Institutional racism remains a problem and the social enterprise sector must address it

Mark Norbury

Chief Executive

31st March 2021



We welcome research that helps us better understand how racism manifests itself in our world. Such research has made it evident that institutional racism is a significant issue in the UK. As such, UnLtd rejects the conclusion of the Government’s Commission on Race & Ethnic disparity report that institutional racism is not an area of concern.

It is impossible to square the Commission’s conclusion with evidence from the social enterprise sector, which demonstrates that structural racism is one of the most pernicious barriers to success. As a major funder and supporter of social entrepreneurs, we at UnLtd acknowledge our own role in this, and we remain deeply committed to tackling it. Becoming a truly anti-racist organisation remains UnLtd’s priority and one that goes to the heart of our mission.

Other evidence not shown in the Commission’s report paints a very different picture. For example, recent research commissioned by UnLtd detected a dominant narrative in social investment, much like commercial investment, of white men investing in other white men. Other research found only 2.8% of directors in the social investment sector were women of ethnic minority backgrounds. We have seen first-hand the social entrepreneurs we support have been subject to racist commentary online when they have been put in the spotlight.

The Government’s report acknowledges that UK entrepreneurs from Black, Asian or minority ethnic backgrounds are less likely to access finance, that they are less likely to make a profit, and that their businesses face worse outcomes despite similar success rates to their white counterparts. These problems confirm the persistent damage brought about by structural racism that, consciously or unconsciously, manifests as discriminatory practice and delivery.

In acknowledging the issue, the Commission doesn’t suggest meaningful interventions that would make UK enterprise demonstrably more inclusive. We know that much more can and should be done. This is why, for example, we are calling for a £25m Growth Impact Fund that will specifically target social investment at those organisations with diverse leadership.

The report is right to point out that surface-level interventions such as unconscious bias training are not enough to undo embedded inequalities. That is why it is important to commit to deeper and longer-lasting behavioural change, focusing on equity over equality. This is the approach we are embedding across all our programmes at UnLtd. We are making explicit equity, diversity and inclusion commitments around our award making, and delegating power to social entrepreneurs from marginalised communities in our decision making.

We welcome the report’s recommendations to encourage agency and update dehumanising language. We also know that organisations need to go beyond the stylistic, and challenge the substantce of their work, their mindset, and their behaviours. Meaningful acknowledgement of mistakes and limitations, continuously listening and learning, making change as a result – this is how to build trust.

There is a large pool of talent in the social enterprise sector currently missing opportunities to fulfil their potential. Ignoring the problem will not help. The Commission’s report is a missed opportunity to accept accountability for historical and present wrongs and to accelerate change. We would welcome a dialogue with the Commission to understand and shift the role that Government, and funders like ourselves, must play if we are to make the UK a society that can be truly anti-racist. We would also like to connect the Commission directly to those we support. Their voices have largely been unheard by the Commission, and it shows.

Social entrepreneurs take seemingly intractable problems and use their lived experience to seek solutions. There is much we could learn from their approach in how we, as institutions, tackle inequality in our society. We hope the Government is listening.

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