SEWF team predicts biggest audience ever at 2021 events in Canada and online

It's one of the biggest and buzziest gatherings for social entrepreneurs around the world – but, like so many others, the Social Enterprise World Forum had to take place online last year due to Covid-19. SEWF founder Gerry Higgins explains this year's plans and reveals that there is still hope for some face-to-face gatherings later this year.

The organisers of the Social Enterprise World Forum this week announced a new format for 2021. Instead of bringing thousands of people together from across the world for one major event in the autumn, there will be four separate events throughout the year – with much of the activity taking place online.

Since the first Social Enterprise World Forum (SEWF) took place in Edinburgh, Scotland in 2008, the event has been hosted by different cities around the world, centred around a three-day forum and several fringe events. 

In September 2020, the SEWF was planned for Halifax in Nova Scotia, Canada, but the Covid-19 pandemic forced the event to switch to digital. More than 5,000 bookings were taken from participants across 102 countries, making it SEWF’s biggest event in its history.

The success of 2020’s digital SEWF plus continuing uncertainty around the possibility of international travel this year have led the organisers to entirely reshape this year’s event. 

An online policy forum is scheduled for April, and a rural forum will take place in June. The main forum, delivered in partnership with Common Good Solutions in Canada, is planned for September or October and the organisers hope that it will be a hybrid online and face-to-face event, depending on the pandemic restrictions. An academic forum will be held in November. 

SEWF will also co-host several events with partners, starting with the Buy Social Canada Symposium in April.



Engaging more people online

SEWF founder Gerry Higgins said that this year’s format would allow more people to participate than a solely in-person event. “We will be able to engage many more people by using this new digital format,” he said, pointing out that delegates could connect for just a few sessions rather than having to commit a week of their time to travel to an event. “That increase in accessibility is hugely significant. We think our engagement this year will be much greater.”

But he also emphasised the importance of face-to-face events. “From a networking perspective, online is nowhere like the in-person experience and that is something that the social enterprise community has really relished with SEWF.”

He added: “When it’s safe to do so, we will resume with in-person gatherings, but almost certainly not at the same volume as previously because the digital offering is so strong.”


SEWF dates for your diary

Buy Social Canada Symposium (SEWF is co-host) 26 April

SEWF Policy Forum (online) 27-28 April

SEWF Rural Forum (online) 8-9 June

SEWF main event late September/early October (possibly online and in-person), dates to be confirmed

SEWF Academic Forum November, dates to be confirmed

All SEWF events this year will be in English and French, recognising Canada as the co-host


The SEWF team is testing a new community hub model. This allows different organisations to act as hosts around the world to bring people together in a local venue where they can have discussions focused on their own area as well as connecting to the main events online.

Higgins urged the social enterprise community to get involved in this year’s SEWF. “We are looking forward to exploring, as the world begins to recover from the pandemic, what is the role of social enterprise in that recovery,” he said. “Our role is to highlight what’s working to encourage adoption of successful models in other countries, and to encourage policymakers that social enterprises can be part of the recovery.”

See the SEWF website for the latest updates on the events.

Header photo: The SEWF host city handover from Addis Ababa to Halifax in Ethiopia 2019