Report finds that Social Enterprises may provide a sustainable model for schools and colleges

But remember-No margin, No Mission


A new report just released by Social Enterprise London and CfBT Education Trust ‘Extended services: ensuring sustainability using the social enterprise model’ examines, using case studies, whether the Social Enterprise model for delivery of services might be a useful business model  to deliver extended services in schools .It also suggest a possible framework for setting up a social enterprise.

Some 90% of schools deliver a range of extended services that have been funded ,to date, mainly by Government grants.

Less Government funding may be available in future. Given that social enterprises are focused on social outcomes couldn’t they provide sustainability for these services, and perhaps also contribute to engaging the communities around schools?

A Social Enterprise is defined as ‘a business with primarily social objectives whose surpluses are principally reinvested for that purpose in the business or in the community, rather than being driven by the need to maximise profit for shareholders and owners.’

The report considers whether, against the backdrop of reduced public spending, social enterprise provides a solid platform for schools to be able to sustain their extended services beyond the current round of public funded support.

With most schools now delivering extended services many of these services  are already provided by social enterprises: which at their heart is the objective of meeting social challenges whilst achieving financial sustainability – a powerful principle in tough economic times.

The framework in the report takes schools through a series of steps, starting with vision development at the earliest stages of planning, through research and options appraisal, and into detailed planning of the resources and functions needed to set up the enterprise. Implementation of the services is followed by evaluation of social impact: an understanding of this area is key both to continuous improvement of the services for beneficiaries, and to providing valuable evidence for potential buyers and funders of the outcomes of extended services.

At a conference launching the report in April , there was considerable consensus in evidence that Social Enterprises may well be an appropriate model for extended services,  but probably not in all cases. Bottom up solutions rather than top down must be the future direction and,  to ensure sustainability, these enterprises  have  to make a surplus to invest in the future. Enterprises should not be shy about making a margin-its what  they do with the margin that matters. It would also be rash for them to rely just on grant money which in any case will be in short supply in future. One speaker reminded the audience of mainly social entrepreneurs of a saying coined by a Nun who brought Healthcare to disadvantaged communities in America- ‘No margin-no mission’.

The study identified five elements that have been key to delivering extended services successfully through a social enterprise model-a shared drive and passion; a champion to drive the agenda; creative use of community linkages and networks; Skilled and enterprising staff and careful business planning.

Social enterprises inhabit space between the public and private sectors. Because of their aims they  are attractive to all the major parties. But then again so are Charities which may, or may not ,be labeled ‘social enterprises’. There is also a possible danger that organizations will spring up, call themselves social enterprises, when they are nothing of the sort, to steal a marketing  advantage on the for profits, especially when it comes to local government contracts.  Or even if they are  social enterprises (and it’s a pretty broad definition) they  may not have the capability or capacity to manage projects cost effectively relying on, instead,their branding  and marketing to win contracts against  for profits, which may be better equipped and be able to delver better value for money . Local solutions for local challenges, of course, but this should be tempered with pragmatism –  best surely to go with what works best in the circumstances and  is most likely to deliver the required outcomes at the  least cost.  This could well be a social enterprise- but it could also be a charity or a for profit enterprise.

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