The Editors' Post: Tough times and rigged markets

How the challenging funding environment is hitting different parts of the impact economy, and why we still need systemic change. This week's view from the editors at Pioneers Post.

We live in difficult times. Multiple, acute crises are hitting the world; funding has become sparse; Covid-19 government support has come and gone. As a result we see even some of the longest-established organisations shaken. This is the case of UnLtd. The charity, which has been supporting social entrepreneurs since 2002, this month has had to cut 15% of its workforce – 10 people, many of them long-serving, experienced employees. There was no choice, we’re told: while UnLtd is backed by a multi-million pound endowment, much of its funding is raised from external partners, and right now, it’s tough – the charity had to cut its annual budget by £1.3m to be sustainable.

There’s a fear the organisation will lose expertise with its departing staff; but CEO Mark Norbury is adamant that while the model of practical support for social entrepreneurs will evolve, its quality and quantity will remain the same. 

There’s two things I take away from this story: first, this is above all a sad story about people – the dedicated staff leaving, social entrepreneurs concerned about support, managers having to make hard choices. And second, it shows that while headlines focus on the struggles of Credit Suisse or SVB, the economic environment is, slowly but surely, badly hitting the very organisations trying to tackle the deep roots of today’s crises – whether that’s once-thriving social enterprises like Locavore, pioneering international organisations like Traidcraft, or established bodies like UnLtd.

Rigged markets

That is not, however, inevitable. The main problem for ethical or mission-driven businesses is that the market is by default rigged against them, Charlotte Timson, the CEO of Transform Trade, argues in an opinion piece this week. “It’s absurd that our current market renders ethical businesses less competitive than those businesses which pollute, pay their suppliers late, demand unfair discounts and sometimes refuse to pay suppliers at all,” she writes. 

Systemic change is needed, and it starts with tougher regulation and meaningful engagement with producers and workers – not ESG decisions made in shiny offices by the same people who have created the problem, she says. 

Another area of market failure is gender equality – and the Women’s Organisation, a social enterprise based in Liverpool, is in business to correct this. Founded 27 years ago, the Women's Organisation has supported more than 60,000 women and helped to create more than 4,000 women-led businesses. We spoke to founder and CEO Maggie O’Carroll for our latest Social Business Profile – and she doesn’t hold back.


This week's top stories:

UnLtd slashes 15% of workforce, ‘shifting’ support for social entrepreneurs

Social Business Profile: The Women's Organisation - the Liverpool venture breaking glass ceilings

Opinion: Yes, Fairtrade can survive – but only if we reform a rigged market


Top image: Wirestock on Freepik.

Thanks for reading our stories. As an entrepreneur or investor yourself, you'll know that producing quality work doesn't come free. We rely on our subscribers to sustain our journalism – so if you think it's worth having an independent, specialist media platform that covers social enterprise stories, please consider subscribing. You'll also be buying social: Pioneers Post is a social enterprise itself, reinvesting all our profits into helping you do good business, better.