Social Enterprise Coalition visits BME communities in Luton

The Social Enterprise Coalition (SEC) was in Luton this week to host an event for Black and Minority Ethnic Communities aimed at promoting the opportunities presented by social enterprise.

Inevitably, there was a lot of discussion about the role social enterprise can play in facilitating the economic recovery and the potential for BAME communities to contribute to that.

A 2008 survey found that there are significantly higher levels of social entrepreneurship among BAME communities than among White communities and SEC is eager to connect that entrepreneurial activity with social enterprise business models. Tuesday’s event was very much a call to action.

Jonathan Bland, CEO of the Social Enterprise Coalition, made the point early on when he said in the opening plenary that ‘ignorance is our enemy’. And this was quickly followed by a challenge from Margaret Moran MP, back on home turf as the parliamentary representative for Luton South, who called on delegates to ‘go out with a message that there is no downside to social enterprise’ in order to capture the talent, energy and innovation present in local communities.

Task number two for the packed conference was set by Michele Rigby, chief executive of Social Enterprise East of England, who challenged delegates to use the event to form five new contacts. From the enthusiastic networking which took place during breaks in the action it appeared that it was a challenge which was readily accepted.

For the uninitiated in the world of social enterprise a number of speakers were on hand to describe their experiences of running a successful social enterprise, amongst them two Social Enterprise AmbassadorsClaudine Reid, Director of Operations at PJ’s Community Services, and Tokunbo Ajasa-Oluwa, founder of Catch 22 Magazine CIC.

Tokunbo spoke about how the frustrations of a dependency on grant funding propelled him to seek an alternative model through which to combine his passions for journalism and youth-development, leading him to social enterprise, and culminating in Catch 22 CIC. He also revealed that, following earlier setbacks, the next edition of Catch 22 magazine will be on sale from April 8 – an inspiring achievement given the currently perilous state of the media industry.

The morning seminars covered topics including the opportunities for BAME social enterprises in the 2012 Olympics, and social enterprise solutions to the economic downturn. Another discussed the role faith plays in social enterprise. The session was led by Patrick Reid, husband of Claudine and co-founder of PJ’s Community Services, who you could say was evangelical about his experience of social enterprise. During his session he also made the interesting point that people of faith should be the best entrepreneurs in the world given that a fundamental component of religious belief is the willingness to take a risk and step into the unknown.

Lunch was followed by an address from Diye Wariebi, Chief Executive of DigiBridge CIC, who triggered laughter as he recalled how a lack of fulfilment in his previous job gave him an expert knowledge of the human resource protocols of his employer as he strove to take as many sick days as possible without triggering disciplinary action. Now enjoying complete job satisfaction, Diye has found a way to fuse his skills with a desire to make a positive contribution to the community. DigiBridge CIC assists excluded individuals and households to become computer literate and provides cost effect ICT support to third sector organisations.

The afternoon saw a series of workshops take place giving practical advice and guidance on some of the technical and legal considerations involved in establishing a social enterprise.

Coming full circle, the final comment of the day, made during a question and answer session, suggested the event may have reached its goal in energising the local social enterprise movement as one delegate expressed his hope that the event would mark the start of regular meetings of social entrepreneurs in the Luton area to exchange ideas, form partnerships and offer mutual support.

The event was the second in a series of BAME events to be delivered by the Social Enterprise Coalition. For information on future events keep checking the Social Enterprise Coalition website.


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