Global experiments: Why there's chemistry between social enterprise and education

“Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world!" said Nelson Mandela. But, unlocking that power means taking Mandela's wisdom and combining it with the lessons from social entrepreneurs tackling education challenges across the globe, says education consultant Anita Devi.

Social enterprise in many ways epitomises the connection of head, heart and action, most educators seek to develop in their students. And yet many educators struggle with the application of market-based commercial strategies to achieve a social purpose that comes with setting up a social enterprise.
But we're increasingly seeing that social enterprise can work both for and in education. From Brazil to Western Australia there are diverse and instructive examples of how social enterprise is being used to further the cause of education.
Global experiments: 7 awesome projects
With the exception of North Carolina and Brazil, these are all examples of entrepreneurial projects I have witnessed first-hand or have had the privilege to professionally engage with and develop.
In North Carolina, James H. Johnson, Jr. established a school in northeast-central Durham to tackle the problems of poverty, drug abuse and gang activity. Set up in 2009, the extended day curriculum for students includes courses on nutrition education, character development, entrepreneurship, global awareness, and economic literacy. It is an education system based on entrepreneur strategies, but designed around the local community. The aspiration is for every child by 8th Grade (13-14 years) to be bilingual. For the community, the resources are used to support adult classes on health care, fitness, healthy and cooking.
Favelas (poor urban communicates) in Brazil are beginning to capitalize on the benefits of social enterprise and education. One such example is the ‘Fight for Peace’ organisation. Originally set up to teach disadvantaged children martial arts, the organization has subsequently developed to offer additional educational opportunities internationally. Quoting from their website “Fight for Peace uses boxing and martial arts combined with education and personal development to realise the potential of young people in communities that suffer
from crime and violence.”
In Kenya and Zambia two schools I visited shared an education ethos of human values education and character development. Set up in the poorest areas of the country, both schools engaged students in farming and other entrepreneurial activities to subsidise the cost and fees of the school. Produce from the farm was utilised by the school to feed the students and any surplus sold at the local market.
In India (Rajasthan) children born with polio are generally excluded in the community as outcasts. A boarding school sells handicraft activities undertaken by the students to fund the cost of boarding and education. Articles are produced to a high standard and the engagement factor has served to transform an “I have been abandoned attitude” into a “Can do” culture. Many of the students have gone on to win medals in the Paralympics.
In the heart of Mumbai in India, a special school and resource centre (ADAPT, National Resource Centre for Inclusion) which caters for children with profound and multiple learning difficulties also engages parents and other students in producing handbags, cards, candle holders and other handicraft items; which they sell to buy the much needed and expensive equipment to support the children’s needs. For the older children’s families, the activities provide a sense of hope and future vocation; as they are learning essential life-skills.
An independent school in Western Australia likewise has set up various entrepreneurial activities and once a week all students dedicate a few hours to using their skills to cook, draw or sew to create a variety of products which they give to the less fortunate and vulnerable in the community (including the socially isolated and elderly).
More recently, in Milton Keynes (England) in response to the changing funding arrangements for special educational needs (SEN) “S4L_Innovation” has set up the S4L-iHub social enterprise in order to:
- Establish a physical resource hub, where organisations, parents/carers, volunteers and professionals can view, borrow and research resources to support individuals with learning difficulties.
- Provide a place for people to drop in, share experiences and provide support and advice to one another. Other people’s experiences are an important resource and facilitating the sharing of these alongside physical resources will be invaluable.
- Build a sustainable resource that will help transform the educational experience of people with learning difficulties leading to improved performance and engagement in education.
- Support the professional development of the future education workforce.
The aspiration of S4L_iHub is to build on partnerships with the local authority, schools and other educational settings, voluntary community sector (VCS), higher education and businesses in Milton Keynes.
Elsewhere in England, the Community Film Unit was set up to work with NEETs (not in education, employment or training); giving them opportunities to develop filming/ camera skills and to express their creativity. Continuing this aspiration of giving back something to the education community, Community Film Unit does not rely on grants or bids, but run on robust commercial principles and as such offers young people internships as well as charities opportunities to bid for a Speak Up Film Fund to produce a film. It is "a great example of what drive, innovative thinking and determination in tough economic times can achieve,” says David McNulty, Chief Executive, Surrey County Council.
21st century education
So, where does social enterprise fit with the education system in England and Wales moving forward in the 21st Century?
Simon Denny shares an anecdote about when he asked his post graduate students to devise a diagram that illustrated how the social enterprise sector fitted into the UK economy. Most opted for a bar-chart, seeing different sectors as silos. Simon’s own prediction is a merging Venn diagram between private, public and social enterprise sectors. 
Focusing on the ‘student experience’ element of social enterprise, Professor Nick Petford, Vice Chancellor at The University of Northampton talks about developing the “T-bar” student. In University Business he describes the bar across the top of the T representing the curriculum, the course, or the qualification undertaken by the student. The stem of the T stands for the practical application of their knowledge which is enhanced through the student’s engagement in social enterprise strategy.  At university level, this may seem applicable since students are engaged in a chosen career path.
But what about primary pupils? Through InspirEngage International Melody Hossaini (The Apprentice 2011 participant) has involved thousands of primary-aged pupils to transform their ideas and aspirations for a better community into a social enterprise. So we know, social enterprise is not age-restricted or limited to any particular sector of education. “We want to connect people with the power to make a difference in their community. When this connection is made, it’s very powerful- especially in young people. Which is why InspirEngage International’s work is so important,” said Nick Hurd, Minister for Civil Society, earlier this year.
In 2014, education, health and social care in England and Wales will undergo some significant changes. The proposed Children and Families Bill (if agreed) will introduce eight main changes for children and young people with special educational needs from birth to age 25. In particular, for the first time, young people aged 16-25 at college with special educational needs would have the right to ask for their needs to be assessed, the right to say which college they want to go to, and the right to make appeals about the support they receive. 
1. To get education, health and social care services working together
2. Make sure children, young people and families know what help they can get when a
child or young person has special educational needs
3. To make sure that different organisations work together to help children and young
people with special educational needs
4. To give children and young people and their parents more say about the help they get
5. For one overall assessment to look at what special help a child or young person needs
with their education, and their health and social care needs, all at the same time
6. For a child or young person to have one plan for meeting their education, health and
social care needs, which can run from birth to 25 if it needs to
7. To make sure children, young people and their parents can choose some of the help
they need
8. To help sort things out if a child or young person or their parent needs to appeal about
the help they get
So the question arises, in this new era of special educational needs provision, what role can social enterprise play in advancing educational opportunities and employability for children and young people with special educational needs? The above examples and approaches provide us with some food for thought.
There will be greater interaction between between private, public and social enterprise sectors Simon Denny suggests, and we may see a merging Venn diagram between sectors. We have already seen this in healthcare where two health bodies exist (private and social enterprise) and where social enterprises  are proving to be more effective in service delivery and value for money provision. 
Equally, we may see individuals seeking qualifications undertaking courses that allow them to engage with social enterprises to gain life and employability skills, as proposed by Nick Petford. 
Beyond that, I think we could see schools and colleges setting up their own social enterprises to support not only the citizenship aspect of the curriculum; but as an income generator to fund many much needed resources in challenging and changing economic times. In areas of high social deprivation, this may also help to train adults (as in James Johnson’s model), thereby continuing to the development of the local economy. Whatever the future holds, social enterprise has a role to play in and for education.
The question is, as educators can we combine our professional values and aspirations with market-based commercial strategies to develop creative and authentic learning opportunities for our students? I think so!