Britain’s history is full of examples of forward-thinking co-ops, charities, mutuals as well as profitable businesses that have pioneered innovative ways to tackle social needs. From the rich activity of socially oriented businesses and charities in the 19th century, to forerunners of the ethical business movement like the Body Shop, and an estimated £24bn social enterprise industry, the UK has a diverse ecology of entrepreneurial activity aimed at meeting social goals.
With strong government support and interest in the field, and growing interest from London’s financial services sector, the UK has come to be seen as a global leader in the emerging fields of social enterprise, social finance and social entrepreneurship. Over the past fifteen years, at least £350 million of public money has gone into funds for social entrepreneurship, charity capacity building and other support for social ventures, alongside significant philanthropic funding and some private investment – although accurate aggregate figures remain elusive. Tax incentives have also been introduced, as well as legal reforms to encourage investment.
A new industry is steadily taking shape. This industry has many names: social investment, social finance, and the social economy. It fuses together two relative strengths of the UK – skill in finance and skill in civic action, organisation and delivery.
This report, produced by the Young Foundation and published by Nesta, is the first comprehensive survey of the state of the institutions that support a dynamic and emerging sector of social ventures.