The 2023 Social Enterprise World Forum (SEWF23) recently hosted an enlightening panel discussion that delved into the topic “Building a strong social enterprise ecosystem: Why intermediaries matter.” This insightful conversation brought together esteemed speakers from diverse sectors, including Tizzita Tefera from Social Enterprise Ethiopia and Maisha Technologies, Rowan Barnett from Google.org, Wieteke Dupain from Euclid Network, and Wan Dazriq from PurpoSE Malaysia. Leonie Bank, Operations and Programme Manager at Social Enterprise NL, gracefully moderated the panel. This blog post aims to encapsulate the key insights and discussions from this engaging panel session.
Before we delve any further, it’s only fair that I come clean about something. Social Change Central is, indeed, an intermediary itself. This might make you think, “Aha! They’re biased.” But let us assure you, while we may have a vested interest in the success of intermediaries and fostering a thriving social enterprise ecosystem, the insights and arguments presented in this blog post are not solely our own, but rather a collective wisdom derived from the esteemed panelists at the SEWF23 and our understanding of the Australia context. So, while it’s natural to question our impartiality, we believe that the strength and validity of these discussions stand on their merit alone.
Intermediaries in social enterprise are organisations that operate on multiple levels – from communities and municipalities to countries and continents. As highlighted by the session panellists, intermediaries perform an essential function in developing a robust social enterprise ecosystem, connecting various entities within this landscape and providing critical support in areas such as capacity building, policy advocacy, funding, market access and networking.
Tizzita Tefera, a co-founding member of Social Enterprise Ethiopia, underscored the power of collective action and partnership engagement, highlighting how Social Enterprise Ethiopia and Kenya have been making significant differences in their respective ecosystems through collaborative efforts. Another noteworthy point she brought up was how Ethiopia’s intermediary organisation’s are – like the social enterprises they support – pursuing long-term sustainability by leveraging a mixed revenue model, encompassing elements like capacity building, events, and grants. Tizzita suggested that this approach not only ensures a steady stream of income but also allows the intermediaries to remain independent and resilient even in times of financial uncertainty.
Rowan Barnett shared how Google.org is supporting intermediaries and ecosystems. Google.org’s Social Innovation Fund is committed to catalysing the social economy ecosystem across Europe. To date, Google.org has granted over €15 million to these vital organisations across Europe. The primary goal of these grants is to bolster national ecosystems, fostering collaboration and facilitating the exchange of insights and learnings. This collective effort significantly contributes to strengthening the broader European social economy ecosystem. While Google.org’s funding might seem relatively small considering its size, its support alone signifies the importance of bolstering the intermediary environment that supports social enterprise. Rowan also accentuated that strategic partnerships with tech giants like Google can open up new avenues for social enterprises and intermediaries, allowing them to tap into resources and expertise that were previously out of reach.
Wieteke Dupain of Euclid Network emphasised the role of Euclid Network, one of Google.org’s European grantees, in bolstering social entrepreneurs in Europe. Euclid Network is a growing European network for organisations that support social entrepreneurs and impact-driven leaders. Its members are based in 20 countries and represent over 100,000 organisations throughout Europe and beyond. Through strategic partnerships with bodies like the European Commission and United Nations, Euclid Network enhances the field of social entrepreneurship through knowledge exchange, capacity building, networking and international advocacy. Euclid Network aims to “make social enterprise mainstream” and increase the social economy’s contribution from 10 to 20% by actively collaborating with international networks, incubators, accelerators, universities, research centres, and social funds. By creating a solid network of various stakeholders, Euclid Network is paving the way for a more collaborative and inclusive social enterprise ecosystem in Europe.
Wan Dazriq from PurpoSE Malaysia is dedicated to nurturing and expanding social enterprise practices in Malaysia by supporting impact-ventures with high potential and scalabilit. PurpoSE Malaysia also plays an important advocacy role for stakeholders, including both government and private sectors, with the aim of fostering the development of the social enterprise ecosystem. Wan shared how “local states are taking the reins and driving the rule of entrepreneurship through social enterprise”. This bottom-up approach allows for more localised solutions that cater to the specific needs and challenges of different communities. It also empowers local communities to take charge and fosters a sense of ownership and responsibility among local social entrepreneurs.
The panellists unanimously highlighted the importance of a collaborative triad between the government, the private sector, and social entrepreneurs to drive social impact. Governments, particularly at the local level, have a significant role in building solid social enterprise ecosystems – from creating favourable policies and providing financial incentives to fostering a conducive environment for social enterprises to thrive. For instance, social enterprise advocates in Ethiopia are actively working with the federal government to secure recognition and licensing. Governments can also be crucial in promoting social entrepreneurship among the general public and encouraging more people to become social entrepreneurs. Moreover, by incorporating social enterprises into their procurement processes, governments can significantly boost the growth and visibility of these enterprises.
However, securing funding for intermediaries remains a significant challenge. For these intermediary organisations to achieve their goals and prevent burnout, it is imperative to focus on sustainable funding strategies. While all the panellists, except for Tizzita Tefera, side-stepped the moderator’s question on what their respective organisation’s funding models are, they did suggest crowdsourcing, talent curating, and exploring various revenue models like membership fees, service charges, and public funding for intermediaries to consider. The panelists all agreed that it is essential for intermediaries to be able to demonstrate their value and impact clearly and consistently to attract and retain funders and supporters.
In Australia, intermediary organisations have long played an indispensable role in helping to build a brighter, more sustainable future for Australia’s social enterprises. Organisations such as Centre for Social Impact, Collab4Good, Enterprise Learning Projects, Impact Boom, Impact Seed, LendForGood, Sefa, Social Impact Hub, Social Traders, Social Ventures Australia, StartSomeGood, The Difference Incubator, The Mill House Ventures, and White Box Enterprises have all made significant and distinct contributions to the sector.
These entities bring to the table vast experience, dealing with a diverse range of social enterprises and a rich understanding of the sector’s dynamics. Their proven track record and stability have been instrumental in building a robust social enterprise ecosystem in Australia.
What’s exciting is witnessing these organisations increasingly collaborating to share insights, leverage each other’s strengths and create synergies that drive greater impact and stronger networks. This trend towards collaboration is not just enhancing the efficiency and effectiveness of social enterprise’s access to support, but it’s also fostering a culture of shared learning, the exchange of best practices, mutual growth, and collective action within the sector. Ultimately, this contributes to a more robust, dynamic, and resilient social enterprise ecosystem that is better equipped to tackle Australia’s most pressing social challenges.
The landscape of social enterprise can be daunting to navigate. This is where intermediaries, serving as both bridges and catalysts, step in to simplify the journey. In doing so, their role is pivotal, fostering best practices, sparking innovation, and facilitating knowledge exchange among diverse stakeholders. From nurturing collaboration to providing indispensable support and advocacy, these organisations offer invaluable ecosystem scaffolding and significantly influence the growth and success of the social enterprises they serve.
In creating an enabling environment, advocating for systemic change, and inspiring a movement, intermediaries harness the strengths within the social enterprise ecosystem, synchronising efforts for collective impact. As the social enterprise sector evolves, the role of intermediaries is set to become increasingly paramount. Looking ahead, both in Australia and globally, we can anticipate an intensified focus on and interest in the work of intermediaries. Their work – our work – which includes supporting social enterprises, driving innovation, and promoting social impact, is vital. In our opinion and that of the panellists, the success of the social enterprise sector largely depends on the strength and effectiveness of these intermediaries.
With their invaluable contributions, intermediaries are both facilitators and catalysts of change, propelling the social enterprise sector towards a brighter, more impactful future.