I left for South Africa with the sad news that the WISE group had been unsuccessful with their bid to DWP. Their performance on previous DWP contracts had been outstanding – a shining example of what social enterprise can achieve, a high performer that not only gets people back to work, but does so by improving whole lives and regenerating communities.
The winning prime contractors have committed to between a 3%-7% third sector supply chain. Is DWP out of step with the Government’s commitment that 25% of public spending will go to SME’s, and that as the Queen stated in her opening of parliament charities, co-operatives and social enterprises will play a bigger role in public service? I’ll let you be the judge of that.
We’ll be working with the WISE group to ensure that DWP fully understand the missed opportunity that this decision has created. As I’ve said before, we don’t want unfair advantage, but we want a level playing field and for the added value that we create to be recognised within the commissioning frameworks.
So I arrived in Johannesburg for the 4th World Social Enterprise Forum and it wasn’t the best first impression. I got into a taxi with two fellow speakers who had flown in from Italy. Our driver, who had left his car in a zone that clearly stated ‘No stopping’, was given a ticket. An angry exchange between the driver and the policeman followed, before he got into the car and said: ‘If I was black he wouldn’t have given me a ticket, he’s is a fascist’. The three of us spontaneously and angrily pounced upon him and we spent the rest of the journey without a sound from him. ‘Is this really representative of the new South Africa?’ I thought.The World Forum brings together hundreds of speakers, delegates, activists, policy wonks and politicians from right around the world. It’s not only an information and learning exchange, the forum acts as a catalyst for social enterprise development in whatever territory it lands. Sometimes it’s a whole country that’s affected and sometimes such as in Africa a whole continent that benefits. The UN were present, the world bank, international NGOs and many people who are tirelessly running inspiring social enterprises in some of the harshest economic circumstances anywhere in the world.
Jay Naidoo (Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition and previous cabinet minister of South Africa), Professor Kovin Naidoo (International Centre for Eyecare Education), Futhi Mtoba (Deloitte Chair and Business SA President) were just some of the impressive speakers on this year’s programme. Ten people from UK social enterprises were also there including Alex from the Grow Organisation, Margaret from the WISE Group, Ian from Pluss, Verity from FRC Group, Neil from the Social Enterprise Academy, John from Welsh SEC, and Kelly from Voluntary Action Highland. Everyone I spoke to from the UK and beyond appreciated the value and power of attending.
The conference ran for four days, one set aside for issues specific to Africa. We came away with commitments to work with our African friends to help develop a better social enterprise infrastructure, to help build a bigger movement based on community-owned economic development and to help catalyse a rebalancing of international grant aid to sustainable social enterprise investment.
After the conference I joined the international group tour, the programme excellently developed by Gerry Higgins, and expertly organised and managed by Lindsey – both from CEiS. Korea, USA, Canada, Australia and Germany were all represented in the group which helped maintain a pretty global perspective throughout the tour programme. SHAW Co is a social enterprise delivered from within the University of Cape Town and has a huge impact through a range of interventions across the townships of Cape Town. They are running exceptional nursery provision (I’m hoping that June from LEYF might want to develop a relationship with them). They are running five community-run health and wellbeing centres that seemed to be using the same model we developed at Sunlight. And they’re using medical students to deliver mobile health clinics as part of a more vocational and experiential curriculum.
At Zip Zap circus we were treated to range of performances that wouldn’t have looked out of place at any international arts platform. They put on a whole programme of events and use the income to create opportunities for any young person aged 7-18 to attend circus training for free in areas including performance, lighting, costume, administration, stage management and marketing. Over 150 young people, mainly from the townships are supported each year. There’s a few lessons here for UK arts organisations who are going to be facing severe challenges and could benefit, I’m sure, from a bit of Zip Zap inspiration. I’m hoping that a new relationship can be developed with our own social enterprise circuses here in the UK – namely No Fit State Circus who performed at VOICE 10 and Circus Space here in London.And so we learned, we shared, we contributed and we left. Inspired, energised and networked to exhaustion, but with a really grounded sense of the local and global challenges we collectively face. It felt great to leave with a mountain of new ideas of how we can continue to transfer innovative solutions across national boundaries and build the social enterprise movement not only here in the UK but worldwide too.
Thankfully my fears about South Africa from my first airport transfer were mostly misplaced, although there is clearly still much to be done culturally, structurally and legislatively to shift South Africa’s position as one of the most unequal societies on earth.
I look forward to reporting back on next year’s forum, taking place in Rio…!