Social entrepreneurs are leading the way: #COP26 policymakers should back them

Kevin Armstrong

Policy Lead

17th November 2021



Social entrepreneurs have been lauded as 'heroes' at COP26, but meaningful recognition or financial support for their sustainable work has been alarmingly absent. New research from UnLtd suggests they have a much greater role to play in helping us to move from an extractive economy towards a more generative one.

Independent researcher Claire Norfolk links to the work of Majorie Kelly and Kate Raworth to demonstrate that social entrepreneurs have always done what is in the interests of people and the planet. She shows that applicants for UnLtd support operate instinctively within recommended social and planetary boundaries, doing good while doing well, as a result. By operating within these boundaries – which range from improving social equity to reducing biodiversity loss – social entrepreneurs are helping humanity to meet the needs of all, within the means of the planet.

There are some lessons from social entrepreneurs that could be taken up by other parts of the economy. For example, governance models such as mission or asset locks are crucial strengths in moving away from extractive practices and towards more generative ones that focus more on impact rather than plain profit.

Beyond governance, the evidence is mounting that social entrepreneurs are willing to take action where needed to tackle the climate crisis, while many companies are still discussing their proposals to address climate change.

The Government's announcement that big UK firms and institutions will be obliged to share plans to move to net zero sounded like a watered-down version of the legal climate commitments that 67% of social enterprises already have or intend to use soon. Various COP26 announcements have shown welcome intent to direct more finance towards sustainable initiatives. Investing in social entrepreneurs would be a good place to start.

Norfolk's paper shines a light on untapped areas where social entrepreneurs could be backed to deliver sustainable innovations in the future. If dedicated funding and support can be secured, we could see many more sustainable social enterprises realising their purpose and creating opportunities, such as:

  • St Blazey Recycle Reuse Resale CIC: recycling and reselling furniture and other household goods, gifting to families in crisis. Last year they received a Social Enterprise Support Fund grant that backed their circular business model: one which (a model that extends product life, prevents waste and moves towards service provision rather than consumption of goods).

  • Feed My Creative CIC: reducing waste, promoting sustainability, building communities and inspiring creativity through craft workshops focused on using recycled fabric and materials. Their UnLtd-backed educational business model empowers learners to take responsible actions for environmental integrity, economic viability and a just society.

  • School Farm CSA: providing good food for the local community, actively supporting ecological diversity, and fostering connection and community through education, volunteering and membership. Their food-focussed business model disrupts the unsustainable and inequitable supply and management of food. UnLtd grant and mentoring support helped the farm to expand and become more financially sustainable.

It is these kind of participatory, sustainable and status-quo busting projects that are needed to envision a world beyond the climate emergency, and that social entrepreneurs are well placed to provide.

Calling social entrepreneurs 'heroes' clearly isn't enough to realise their potential as a key contributor to a more sustainable future. As this new report says, "social enterprises are crucial" to living within our planetary boundaries and therefore, further support needs to be directed to them accordingly.

As the dust settles following COP26 and Governments look to make good on their promises, we'd like to see social entrepreneurs at the heart of future policy.

Download Sustainable Social Entrepreneurs report

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