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Social enterprise: a vital force for tackling world’s biggest challenges Mark Norbury, Chief Executive, UnLtd

I am highly encouraged by the results of the Best Place to be a Social Entrepreneur poll. The expert poll provides a valuable snapshot of the current state of the global social entrepreneurship scene as seen from the ground, with almost half the respondents being social entrepreneurs themselves.

The good news is that it is clear momentum is building. In all four corners of the globe, social entrepreneurship has taken root and is finding new ways to grow and indeed thrive. This matters because social entrepreneurs are vital in tackling some of the biggest challenges faced by contemporary society, whether it’s climate change, a lack of education, poverty, poor health or prejudice. These findings show that governments, citizens and corporations are beginning to get behind this inspiring community of social entrepreneurs.

In almost all countries, social entrepreneurs can access the vital non-financial support they need (including financial, legal and technical advice); access relevant networks; and get coaching, mentoring and training. This is exactly the kind of support that Global Social Entrepreneurship Network (GSEN) members provide in more than 50 countries.

We would like to see a world in which social entrepreneurs in any country can connect to great support. GSEN remains committed to building this global eco-system for social entrepreneurs. Our work is firmly rooted in the idea that learn and collaborating with one another strengthens us all.

Yet, while the poll results give some real reasons to be pleased with progress, they do highlight areas where more needs to be done to enable social entrepreneurs to thrive.

HARD TO GET FINANCE

One of the main challenges faced by social entrepreneurs globally is accessing financial support, whether grants, debt or equity investment. Only 10 countries surveyed in the poll agree that it is easy for social entrepreneurs to access grant funding, and only four agreed the same applies to investment – a real concern.

While it is true that there are great investors actively seeking opportunities in this space, their interest is generally limited to well established social ventures. Funding and investment at the early stage remains a challenge for most social entrepreneurs, and it is critical in building a pipeline of investment-ready social ventures which can scale to achieve dramatic impact.

In response to this investment challenge, a group of social entrepreneur supporters set up their own investment fund.

In Nigeria, CoCreation Hub launched a $500,000 seed fund for early stage social entrepreneurs. As their chief executive explains: “Our seed investment ensures start-ups can concentrate on rapidly executing their plans and learning from the market.”

In Britain, UnLtd’s awards help social entrepreneurs move from start up to scale up, while our Big Venture Challenge helps to build investment readiness and match scaling social entrepreneurs with investors. We are constantly looking for like-minded investors to join us.

The poll findings also expose the difficulty social entrepreneurs have in accessing different markets. In very few countries do social entrepreneurs find it easy to sell their products and services to government, and selling to business is reportedly not much easier.

GOVERNMENTS PLAY KEY ROLE

There is no doubt government has an essential role to play in creating an enabling policy environment for social entrepreneurs. The UK has been a pioneer in this area, with strong government support for the movement from the very beginning. The poll highlights the leaders and the laggards, with South Korea standing out as the best. Governments are increasingly interested in learning from others’ experience, and we see significant policy innovation in many countries.

There is room for improvement in every country. At the same time, the poll suggests exciting times ahead. Even the countries that ranked lowest overall have real grounds for optimism, with the findings showing that social entrepreneurship is gaining significant momentum in their country.

From our perspective, the most striking finding from the poll is the lack of understanding among the general public about social entrepreneurship. We believe that tackling this problem is the next big challenge for countries like the US and UK who have strong foundations upon which to build. We want to see social entrepreneurship go mainstream.

This is another opportunity for GSEN members and advocates of social entrepreneurship to work together to build visibility – whether that’s through individual initiatives in specific countries, or through global activity like this poll. Together we can shine a light on the great work being achieved by social entrepreneurs across the world. This will help that work burn brighter for longer, benefiting us all.