This week is Global Entrepreneurship Week and the activities and frivolities were launched with much a do at the British Library yesterday. GEW is a British invention as is the Entrepreneurship Week that preceded it. I remember going to its very first launch, where the then Chancellor, Gordon Brown presided. Since 2004 it has grown magnificently, with 88 countries involved and tens of thousands of events all celebrating entrepreneurship across the world. Social enterprise has its own day in the week, Thursday, so this is a big week for all of us.
The point is to celebrate the drive and inspiration of entrepreneurs and social entrepreneurs, and crucially to encourage those with an idea and burning ambition to take the plunge. As a ‘glass half empty’ country, I think it’s a great idea to get people to look on the up side and celebrate achievement and ambition.
I love being part of a global movement. Last week I met with a delegation from South Africa who were humbling in their interest in the SEL story and have since asked to keep in touch. At present we have direct commercial links with Japan, Vietnam, Malaysia, the US and Holland – just some of the countries we have worked with over our 11 year history. When we work with folk from far flung places we always learn as much as we teach.
My high point of the launch event was listening to Dr Carl Schramm, CEO of the Kauffman Foundation and Jim O’Neill Head of Global Economic Research at Goldman Sachs. I could have listened to them all day. They are both brilliant economists and candid speakers with many thrilling insights to impart. They agreed that the UK has already begun its emergence from recession but that data collection was inefficient and behind the times; that the UK is a hot bed of enterprise innovation, just that we’re rubbish at rolling out and scaling up.
They also pointed out that it is enterprise that creates wealth and that recessions are caused by businesses retracting, just as recoveries are characterised by business expansion. We learnt that the BRIC countries (a term coined by Jim O’Neill meaning Brazil, Russia, India and China) are the ones to watch. Carl reminded us that 20 years ago the received wisdom was that China would never embrace capitalism, that Brazil and India were third world economies with limited potential and Russia was incapable of modernising its Soviet approach to the market. Look at ‘em go now. Jim told us that in the last ten years China’s increase in productivity has equated to creating two UK economies and Brazil and India have the fastest growing economies in relative terms in the world with Brazil superseding Italy this year to be No 6. He also told us that the English language is perhaps our single most influential export as it is the language of international business (and I thought we were all going to have to learn Chinese?!)
They were so optimistic about the UK’s future economic performance and with Jim’s record of being one of the most public forecasters of the recession, that cheery proposition was good to hear.
I then got into a back and forth with Peter Jones from Dragon’s Den who, amongst other slightly off message contributions, including the continuance of an obviously long standing animosity held against our Chair for the morning, Simon Jack from BBC Breakfast, told the audience of his concern over social entrepreneurs being a bad risk for banks. He said he had recently been told by an unnamed bank that 54% of their bad debt was exposed to social entrepreneurs, who in Peter’s opinion had been able to remain within their loan agreements because they knew little about running businesses. I challenged him on this, gob-smacked that any bank had lent so much to social entrepreneurs as their failure to lend is one of our problems. I said that I thought leading social entrepreneurs like Sophi Tranchell from Divine and Mark Sesnan from GLL would be concerned to hear their credibility as business people questioned in such a way. He came back with the assertion that he thought society needs more social entrepreneurs but that the majority need additional support in developing their business ideas. Frankly I think that’s true of all business people, regardless of whether they operate in social enterprise.
I then spoke to Lord Davies, the SME business Minister from BIS to congratulate him on highlighting the need for more women’s businesses. We are so behind other countries in seeing more women establish their own businesses, even Italy who has relatively more women running their own show than the UK. I told him that of SEL’s 1900 members 54% are led by women - social enterprise once again leading the way.
The cause of women in business is close to my heart and so I was delighted to be asked to attend the Precious Awards for women of colour in business and leadership last night. SEL sponsors their Ethical Business Award which I was asked to present. The event itself was fabulous, with the most stunning collection of glamorous women I have ever seen.
I was hopelessly underdressed lacking an evening frock and jewelled shoes, but kept my head up as I announced that the lovely Lola Atkins of EWAV Works had been awarded Ethical Business Woman of the Year. Lola and her team work with young people to train them in media and broadcasting. She told me of some inspiring work she was doing at the moment in partnership with SERCO with young offenders inside Youth Offending institutions. The kids they were working with had really switched on to the technology and creativity and some had expressed an interest in perusing their new skills into a career when they were released. Lola was hoping for more contracts from SERCO, and I am sure getting the award can only be a good thing in achieving that ambition.
I am speaking at a Westminster Briefing at the Commonwealth Club on social enterprise and successful contracting this afternoon, followed by attending a reception at Government Office hosted by Tessa Jowell for London’s leaders, so it’s all go.
Happy Global Entrepreneurship Week!!!