Social Enterprise: A Powerful Platform for Missions

Social enterprises are social mission driven organizations which trade in goods and services for a social or environmental purpose. For instance:

Belu Water is a UK company that reduces our eco-impact by using compostable water bottles made from corn and local sources to reduce fuel consumption. And since Belu invests all profits into clean water projects in the UK and worldwide, every bottle sold gives someone clean water for a month. Or Cred Jewellery which started because they believe it should be culturally unacceptable to buy jewellery that creates injustices (socially and environmentally) to be made. So they make jewelry that can be sourced all the way back to the mining and they poor their profits back into creating education and hospitals for miners families.

Social Enterprise - A Powerful Platform for MissionsPhoto by Jonny Baker
Social enterprise is nothing new, but it is experiencing a global resurgence,with private initiative being harnessed to solve social problems. And I have to admit that social enterprise is one of the most exciting arenas to be involved in today because it challenges and improves the traditional bottom line, challenging us to measure impact from every angle. This holistic integration is what makes social enterprises sustainable for the long run. It is an obvious practical platform for the outworking of a mission spirituality.

For me, social enterprise brings together my love of the market and my passion for mission. It also is the perfect vehicle to straddle the business and charity worlds. I have a background in sales and marketing. I have always been intrigued by trends, and it is a lens through which I read culture. And let’s face it, business is a platform that engages with every member of society.

I have also, for many years now, been interested in the issue of sustainability in missions. At a meeting with BGCT (Baptist General Convention of Texas) leadership and young church planters in 2000 it became clear to me that if we did not address the issues of sustainability there would not be a modern missions movement.

However, the ‘business as mission’ and ‘bi-vocational’ conversations always came up short for me. They often want to use business as a way to justify meeting their program objectives without paying for them or they want to use business as a front to do evangelism. My thinking is when we do good business and when our purpose of business is a social purpose, people will be drawn into the Kingdom of God. They will experience it, not just hear about it!

My Journey working within Social Enterprise

My Journey working within Social EnterprisePhoto by Jonny Baker
So when Jonny Baker asked me to meet Bill Bolton, who started the innovation school at Cambridge and teaches about multiple types of capital, I jumped at the chance.

After hosting a day workshop on the issue of capital, NET – the Network of Entrepreneurial Talent – was launched. The idea was to create a community of social entrepreneurs that would share a pool of expertise on the issue of social enterprise and support social entrepreneurs so more initiatives would start and succeed.

It is worth it to note that at the same time as I was learning about social enterprise, I was also having to think about developing a larger structure to frame all of my work. I wanted to develop an organization that made sense in light of the work I had done but also had the innovative edge of exploration I bring to my work.

NET has been developing and growing, and the caliber of the community is incredible! However, after a few months I started to feel like an imposter. I couldn’t just help others incubate their enterprises. I needed to be entrepreneuring with more than building a community. I needed to role up my sleeves and get stuck in with building a social enterprise … voila: Sweet Notions