Queen honours social enterprise women as momentum grows to end ‘empire’ accolade

Women were strongly represented among the social enterprise leaders named in the Queen’s Birthday Honours this weekend – with some calling for an end to the “colonial links” of the awards.

The Queen’s Honours recognise the achievements and service of extraordinary people across the country and are awarded by the monarch twice a year. They include knighthoods and damehoods as well as – in order of ranking – the CBE (Commander of the Order of the British Empire), OBE (Officer of the Order of the British Empire) and MBE (Member of the Order of the British Empire).

But critics have long considered the word “empire” problematic. Dozens of people have signed up to the new ‘Excellence not Empire’ campaign, including both the CEO and chair of Social Enterprise UK –  Peter Holbrook CBE and Lord Victor Adebowale CBE – and Lucy Findlay MBE, founder of Social Enterprise Mark. 

The campaign calls for a change of wording from ‘empire’ to ‘excellence’, arguing that “references to the British Empire in romantic or nostalgic terms are offensive and deeply hurtful, particularly to those whose families and ancestors suffered”. 

I now take on the responsibility with others to modernise the honours system and end the link with empire - Vidhya Alakeson

In the latest round of gongs, Vidhya Alakeson, CEO of community business funder Power to Change, was awarded an OBE for services to social equality. On Saturday she posted on Twitter: “Proud to be recognised in Queen's Birthday Honours. Pursuing social equality defines me so I value the recognition. I now take on the responsibility with others to modernise the honours system & end the link with empire.”

Ceri Goddard, director of the Equality Impact Investing Project, was awarded an MBE for services to social justice. She also tweeted her support for the Excellence not Empire campaign.

Of the 1,129 people conferred with awards this month, 62% have undertaken “outstanding work” in their communities either in a voluntary or paid capacity, according to the Cabinet Office, with almost 23% recommended for services during the pandemic. Fifteen percent are from an ethnic minority background, the most ethnically diverse list to date.



Dames and officers

Sara Llewellin, CEO of grantmaker Barrow Cadbury Trust, was made a dame. Llewellin led Barrow Cadbury to begin impact investing and shareholder activism, and was key to establishing the Fair By Design partnership and the Connect Fund, which aims to strengthen social investment in England. She was until recently a non-executive director of Charity Bank and was formerly the deputy director of City Bridge Trust.

Sandra Horley, former CEO of domestic violence charity Refuge, also received a damehood.

Kresse Wesling, founder and CEO of fashion social business Elvis and Kresse, received a CBE for services to sustainable business. 

Jo Pritchard, a nurse and health visitor who helped establish the first social enterprise to come out of the NHS in England, was awarded an OBE for services to social enterprise, health and social care. 

MBEs were awarded to Maeve Monaghan, CEO of Northern Ireland’s NOW Group, for services to people with learning difficulties; and to Fair Finance managing director Muna Yassin.

Liz Tapner, CEO of Lancashire social enterprise network Selnet, also received an MBE, as did bosses of community interest companies Simon Gadd (Trinity Fencing CIC), Pamela Fry (PlayWise Learning CIC) and Samantha Dyer (Cambridge Sustainable Food CIC).

Young people named on the list include 21-year-old Amika George, founder of the #FreePeriods campaign, who was awarded an MBE. A British Empire Medal – awarded for hands-on service to the community in a local geographical area – went to 25-year-old Rhys Mallows, who during the Covid-19 pandemic repurposed his whiskey distillery to produce hand sanitiser. 

Charity Bank chair George Blunden also received a British Empire Medal, as did James Carlin, director of 3SG (Bath and North East Somerset Third Sector Group).

Header image: The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh pictured in 1963 (credit: Archives New Zealand, published under a creative commons licence)

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