19 November, 2010
We were thrilled to see all the energy and enthusiasm at the Guardian’s Social Enterprise summit on Tuesday this week. Discussions were lively and well balanced, although all inevitably centred on the big issue – how do we build an internationally renowned social enterprise sector in an age of financial uncertainty and risk-aversion? Answers were offered from a range of perspectives, and acknowledgement made of the efforts that have got us this far. By no means are we starting from year zero on this, as was recognised by a number of speakers, but there is a long way to go before social enterprises, combining the best of the public, voluntary and private sectors, are in a position to play the role that the government wants them to.
One of the strongest themes of the day was the need for social enterprises to be able to provide clear and powerful evidence of their impact. Investment in this is crucial in attracting funding, building support and winning contracts. It can be a bit of a chicken and egg scenario of course – if you don’t have the money to do the work, you can’t demonstrate any outcomes, and if you can’t demonstrate outcomes you will struggle to get the funding. But as was clear on Tuesday there is great work already happening, often on a small scale, and demonstrating the value of that work will be the only way to expand it and roll it out more widely.
Demonstrating impact isn’t just about detailed evaluation reports and Social Return on Investment (SROI) models – it’s about telling powerful stories and sharing experiences. This can be done in many ways – through written materials, video, audio, or photography – but it must be done in a way that will resonate with the target audience, be they commissioners, potential investors, customers, service users, partners or policy influencers. It’s those stories that will drive the sector towards reaching its full potential.