|From the RISE website|
Like everyone I have been shocked by the announcement of the closure of RISE, the body in the SouthWest set up to support the development of social enterprise. This is a devastating loss. I haven't had a chance to talk to their ceo, my friend Lucy Findlay, who understandably is rather preoccupied, so I don't have all the relevant information, but I do know a thing or two about the challenges facing social enterprise support and it is time we all faced facts.
This Government has not prioritised the support of social enterprise business development in anything other than finance, by which I mean the actual money not help with working out if you need it or what you could do with it. So whilst money could be argued as the most important element of business growth I would also argue that for the majority of our members, making the most of the kind of finance that is on offer is not something they feel they can do at present, for now they want basic business advice, the support of their peers and access to the wider social enterprise community, and they have no money. In short they need what is referred to in our world as finance readiness, something SEL has been offering for 15 years and RISE for nearly as long. It is interesting to note that where social enterprise development agencies have been longest that is where the density of social enterprises is at its greatest. Chicken or egg?
I know its not fashionable to say this, but is grant funding for social enterprises or their development really so terrible? I see no contradiction between social enterprise agencies making money through trading to deliver social impact and being in receipt of grant, nor have I ever thought support bodies must be self sustaining through fees to be legitimate. Social enterprise creates wealth in the most deprived communities and their social impact often provides the Government with a healthy return on its investment which must be worth making, no? The idea that such things as research and policy development for instance can be supported through income generation is simply not practical in my view. The RDA's have gone, and in London so has the Government Office and the majority of London Councils grant money as well, we have said goodbye to the wonderful Future Jobs Fund, and since the introduction of the Work Programme, work creation projects for most smaller providers have mostly gone too. All of this can be multiplied when you also add the European funding that can not be drawn down due the absence of matched funding. In short the cuts have been eye watering.
SEL will survive, but not because we are better than RISE, nor because our members are more prolific or loyal than RISE members. No, we will survive because we have long since worked on adaptive relationships with clients through our consultancy, welcomed collaboration from private companies who sponsor our work in exchange for commercial access to our members, and have re shaped the organisation to offer only that which can be bought and paid for. The result is we are much smaller, you may have noticed, we do a lot less policy, but I like to think we are still perfectly formed.
I mourn the loss of RISE, I wish I had been able to do something to prevent it from falling over. I know some of its staff and have always been impressed by the quality, creativity and commitment of their approach, I am very sorry that social enterprise will lose that expertise. RISE was the best of us and it will be missed, especially by me. I can only hope that this will make those remaining work harder to support one another so that social enterprises get infrastructure that delivers growth, and we can be confident in saying we can not do that alone.