people who come to the parent organisation BITA Pathways having burned-out professionally in high-demanding roles like business ownership or senior management.

Biggest frustration: the current lack of custom for what is, at the most fundamental level, a range of high quality, innovative products.

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