Spark Social Enterprise - Time to say goodbye

What a strange time we find ourselves in with 'lock-down' all throughout Europe. We are particularly mindful of all of the wonderful social enterprises we have worked with. Making a social enterprise 'work' financially as well as delivering on it's social mission is tough enough, let alone being faced with all the uncertainty and anxiety caused by this virus. A very difficult time indeed. We hope that the respective governments recognise the role that social entrepreneurs play in the economy and provide the necessary support.

We also can't quite believe that the Spark Social Enterprise project which started in 2016 is coming to it's official end. We've weathered quite a few storms, the least not being our previous lead partner closing business and withdrawing (rather abruptly!) from the project. However, we banded together as a partnership to double down and deliver on the project objectives. We are glad that we did.

Our final major event was held on World Social Enterprise Day on 21st Nov 2019 in Brussels. A great way to celebrate Spark and Social Enterprises! 

The partnership on the project has been a real strength, it's been a pleasure working together in a truly international team which has included English, Greek, Brazillian, Welsh, Spanish, Dutch and Flemish. As nations, and individuals we are definitely 'stronger together' and the project proved that.

We hope that you have found SPARK helpful, the aim of the project was to introduce the benefits of innovation to social enterprises and to help change the environment to help promote sustainable growth. Over the project's four years here are some of our highlights:

    • Creating a specific 'innovation model' for social enterprises - our Spark Innovation Road-map.
    • Having 75 brilliant social enterprises progress through an intensive Accelerator programme of 1-2-1 coaching, workshops, international 'safaris' and a further 25 social enterprises developing new products/services based on new innovation knowledge.
    • Having over 60 stakeholders, policy makers and social enterprise support organisations sign up to our Strategy and Action plan which commits them to work to improve conditions for social enterprises in their locality.
    • Over 400 people joining our Social Enterprise Innovation Accelerator Network (SEIAN).
    • Developing a specialist website for new social enterprises which draws on the best knowledge and research to help guide new social enterprises as they begin business.
      We would like to continue the work started with SPARK and we will be keeping an eye open for further opportunities to take the project into a future version (see Ana's article below for what we'd like to do next).
      As we prepare our final 'wrapping up' of this phase of the project one way you could help us out is to give some feedback on your experience of SPARK. If you have just a few minutes (I promise it won't take longer) please answer a few questions on our final survey which you can find at: https://brighton.onlinesurveys.ac.uk/spark-feedback
      Thank you to all of you who have contributed and helped us with the project. We've been inspired by all the amazing social entrepreneurs and the dedication of those working to support the development of social enterprises. It was all of you that provided the spark!

Pieter (left) and André (right) organised two excellent days for stakeholders to help them understand some of the great benefits of social enterprises.

Engaging Stakeholders in Belgium and Holland

Leading up to the ending of the project we've been busy with various events to support our work in engaging stakeholders and policy makers. In all three regions (UK, Belgium and Netherlands) we've undertaken specific workshops for stakeholders to help promote our strategy and action plan. Pieter Werrebrouck (our partner from DePunt in Belgium) provides us some information about some special events that he ran with our Netherlands partner André Brasser from Stadsgarage.

Read more about the Rotterdam safari and the Antwerpen safari.

What's next for Spark?
Ana Fajardo our partner from West Sussex County Council in the UK gazes into her crystal ball to see what might happen in the future version of SPARK....

The Spark project leaves behind an important legacy of tools, knowledge and information available in the project's website www.sparksocialenterprise.eu. What we would like to do is to encourage support organisations and policy makers to to build on the SPARK experience, continuing and enhancing its support offer. In practical terms, the following initiatives, growing from and developing what we have started with SPARK, could continue to develop a supportive ecosystem for social enterprises:

  1. Create and pilot an online learning programme in modules for procurers in the public sector to include:
    - Sessions on SEs, how the operate, what are the issues, what is their added value.
    - A tool to help procurers determine quickly the social value of an organisation and how to apply it to the context of a contract.
    - Visits to other more experienced public sector organisations with the chance to set up a light touch mentoring programme.

  2. To issue annual reports on the state of the social economy in the various regions to be promoted and supported by local government business initiatives. Recognising successes and highlighting areas for improvement within the sector to inspire bottom up initiatives that can secure top down resources when required.

  3. Develop the next stage of the SPARK accelerator programme (Social Enterprise Innovation Accelerator Programme 2.0) improving it with the feedback from the evaluation undertaken on the current programme. Recruit several but smaller new cohorts focusing on SE CEOs and leaders (the change makers). The activities would include:
    - Build on the SPARK Innovation Road-map to create supplementary tools that focus on innovation related to finance readiness, such as leadership and management, internationalisation and digitalisation. Create two paths for development: one for new ideas, one for scaling up.
    - Create resources for SEs to understand their markets and the forces affecting the success of social innovations.
    - Working with SEs to investigate innovative ways to provide timely access to finance, creating a bespoken plan for their needs.
    - Create a "sandbox", a supported space for SEs to have as real as possible an experience for launching a new product or service, using the IR. An appropriate finance programme would run alongside.

  4. Development of regional networks:
    - To raise the sense of identity and community amongst SEs on the ground.
    - To make it easier for them to share knowledge and experience and promote working closer.
    - To make easily accessible and as visible as possible the support available, including business support.
    - To share regularly information, news and useful contacts.

  5. Support holding local events for SEs to meet and stay in touch, as well as meet the buyers events.

  6. Building on the SPARK project work, which has seen the involvement of a significant number of stakeholders, create an expertise network, including public procurers, to:
    - Improve understanding and raise the profile of SEs amongst the triple helix of: public, private and academic sectors to increase their involvement in the sector, not only as providers of knowledge but also as active delivery partners with SEs. 
    - Create a network of "connectors", including individuals, institutions, large businesses and networks to achieve more involvement of professionals lending their expertise to SEs.

  7. Create financial instruments that cater for SEs special circumstances:
    - Ring fencing loans for a medium to a long term, available to be used when required and depending on performance: "planning loans".
    - Grants for prototypes and proofs of concept related to scalable ideas.
    - Competitive loans for operational costs.

SEs are the right vehicle to maximise public investment in services by generating social value, to generate social capital, to create an inclusive economy and to do business in a way that does not cost the earth. Programmes of support and initiatives that help them to realise all their potential are well worth investing in. They are also effective as the SPARK evaluation demonstrates.

As you can see, we have lots of ideas about how a follow-up project could build on the foundations of SPARK. We hope that at some point in the future we may find ourselves working with you again!