What can we learn from the World Forum?

Since its debut just seven years ago in Scotland, the Social Enterprise World Forum has grown in influence, scope and scale. It’s provided inspiration and visibility, informed practice and policy, and helped to fuel a global movement. Welcome to Italy, for SEWF2015!

I attended with fellow Kiwi, Alex Hannant, who’s CEO of Akina. I’d been invited to sit on a panel with Nobel Peace Prize Winner Muhammad Yunus and a handful of awe-inspiring young social entrepreneurs from across the globe. I’d never been before – didn’t know what to expect, who would be in the room, or what might grow from it. It was three-days of action packed programme from dawn til dusk, with more than 150 contributors and about 800 attendees. And yes – despite wearing a suit the day before my panel, it was 37 degrees on the day and my boardies and jandals got the better of me!

The experience at SEWF was amazing. More than anything, it hugely validated that social enterprise can be an incredibly powerful tool in delivering trasformational change in response to the big issues of our time. I’m returning feeling very inspired, with a stronger sense of how we better grow and support this stuff, and connections to a range of amazing social entrepreneurs and enterprise examples from across the globe. There’s a chance that NZ may get to host the Forum in 2017 – thanks to Alex for leading the bid!

Who were some of the stand out social entrepreneurs and enterprises?
We heard from a broad range of social entrepreneurs leading a wide range of high-impact enterprises. They ranged from food and agriculture to energy; health and wellbeing to education; technology and transport to youth development. In addition to the previous three examples in the previous blog posted by Charlotte, here’s a few more…

Fiza Farhan, Buksh Foundation // Pakistan
I got to share the panel with 29-year old Fiza Farhan, CEO of the Buksh Foundation, which provides clean energy to the poor in rural Pakistan. Buksh focuses on the empowerment of women through entrepreneurship to grow renewable energy in their communities through by providing them with a proven business model, finance, systems and support to lead their local energy franchise. Fiza was named in Forbes Magazine’s ‘30 under 30‘ social entrepreneurs in 2015. She’s awesome!

Anthony Kamato, PureFresh // Kenya
I got to meet Anthony Kamato from Kenya, who’s using social enterprise as a vehicle to provide clean water to his community. His background is in business, and he brings a sharp commercial mindset to his work. Previously, their local drinking water was contaminated with dangerous levels of chloride, which resulted in high levels of rickets among babies, as well as very weak bones and teeth. To change this, he set up a purification plant that leverages world-class water sanitation technology to eliminate microbial and chemical contamination of the local water. Smart systems help to monitor water quality, and identify any systems needs like filter changes. The most significant part of his innovation is that they have been able to bring the price down twenty-fold – it used to cost $20 for a 5 gallon container; it now costs 60 cents, and everyone can afford it. They’re working to bring this cost down even further. Now that Anthony’s proven the model, he’s looking to replicate this in other communities as well as expand with other products like clean energy. He wants to build an ecosystem – partnering with other social entrepreneurs to plug into and replicate various solutions – i.e. for energy, youth development, and waste. He believes we need to be open-sourcing these innovations, and is committed to creating the ‘new Africa story’.

Sophie Tranchell, Divine Chocolate // Ghana
Based in Ghana, Divine Chocolate is a cooporative of Ghanian cocoa farmers consisisting of over 80,000 members across more than 1,250 villages, which has turned over more than $100m. The company is based on Fair Trade principles and is democratically organised. Divine’s Managing Director, Sophie Tranchell from the UK, presented at the SEWF15. Originally just a cocoa production co-op, they launched the chocolate production company (Divine Chocolate) in 1998, which operates with the mission to improve the lives of small-scale farmers in West Africa. Now several years on, Divine is gearing up to compete on the world stage where chocolate is a 107-billion-dollar industry – but doing it in a way that flips the conventional slave-labour and unsustainable multi-national chocolate practice on its head.

How are other countries supporting the development of social enterprise?

Scotland takes a strong cross-government approach, and have invested nearly $40m in developing the sector. Their equivalent of New Zealand’s Minister of Finance (Bill English) and other key government leaders see social enterprise as a critical vehicle to deliver better social and environmental outcomes for the nation. By contrast, New Zealand Government support for social enterprise currently sits only within the Department of Internal Affairs. In Russia, the Government is providing more than $30m in subsidies for social entrepreneurship support, has trained more than 1,000 social entrepreneurship ‘tutors’ (equivalent of Business Mentors from the likes of New Zealand Trade and Enterprise), and has committed to supporting 18 innovation hubs across regions throughout Russia. In Taiwan, support to develop the sector is going from strength to strength. It’s estimated that Taiwan has about 1,000 company-based social enterprises operating. Initiated in 2014, Taiwain’s Social Enterprise Action Plan is a new cross-government initiaitive that spans their Ministries of Economic Affairs, Labour, Health and Welfare, Education, and Agriculture. And get this – Taiwan’s Premier, the equivalent of our Prime Minister (John Key), even gave up his residence (equivalent of Premier House in Wellington) and has had it transformed into a social enterprise hub and co-working space. Maybe we should suggest the idea to John!

So it’s been an amazing experience – what next?
The chance to share our work in New Zealand with leading thinkers from across the globe has been an incredible opportunity. It turned out, that ‘supporting the next generation of social entrepreneurs to change the world’ was actually a session as part of the conference. Hearing other examples on how other countries are approaching this really brought home how innovative and timely what we in the New Zealand social enterprise sector are doing actually is. As I think about the critical next steps, three things that Inspiring Stories already have in motion spring to mind:

1. There’s a massive gap in New Zealand for young social entrepreneurs being able to access seed funding and support to develop. Right now, we at Inspiring Stories are looking to get $11m committed to kick-start the Future Fund, which will enable us to meet this need. Stay tuned, because $1m of it will come from running New Zealand’s biggest ever crowd-funding campaign – we’d love to have you involved!

2. We need to amplify, encourage and learn from youth-led social, economic and environmental change in New Zealand. This happens already, through New Zealand’s most significant national event for young social entrepreneurs – Festival for the Future. We’re running it in Auckland from September 4–6 this year. You should be there!

3. We also need to build on our accelerator programme, Live the Dream, to help get more youth-led ventures off the ground. This summer, we’ll providing intensive professional development for dozens of young social entrepreneurs with three programmes running in parallel across Auckland, Wellington, and Christchurch.

To everyone who made SEWF2015 possible – thank you. To all of you awesome people back in Aotearoa New Zealand – hope to catch up with you soon!