Corporates key to the next big social enterprises, says Jenkins

Corporates key to the next big social enterprises, says Jenkins

Chrisanthi Giotis, Social Enterprise Live


The next CaféDirect or Big Issue will be formed in partnership with the private sector, says a leading social enterprise supporter.


Jonathan Jenkins, director of ventures at UnLtd, said the UK must look to corporates for help as massive government spending cuts take hold.


His claim followed last week’s Wavelength conference on social innovation, where Jenkins was in the crowd for presentations by representatives of private giants Vodafone, Danone, Marks & Spencer (M&S) and Timpson.


Following the event, Jenkins told Social Enterprise: ‘At UnLtd we very much believe in the power of a thousand flowers blooming through community entrepreneurs. However, to get the next CaféDirect or the next Big Issue we need to work with corporates.


‘We need some newer examples of successfully scaled social enterprises and now that government is due to retrench, the big partner for social enterprises must be corporate partners – there is no one else out there.’


Jenkins said he came to the conclusion after hearing a variety of successful social change initiatives at the Wavelength conference.


The conference heard how M&S had partnered with Oxfam as part of its green strategy, how James Timpson was recruiting ‘superstar’ employees to run branches of his shoe repair and key-cutting empire through training academies in prisons, and how Vodafone was using its technology platform to partner with a swathe of organisations around the world.


Vodafone sustainability director Chris Burgess said: ‘We feel there is almost a moral responsibility that we should do something with the fantastic technology and the opportunities it brings, but we can also make money at the same time.’


Examples of the work the company was doing in partnership included sorting out the logistics for malaria drugs via text messaging, resulting in many more children receiving treatment, cutting down the paperwork for social care workers, providing benefits to small scale farmers and a raft of solutions created through sending payments over text.


‘When the M-PESA [text payment] technology was used to pay the police force in Afghanistan for the first time, everyone thought they had received a massive pay rise. Because there was no middle-man it was the first time they had received all their salary,’ said Burgess.


Jenkins said there were obvious opportunities to use the finance, talent and connections in the corporate sector, but it would also be a challenge for both social entrepreneurs and sector supporters to identify the right people in the huge organisations to talk to, especially when the drive for social innovation is not being driven by straight corporate social responsibility.


‘What also became very clear is, unless you have the CEO backing, it is not going to happen,’ said Jenkins.


The 100-strong audience of corporate managers and social entrepreneurs also heard from pharmaceutical giant Novartis, which has been systematically working to create health care solutions for the poorest in India and is now looking to invite partners, including social entrepreneurial start-ups, to piggyback the distribution network it has created.


The conference also heard about the Grameen-Danone partnership to create a new type of yoghurt, which benefits the poorest in Bangladesh both through the way it is made and distributed and also through health benefits.


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