Thursday, 10 March 2011

Social enterprise and the 2012 Olympic legacy for London: Guardian Professional, Thursday 10 March 2011 10.49

The games will provide a fantastic opportunity for economic recovery and social enterprise should be a part of the process. Photograph: David Levene

London's vision for the legacy of the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games was always ambitious – regenerating neighbourhoods and providing opportunities for communities on a scale greater than anything envisioned or achieved by a previous host city.
To achieve this vision for our Games, social enterprises must play a key role.

I genuinely believe that the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games can only call itself a success if it leaves a positive and sustainable legacy across the whole country. That ambition, however, will only be fully realised if the UK's social enterprises, organisations that place at least as much emphasis on their social impact as they do on driving up profits, play their part.

Social Enterprise London is hosting a major conference on 15 March, 500 days before the start of the Games, to explore this theme.

Take the example of Ealing & Hackney Community Transport Group (E&HCT), a social enterprise and one of the leading transport providers in the UK. They won the contract to provide coach transport within the Olympic Park, building on its outstanding reputation running red buses in London. E&HCT's profits are used to provide affordable community transport services to local voluntary organisations and disadvantaged people across the country, as well as to train and provide jobs for people who typically face major barriers to employment. It's revolutionary stuff, and it works.

The social enterprise movement and the Games have a lot in common. Both offer an optimistic vision of people working co-operatively, striving towards shared goals to achieve something that has the potential to change our world for the better. They also both show us the potential embedded within ourselves and our communities.

In recent times, having witnessed a dramatic decline in the world economy, we are looking to a more positive horizon. The Games offers an unequalled opportunity for the UK to set the trend for economic recovery and regeneration built upon the foundations of environmental sustainability and social innovation.

A successful Games will be a stunning sporting and cultural event where the world puts aside its disagreements, if only for a moment, and dares to hope.

In that unique moment we want to showcase London's Games not only as an inspiring sporting spectacle, but crucially as the first to achieve the real, revolutionary regeneration of a deprived neighbourhood through training, jobs, new homes and new businesses.

Social enterprise will be a cornerstone of our Olympic and Paralympic Games story and the leaders of the regeneration in the long term are the social entrepreneurs emerging from local communities where the Games is already starting to bring about tangible transformation.

The London 2012 Games truly is a once in a lifetime opportunity to establish London as a world leader, not only on the cycling track and in the swimming pool, but in social enterprise as well – inspiring a new wave of social enterprises, and acting as a catalyst for successful ones to grow and flourish.


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