Culture Secretary Maria Miller and British Council Chief Executive Martin Davidson joined representatives from the Cabinet Office and Social Enterprise UK as well as prominent Chinese philanthropists, policy advisers, academics and social entrepreneurs in a high profile UK-China Social Enterprise and Investment Dialogue convened by the British Council in Beijing, China.
Held to coincide with Prime Minister’s David Cameron’s UK trade delegation to China, the Dialogue promoted UK leadership of the burgeoning global social investment market and facilitated in-depth discussions about the practice, innovation and development of social enterprise and investment in the UK and China.
Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, Maria Miller said “Social enterprises are thriving across Britain and through developing enterprise connections with other countries such as China we will be able to work towards tackling some difficult social and environmental challenges.”
Kieron Boyle, the Head of Social Finance at the Cabinet Office, presented some of the innovative funding mechanisms the UK has developed to support social enterprise. These include Big Society Capital, the world’s first social investment bank, and Social Impact Bonds, which raise private capital for innovative, cost effective solutions to social problems.
At the G8 Social Impact Investment Summit in June, Prime Minster David Cameron described social investment as “a great idea […] that can transform our societies,by using the power of finance to tackle the most difficult social problems.” He said that the UK would lead efforts to develop social investment around the world through a Social Impact Investment Taskforce and share best practice through a Global Learning Exchange. This will bring more investment deals to the UK, help make London the global hub of impact investment, promote the country as an innovation hub, and support the export of social enterprise goods and services.
Martin Davidson, Chief Executive British Council, said, “Home to 70,000 social enterprises that employ 1 million people and contribute £24 billion to the economy, the UK has created the world’s most fertile environment for social enterprise and impact investment. The British Council harnesses this expertise to support a new generation innovators in China and around the world in order to address some of the biggest challenges we face, build trust and opportunity for the UK, and help foster a more sustainable, prosperous, and inclusive future for all.”
Peter Holbrook, the Chief Executive of Social Enterprise UK, the national body for social enterprise, spoke about the UK’s vibrant social enterprise sector. According to a recent survey by Social Enterprise UK, one third of all business start-ups in the UK today are social enterprises, and social enterprises are growing faster and innovating more than SMEs. They are also more optimistic about the future: 63% of social enterprises expect their turnover to increase in the next three years, compared to only 37% of SMEs. Moreover, 11% of UK social enterprises trade internationally but that number could rise sharply.
The British Council has leveraged UK expertise and partnered with 25 organisations in China to support the development of social enterprise in China through its Skills for Social Entrepreneurs (SfSE) programme. Since 2009, the programme has trained more than 1,200 Chinese social entrepreneurs and delivered RMB 9 million (£900,000) in funding from partners to 66 social enterprises. It has convened policy dialogues and raised awareness of social enterprise and through media campaigns and presentations by UK speakers.
The number of Chinese social enterprise has grown rapidly since 2009 and today includes a number of established social enterprises seeking incubation and investment to enhance the impact of their good work. Earlier this year, the British Council and seven partners launched a Social Investment Platform to promote impact investing in China and provide funding opportunities for outstanding Chinese social enterprises.
Carma Eliot, Director British Council China, said, “The concept of social enterprise was only introduced to China about ten years ago, but the young sector is developing rapidly and there is enormous demand, across many sectors, to learn from the UK.” She added, “The British Council and our Chinese partners are widely seen to have played an important role in the development of social enterprise in China and this creates a very strong foundation for enhanced UK-China collaboration in this field.”
The British Council has introduced its social enterprise programme in 16 countries and aims to expand the programme and Social Investment Platform in new markets. This supports UK efforts on the internationalisation of social enterprise, social innovation and social investment.