Covid-19: Social Enterprises are leading business response

Katherine Rostron, expert in social enterprise organisations (SEs) at the University of Salford Business School, explains why SEs are responding quickly and effectively in the Covid-19 crisis.

Social Enterprises are businesses with a social mission and right now they are capable of having a huge positive impact on mitigating the indirect effects of the Covid-19 crisis.

SEs come in all shapes and sizes but what unites them is their focus on creating social value. Every SE, whether providing community arts provision, creating digital solutions or supporting new mothers, spends time identifying the needs of those it serves. In this time of crisis, SEs are doing what is second nature to them, they are responding to need.

One great examples is OT creative SPACE, a community arts organisation in Old Trafford with a mission to bring people together. Since the Covid-19 crisis began, they have moved their regular groups, aimed at older people and families, online. Lynda Sterling, founder and Managing Director, said: “It’s just so important to stay in touch, my drawing group include twenty older members of the community some of them live on their own… we couldn’t just shut up shop.” As well as getting creative online, OT creative space has used the gallery window to send positive messages to their community and set up social distancing abiding creative activities in the local parks.

SEs possess flexibility and agility, this may surprise those unfamiliar with the SE sector, but its necessary for organisations with seeking innovative commercial solutions to social problems. Flexibility and agility are demonstrated in the lightening quick responses SEs have made during the Covid-19 crisis.

Reason Digital, based in Manchester’s Northern Quarter, provides digital solutions to charities and SEs who combat some of society’s most difficult issues including poverty, disease and loneliness and describes a super-fast response to its clients. Ed Cox, founder and co-director of Reason Digital, said: “We’ve switched from supporting charity development to delivering what feels like humanitarian aid.” Their digital solutions have are enabling NHS staff to access volunteers and donations, providing material from trauma experts for NHS first responders and simplifying the process of befriending to alleviate isolation for those who live alone.

In the Covid-19 crisis, SEs are working harder than ever with the most vulnerable members of society while at the same time going through massive change due to the social distancing measures.

In order to respond effectively as well as quickly, SEs can look to their focus on impact and trusted relationships. SEs, unlike traditional businesses, measure their success by social impact as well as balance sheets.

SEs are trusted, often by virtue of their social credentials, but also because of the commitment they show within communities. SEs often develop long term relationships within communities, and this is an asset to the business. During a crisis like Covid-19, having developed trusting relationships means those in the community are likely to listen to and to reach out to SE organisations making their responses more likely to be effective.

Salford based Visit from the Stork has lived up to its name in recent weeks. It has switched from delivering digital resources to new mothers to physically delivering baby essentials to the doorsteps of those in need.

While it is true that traditional businesses are doing good too, what the last few weeks have highlighted is the value of putting a social mission at the centre of a business model. It is not an easy option, SEs often struggle to balance the social and the commercial, but the benefit to society of having responsive organisations, with commercial awareness and a beating heart at their centre makes them quiet business heroes during this crisis and they will continue to play a key role in the months to come.