Time to think big – Minister tells Deloitte social enterprises

At the launch of Deloitte's third annual Social Innovation Pioneers Programme this week, Cabinet Office minister Nick Hurd tells UK growth programme that it's time to think big


The UK's Minister for Civil Society has told an elite group of pioneering social businesses in the UK that it's time to think big.

Speaking at the launch of Deloitte’s Social Innovation Pioneer’s programme this week, Nick Hurd MP, the Minister for Civil Society, said: “We have lots of social enterprises – most of them are very small. We have very few big ones and I’d love to see that change.” 

Government support of the social enterprise sector in the UK is arguably strong, with a £10 million Social Incubator Fund and a string of further support initiatives. More and more corporates are also embarking on their own social enterprise support missions, including Deloitte's Pioneers programme – which is now entering its third year – and RBS with their Inspiring Enterprise project. 

While this type of support is important to help social enterprises scale up, however, the other crucial issue that needs to be tackled is the ‘market’. Nick Temple, director of business and enterprise at Social Enterprise UK, said: “What we need is to invest heavily in the ecosystem. You could have the best strategy and business plan in the world – but if no one’s going to buy it, whether that’s a local authority, a member of the public or a corporate, then no one’s going to buy it. We have to do more on the market-building side.

SEUK is a partner on the Deloitte programme and has been tasked with helping to evaluate both its successes and how it could improve. Temple continued: "If all commissioners understood this world well, if all corporates were working with social enterprises and if all members of the general public knew what a social enterprise was, then I think we’d start to see more of a shift in scale. It’s not just about finance and support, it’s about market.”

Deloitte’s Social Innovation Pioneer’s programme has celebrated some excellent success, working with social ventures competing in a wide variety of buainess sectors. Belu, for example, is a bottled water company that Deloitte worked with last year, as part of its second cohort – and which appears to have been given the political seal of approval. Indeed, Nick Hurd told this week's gathering at The Deloitte Academy in central London that he “guzzles huge amounts of the stuff in the House of Commons”.

It is clear that the UK's social enterprise landscape is not only developing rapidly but is being used as a model for other countries looking to develop the sector in their own economies. Following a visit from a Thai delegation interested in learning about social ventures in the UK this week, Nick Hurd claimed: "We are increasingly seen as leaders in this sector."

Where such programmes needs to develop, however, is in the extent to which they integrate the social enterprises they work with into their core business. Temple said: “Has Deloitte really made progress in embedding this into the core business? We’re not sure yet. Generally we had an aspiration that it would have business benefits beyond the staff, that might be about getting in a supply chain, procurement. That is something to really push this year.”

Having launched a search for enterprises in January 2014, Deloitte has selected 12 applicants for its third annual cohort that it believes provide a clear and measurable social impact. The Pioneers selected for the new year of the programme help to tackle a variety of social issues including poverty, social mobility, elderly care, homelessness, and providing employment to the disadvantaged and disabled.

David Barnes, managing partner at Deloitte, said: “We have, once again, been able to identify and engage with a wide range of enterprises, all varying in size, social impact, and the support they require. This programme continues to provide the perfect opportunity for our people to use their skills and expertise to support these organisations, while learning from the work they’re doing within the social enterprise sector.”

One of the enterprises joining the programme this year is Oomph! Wellness, the UK's largest provider of activity and exercise classes for older adults in care. Oomph! aims to transform health and quality of life through fun, inclusive sessions that improve mobility, increase social interaction and enhance mental stimulation.

Ben Allen, the CEO and founder of the enterprise, commented: “Oomph! is absolutely thrilled to be a Deloitte Social Innovation Pioneer. I founded Oomph! because we desperately need to improve the quality of life of our older adults and care home residents up and down the country today - not tomorrow. With Deloitte’s insight, expertise and connections, we can rapidly scale the breadth and depth of our impact on these individuals." 

Deloitte’s programme, which was recognised with a Big Society Award in 2013, has posted some impressive performance figures. 80% of the second-year cohort reported increased employment during their time as a Pioneer, with 20 full-time and 40 part-time roles created across the group. The 16 enterprises also reported an average growth in turnover of 38% over the course of the year.

The programme – for which Pioneers Post sister organisation Matter&Co provides communications and video support – has supported 46 enterprises since launch. Alumni Pioneers continue to receive access to support from Deloitte, and to build on the partnership potential between their own businesses.