Social enterprises have collectively established themselves as a viable and productive sector within the United Kingdom’s (UK’s) economy. There are over 60,000 social enterprises in the country employing at least 800,000 persons. The combined turnover of the top 100 UK social enterprises grew by 85% from last year to £319.4 million (US$480.2 million) – in an economy that is now shrinking. Two-thirds of British social enterprises are making a profit, and a further 16% are breaking even.
Among the other functions they perform, British social enterprises develop the skills of marginalized and vulnerable population groups, and create employment opportunities for the jobless and underemployed. In Norwich, for example, Sweet Arts offers free creative workshops for women, some of whom come from difficult backgrounds, which have left them isolated and lonely. The enterprise helps beneficiaries develop employable skills, while increasing their confidence. Hill Holt Wood, a 14-hectare sustainably managed ancient woodland situated on the Lincolnshire and Nottinghamshire border, educates and trains at-risk youth who have been excluded from school in eco-construction, the manufacture of wooden furniture, and installation of water purification systems. Further north, the 2 year-old café Artysans, in Inverness, Scotland, trains youth 14 to 25-years-olds in catering and hospitality.
Social enterprises in the UK are also helping to integrate immigrant populations into society and the labor market. In the London Borough of Barnet, The Bike Project teaches bicycle repair skills to refugees from conflict-affected countries. In the east of England, the Norfolk African Community Association runs a gardening skills project for Norwich’s African community.
Asia, too, offers examples of social enterprises providing skills training and employment opportunities, but their potential has only begun to be tapped. In Cambodia, organizations serving homeless and abused youth have opened restaurants with attached culinary and hospitality-training programs for underprivileged youth. When the NGO Mith Samlanh opened its first restaurant in Phnom Penh (Friends Café) in February 2001, it was the first of its kind. Now there are at least 10 similar restaurants in the city.
Launched in Singapore in 2008, Adrenalin Events and Education is a social enterprise that specializes in events management. It uses events management as a platform to provide training and employment opportunities for the disadvantaged, including at-risk youths, persons with disability (physical disability, hearing impairment), as well as persons recovering from psychiatric illnesses. Adrenalin has organized numerous major events for corporate and government clients, and won the 2012 Singapore President's Challenge Social Enterprise Award (Youth Social Enterprise of the Year).
In India, Vindhya is a Bangalore-based business process outsourcing (BPO) firm providing data processing and entry services to local and global companies. Microfinance institutions outsource their back office functions to Vindhya, which has expanded its service offerings globally. Vindhya mainly employs persons with disabilities, providing employment to a population with limited opportunities to apply their talents. In fact, it creates operational systems tailored to accommodate employees’ physical abilities.
These examples provide just a flavor of the creative contribution that social enterprises play in building human capita and creating a more inclusive labor market. Further, they are injecting new talent into the services sectors (and others) that face a growing shortage of appropriately skilled workers.
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