Enterprise: a solution to our economic and environmental challenges?

31st October 2012 by

Otesha’s mission is to build a community of young people who see their lives as powerful tools for change. A part of that is to show people that they are citizens, not just consumers and that they aren’t defined by how they spend their money. But unless you’re emulating the Moneyless Man, then you’ll probably have to spend money on some things and we want to encourage you to think about how you can use that spending to support projects which have the best interests of people and planet in mind.

A social enterprise is a business which trades for a social and/or environmental purpose. These businesses operate with a ‘triple bottom line’ in which the economic, social and environmental performance is measured at the end of each year. Famous examples of companies which were set up explicitly to do good include Divine Chocolate (which as well as being Fairtrade is 45% owned by the farmers) and the Big Issue . Such companies produce a product and make a profit, whilst providing an opportunity for people facing barriers to improve their own skills and finances.

At Otesha we’ve been thinking about how we can use social enterprise at a more local level to tackle the huge environmental and economic problems facing the young people we work with. Along with our partners in the East London Green Jobs Alliance, we provide high quality environmental literacy and job readiness training to prepare young people for work. But with 1 million UK youth experiencing unemployment, what if there isn’t a green and decent job for them to go into? Increasingly, we’re saying ‘why not create your own?’

Setting up a social enterprise could provide meaningful work for young people in businesses which do a lot for our communities. A great example comes from our friends at the Golden Company, a social enterprise which works with young people in East London who want to become beekeepers. 15 people this year have learnt how to look after bees and then create, market and sell products made from their honey. At the other end of the scale Fair Finance, a social enterprise also based in East London, offers a range of financial services and support to people who are excluded, protecting them from loan sharks and predatory payday loan companies like Wonga.   They’re providing a service, creating jobs and improving the social benefits of community-level financial companies.

Otesha is currently producing a ‘how to guide’ for organisations and individuals looking to set up their own social enterprise. In the meantime, you can find out about funding opportunities and advice from our friends at UnLtd and the Young Foundation. If you have a social enterprise that you’d like us to share as a case study, get in touch with Claire at clairea@otesha.org.uk.

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