- Previous events
- Vitae researcher development conference 2008
- Workshop programme NEW UPDATE December 08
- C9 Workshop summary and outcomes
C9 Workshop summary and outcomes
Engaging researchers in social enterprise
Dr Neil Jennings, Student Switch Off Co-ordinator, Student Switch Off and David Maher, Independent Management Consultant and University of Cambridge
The UK government's commitment to innovation is clear from the Innovation Nation White Paper (2008) which is combined with a strategy for high level skills.
This workshop explored what social enterprise is and how it might fit with researcher development initiatives in universities.
It focused on the Student Switch Off initiative, a project initiated by a doctoral researcher at University of East Anglia (UEA). The project received Roberts funding to help with start-up, and is now a national business promoting energy saving on campuses across the UK. Through this case study, the session also explored:
- the professional and skills development that Student Switch Off provided
- the role of the university in supporting researchers to develop skills through social enterprise.
Overview of social enterprise: David Maher
The Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (BERR, formerly DTI) defines social enterprises as ‘businesses 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'. In social enterprises, profit is important, but as a means to an end not an end in itself.
There is a long tradition of mutual self-help in social enterprises. Some of the largest social enterprises were founded in the nineteenth century, eg Crédit Agricole, Co-operative Society. Social enterprises, in a variety of forms, account for 5% of UK businesses with a GDP contribution of 1%. Historically, social enterprise is associated with mutual/building societies. A growing trend is social enterprise in public service delivery, for example:
- Childcare and social care (Imagine Co-operative Childcare)
- Health (SCA Group, Remploy Healthcare)
- Waste management and recycling (Community Recycling Network)
- Leisure (Greenwich Leisure)
- Transport (ECT Group)
- Education (Kibble).
This has many potential benefits, such as cost effectiveness, empowering employees and service users/customers and providing a framework for providing services in a community-focused way.
Social enterprise has enormous potential for researchers who share its values (eg belief in the capacity of people to contribute meaningfully to economic and social development) and the skills and determination to help make it succeed.
View David Maher's presentation.
Student Switch Off: Neil Jennings
Student Switch Off began as a competition to see which hall of residence could reduce their energy usage most. Providing incentives for energy-efficient behaviour at individual and communal level, it builds on existing social relationships, peer-to-peer communications, rivalries and communities. Roberts funding covered website development and travel costs. Following successful sponsorship approaches it was piloted at UEA over 2006-07. By 2007-08 it had achieved an average of 8.7% reduction in electricity usage across seven universities.
The professional development that Student Switch Off provided was in the areas of original thinking/innovation, bringing research into practice, confidence, networking, practical experience and career management.
There is a need for more widespread mentoring within local social entrepreneurship communities (an expectation of taking on this role?), also networks of researcher entrepreneurs. The potential conflict of interest between doctoral research and social enterprise activity should also be addressed by HE institutions and policy makers.
View Neil Jennings' presentation.
Participants strongly supported the idea of a project looking into social enterprise for researchers.
Key questions were about:
- the role of the HE institution business development function
- ownership of intellectual property
- how to encourage and support the establishment of large-scale businesses.
Participants recognised the value of enterprise activity on a small scale, but also a need to become more ambitious and scale up.
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