The British Council, the UK’s international organization for educational opportunities and cultural relations, works with social innovators through a global program called Skills for Social Entrepreneurs.
The program is delivered through partnerships with private, public and third sector organizations and seeks to leverage the Council’s convening power across sectors and presence in over 100 countries as well as the UK’s experience as a hub of social innovation. (Last year, Social Enterprises provided over one million jobs and contributed £24 billion to the UK economy).
Skills for Social Entrepreneurs was launched in 2009 in China, where three decades of growth have lifted hundreds of millions out of poverty but also produced social and environmental issues that Social Enterprises can address. Our research indicated that Social Enterprise was a poorly understood concept and so our program focused on three core areas: capacity building, public awareness and policy dialogues.
Since then, we have trained over 800 Social Entrepreneurs in China and provided £648,000 in funding to 45 Social Enterprises. These Social Enterprises also had the possibility to receive mentoring and join UK study tours through a partner-sponsored award scheme. We have also convened policy dialogues involving senior Chinese decision makers and promoted understanding of social innovation through lecture tours and social media campaigns.
The Skills for Social Entrepreneurs program has now been rolled out in eight Asian countries, generating strong support and results. In Indonesia we have attracted £620,000 in funding and generated a media reach of 30 million for our work with community-based social enterprises. Our policy engagement in Thailand directly inspired the creation of a National Social Enterprise Committee. Across the region, we have witnessed a sharp increase in the number of social enterprises, intermediary organizations, and favorable policy initiatives.
As the sector matures, we are meeting the evolving needs of our program participants by expanding our cooperation with social investors. In South Korea, we hosted a ‘Seminar on Impact Investing’ together with our partner Diageo. In Myanmar, we are collaborating with Myanmar Business Executives (MBE), an organization of leading professionals who support positive social change. In China, we are creating a platform to connect Chinese and British social investors and unveiling a new course for investment-ready Social Enterprises. And in Japan, we are helping businesses embed social innovation in their corporate culture.
Through such initiatives, we aim to build ambitiously on our momentum, consolidate existing partnerships and create new partnerships with organizations such as IIX that can empower promising Social Enterprises to access venture capital and help build a more sustainable, inclusive and prosperous future for all.
Dr. Mairi MacKay is the Director Society, East Asia with the British Council, and Adam Pillsbury is Senior Communications Manager with the British Council in China.