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Doing a world of good on #SocialSaturday2015

8 October 2015

Social enterprise is a growing sector, with an estimated 180,000 such ventures in the UK, and employs about two million people. But what is it exactly? And why are we talking about it now?

Sam Tarff is chief executive of Key Fund, which invests in enterprises in the north of England that aim to deliver social impact to local neighbourhoods rather than maximise profits for investors. In a guest article for the Big Lottery Fund, he explains what social enterprise is, why it matters and why we should all #buysocial

“It’s Social Saturday on 10 October. Nope, it’s not about being sociable down your local – it’s a celebration of buying social.

But what does that mean?

Sam standing on a bridge

Sam Tarff

At the Key Fund, we have done research that shows confusion persists about what social enterprise is.  Although two thirds of us support the idea, only a fifth (21 per cent) knew what social enterprises were.

Simply, it’s about buying or using services from businesses that make a positive difference in our community or on the environment. Social enterprises reinvest their profits into furthering their social mission. They have to have good business models to be financially sustainable, so they don’t rely on grants or charity.

Key Fund is itself a social enterprise. We began in 1999, three years after the movie The Full Monty told the story of six unemployed steelworkers who were forced to form a male striptease act to make some money.

We worked to help revitalise northern communities decimated by the collapse of the coal and steel industries by launching a pioneering grant and loan fund, one of the first in the country, to support the development of social enterprises.

15 years on, we invest in more social enterprises than anyone else in the UK and unlike many social investors we only invest in people who have been turned down by mainstream finance, about 80 per cent of whom operate in areas of multiple disadvantage.

The cost of doing nothing

The UK may be the sixth wealthiest country in the developed world but it’s the only country in the G7 to have seen inequality grow in over a century.

Social enterprise works in the space of that inequality, where there’s a cost to doing nothing, a cost to the tax payer, the state and society itself.

There was a recent story about a Pharmaceuticals CEO who raised an HIV drug price by 5,000 per cent. Wouldn’t you rather buy from a social enterprise model that’s not for profit?

Take Nine Health.

Based at the University of Sheffield, Nine Health helps to deliver innovative technology-based products within health and social care. The Key Fund invested £30,000 for the firm to start a project using “supercomputers” to model disease treatments to save lives and eliminate suffering.

Or look at the Works Skatepark.

As well as skateboarding, it launched an education centre for young people disenfranchised from mainstream education.

Typically, like many social enterprises, it is led by an entrepreneur with a big heart, Elliott Turnbull. Wouldn’t you rather “buy” from Elliott?

Investing in communities

We invest across all sectors, from housing to health; the arts to community-run pubs.

Every £1 we invest creates an £8 wider return to that local community.

It all benefits society and saves the public purse. In terms of new business formation, social enterprise is where the action is. They are innovative, heartfelt and making our communities happier places.

Social Saturday is part of a turning tide. People want to shop locally, ethically and socially. And more people than ever want meaningful work, with strong values.

Perhaps you are one of them?

Key Fund and their partners received more than £1 million from the Social Incubator Fund  (funded by Cabinet Office, delivered by the Big Lottery Fund).

The Big Lottery Fund supports social enterprise and social investment through a number of initiatives. In addition to the Social Incubator Fund (above), we also support Big Potential, the School for Social Enterpreneurs and Commissioning Better Outcomes. Please visit here for more information about what we have funded.

For more information about Social Saturday and events taking place near you visit




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