|Sophi Tranchell and I at the ACEVO lunch|
I’ve always loved the idea of an office. My own computer, my own desk complete with a plant. Although delighted at the opportunity, I wondered if I was going to spend my work experience week making tea and playing fruit ninja in storage cupboards but I needn't have worried. SEL is a busy office of people who are passionate about social enterprise and supporting their 2,400 members who are doing some amazing things to change the world through business. I wanted to know more.
Having been introduced to the really friendly staff I sat at my desk listening to the social enterprise related banter and wondering what would happen next.
Accompanying SEL's CEO Allison, I was introduced to Sir Stephen Bubb, Chief Executive of the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations (ACEVO) who was hosting a lunch, which he kindly invited me to, for third sector chief executives at which Sophi Tranchell, Managing Director of Divine Chocolate and SEL Co-Chair was going to speak. Divine Chocolate is a social enterprise and is very much a Fairtrade company, known for supplying chocolate all over the world to the likes of Starbucks. It’s an original and unique business model, whereby the famers own 45% of the business itself.
Sophi told us that she defined social enterprises as ‘mission-driven businesses’ or businesses set up to address social and environmental issues. They exist not with the aim of maximising profit, but to reinvest the profit into the community or back into the business itself.
Despite maximising profit not being the aim, Divine Chocolate turned over of £10 million last year, showing that social enterprises can and do work. But can this new business model be replicated by others? The answer is maybe.
With the world’s finances not being as tip top as they used to be, surely the idea of a new business model is particularly relevant? I would argue that we need the likes of Divine Chocolate everywhere although Sophi didn’t know how easy it would be to replicate the five years of hard development work spent between the farmers first forming their co-operative to the first chocolate bar being manufactured. But on a more optimistic note, Sophi said that following the work she’d put into telling the fantastic story of Divine Chocolate, the ideas for similar business structures had spread and others could, as a result, be in the pipeline. But she did not underestimate how hard it is to change peoples general attitudes to business and how it "should be done".
Earlier on in the week I was asked to interview Linda Butcher, the head of the Sheila McKechnie Foundation, which makes campaigning and speaking out against social, economic and environmental injustice as easy as possible. In Linda’s own words, it “takes people with passion and gives them the structure, skills, tools, connection and strategy to campaign.” They’re filling the gap in the market for a new generation of campaigners. Through awards and social networking, they’ve introduced a new and innovative approach to grouping together people and making it easier for them to speak out against injustice.
But how important did she feel an award system was for campaigners? She paused. “Campaigners can become isolated and marginalised by society and end up being put into a trouble maker category. Through awards for service to campaigning, it gives them the recognition they deserve.”
And as my week here draws to a close, I feel a little bit wiser, knowing that I’ve met people who have succeeded and continue to succeed in what they do, while helping the world in their own way. I’ve met some smart people who have changed something and that’s completely inspiring. I haven’t played a single game of fruit ninja and I haven’t made any cups of tea (pathetic isn’t it?), but I know more than I did before not only about what goes on in offices but also about social enterprise and that’s pretty cool.