How to get more social enterprises to scale and why we need to

What would our world be like if every business existed to create value for more than its own (probably rich) shareholders? What if every business we buy from in our everyday lives deliberately produces positive social and environmental impact, alongside profit? A more equitable and better world would result.


Capitalism has lifted many people out of poverty [1], but now needs rethinking to achieve more.

Imagine doing your grocery shopping at a vibrant community hub, where fresh produce was in the ground at a local farm only a day or two ago; where the margin off your apples and pears ensures stable prices for farmers; and local community residents have the option to volunteer in exchange for cheaper food. Or imagine buying glass-bottled water, where all profits go to making sure clean water, decent toilets and good hygiene are normal for everyone, everywhere, within a generation.

These “social enterprises” actually exist (The People’s Supermarket and Belu Water) and I believe they are the future. However many of them remain small and local, when they could and often should be having impact at a much larger scale. Growth and scale isn’t appropriate for every model, but for those who can scale, they need all the help they can get because it’s really difficult to do well.

It’s Time to Talk About Scale” explores why it is imperative for all of us to really back social enterprises and get them to scale, and how to go about doing that. It starts by comparing the social enterprise sector to commercial SMEs and finds little difference in size and spread. It looks at the barriers to reaching scale – both in general, and barriers that are specific to mission-led businesses and social enterprises who are trying to scale their impact at the same rate as their business operations.

It also puts forth a vision of getting 100 stand-alone social enterprises to scale in the next five years, requiring coordination and dedicated resource from a range of players including government, wholesale social investors, institutional investors, concessionary capital providers, grant makers, foundations and infrastructure organisations. Together, we can make this lofty goal happen: an economy where I have the choice to spend every pound with a social enterprise.

It is fitting to be launching this report just as we approach Social Enterprise UK’s #BuySocial week – a time when we should all be increasing our awareness of the brilliant social enterprises out there, and incrementally (and sustainably!) increasing our spend with them. We now live in a world where a 16-year schoolgirl has inspired millions globally to take a stand against an environment in peril – simply by showing up to demonstrate to our leaders exactly how much she cares. Small actions add up to big changes in our world – so join us in buying social every day of the year.

I invite you to read the report (at least the executive summary!), and start the conversation about how we can make this vision a reality in the comments below. If you or your organisation is interested in seeing this vision come to life, and want to play a role, please do get in touch.

It’s the most comprehensive review of the key issues in social enterprise that I’ve seen to date” – Rares Pamfil

Read the full report 

[1] Between 1990 and 2010, the number [of people in extreme poverty] fell by half as a share of the total population in developing countries, from 43% to 21%—a reduction of almost 1 billion people.