I have established Future Terrains, unashamedly, as a social enterprise – with the aim of making a difference while making a living. According to Social Enterprise UK, ‘social enterprises are using business to tackle social problems, improve communities, improve people’s life chances and protect the environment.’
I first heard the term ‘social enterprise’ during my 12 years working at the Eden Project, which itself has developed as a fine example of this kind of business. At that time I wasn’t quite sure what the term meant, nor its significance. I now find myself in the process of developing my own version and have had to build a deeper understanding of what it means and how it works.
So how does it work?
Social Enterprise UK again: ‘Social enterprise is not a legal term, but an approach. The phrase is used to describe businesses that exist for a social purpose… In the end, being a social enterprise is about adopting a set of principles. These include:
- Having a clear social and/or environmental mission,
- Generating the majority of your income through trade,
- Reinvesting the majority of your profits to further the social mission.
This is regardless of what form the organisation takes. So, if you have these in place you are acting as a social enterprise.’
There are more than 70,000 such organisations in the UK, including household names like Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen restaurant chain, The Big Issue, Belu and WaterAid, and, as previously mentioned, Eden Project. Internationally, figures such as social entrepreneur and Nobel Peace Prize winner Muhammad Yunus’ Grameen Bank have created substantial societal improvements in some of the poorest countries. But, the vast majority are small businesses run by social entrepreneurs addressing social and environmental problems using entrepreneurial skills.
Doesn’t it all sound too ‘motherhood and apple pie’ (– especially when one works in the hard-nosed commercial world of the natural resources sector)? Increasingly, even in this sector, there is a growing place for business practices that deliver pragmatic environmental and social value as part of their modus operandi, and there is an increasing number of drivers for this; for example, consider the burgeoning of regulation, guidance and standards relating to improving environmental and social practice in the mining industry; the number of CEOs who are willing to stand up and state their business case for corporate social responsibility and the need for community acceptance (or ‘social licence to operate’); or the rise of citizen journalists armed with little but smart phones and a willingness to face risks for justice.
Hopefully my motivations are apparent from the information on this new website and from my previous work profile. As well as working with businesses and government organisations, I readily work with the education and research sectors and civil society as key long-term stakeholders in addressing landscape degradation, while striving to increase public awareness about the issues and opportunities surrounding this subject, but grounded in the practical experience of having seen what works on the ground. Like much in the sustainable development process, there are so many issues to be addressed in the short term that – too often – the long term is kicked into the long grass! Alongside improving organisational practice and restoring damaged lands, education, awareness and ‘slow change’ are also critical to a better future, and Future Terrains has a foot in all camps.