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How New Zealand took centre stage at the 2018 Social Enterprise World Forum

Samantha Jones of Little Yellow Bird.

Most people in the New Zealand business community can name at least one successful local social enterprise, but how do our talents in this area measure up on the world stage? Pretty well, actually. Courtney Ennor reports back from the 2018 Social Enterprise World Forum and finds New Zealand is one of the countries leading the way in the social enterprise sector. 

The 2018 Social Enterprise World Forum (SEWF) kicked off last week with the sound of bagpipes in the place where it first began back in 2008 – Edinburgh, Scotland. In the decade since its inception, attendance and engagement in SEWF has steadily risen.

With global interest in sustainability rising, and awareness for social and environmental issues increasing, it’s no surprise that the Forum is expanding at a rapid rate.

The term social enterprise is beginning to surface worldwide and its market becoming increasingly prominent. Social enterprises are often confused with charities or purely not-for-profit entities, however, what sets them apart is an ethical business model based on the core value of purpose over profit.

Key defining characteristics of a social enterprise include re-investing majority of profits for social good, being based on principles of trade rather than aid, and having transparency and accountability of all aspects of the business. At the heart of a social enterprise is an innovative business idea as an answer to real issues. It takes a social entrepreneur with a passion for a social issue to build a business on funding alone.

This year’s SEWF welcomed more than 1,300 attendees, and after a successful 2017 SEWF in Christchurch, 86 Kiwis made the journey from New Zealand to participate in the three-day world-class conference. New Zealand’s large presence at the forum was third only to the host country, Scotland, and Canada.

New Zealand made itself known from the outset of the event when Minister for Social Development, Hon Peeni Henare, addressed the crowd in the opening ceremony thanking Edinburgh for hosting our people. Henare addressed New Zealand’s Government involvement in the sector admitting our government has “created partnerships in Aotaeroa New Zealand to grow social enterprises” followed by the promise “to ensure that the social enterprise movement grows well and strong into the future”.

Helene Malandain from Akina Foundation, a New Zealand organisation dedicated to growing social enterprises, followed Henare’s speech, discussing how important social enterprise is to our country and the role it plays in our communities but also reminding us of the still relevant 2017 SEWF theme of “Creating our tomorrow” and encouraging all participants to over the coming days to collaborate, suggesting;  “let’s learn from each other”.

Stand out New Zealand speakers at the forum included Samantha Rae Jones, founder and CEO of Little Yellow Bird, an ethical uniform company using its transparent and fair procurement and supply chain as its point of difference in the marketplace. Doing us proud was also Noa Wooloff from Inspiring Stories, who bravely, at the age of 20, told his story of how becoming a teen Dad opened his eyes to the challenges young people face when stereotyped and confronted with adversity. With Inspiring Stories he now helps New Zealanders unleash their potential through motivational talks and programmes designed to up-skill and empower young Kiwis.

Other social entrepreneurs with extraordinary stories included local Robbie Norval (Scotland, UK). Norval’s passion for elder care and reducing the risk of Dementia led to his inspiring business solution. Through research he found those who can speak a second language tend to develop dementia four to five years later than those who can only speak one.  This research was reason enough for him to launch into building an empowering social enterprise – Lingo Flamingo, teaching languages to the older generations across the UK.

Kresse Wesling (England, UK) co-founder of Elvis and Kresse, highlighted the issue of landfill waste and told her story of how she used the mass waste of fire hoses to design and make luxury accessories while giving 50 percent of profits back to fire fighter charities in the UK.

Tamra Ryan (Colorado, USA) spoke of her unique answer to poverty and inequality through her company Women’s Bean Project. Tamra provides transitional employment and learning opportunities to women stuck in chronic unemployment through her organic bean production. Allowing the women she employs to grow and become more employable but also providing full time meaningful work – breaking the cycle of unemployment whilst providing a sustainable product.

New Zealand’s significant presence at the Forum highlighted our proclivity to social enterprise. With companies like Eat My Lunch creating a social conversation across the country, it’s easy to see that we are at the forefront of this movement.

SEWF Chairman David LePage closed the ceremony by expressing his excitement for the growth of this global movement that has the power to accelerate social impact through a social value market place. 

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