THE BLOG

Community Businesses Are the Future - And Women Are Leading the Way

04/03/2013 22:53 GMT | Updated 04/05/2013 10:12 BST

In the 17 years or so since I started speaking to groups of women entrepreneurs, I have always been aware of the desire from so many of them to give back to society in some way through their businesses as well becoming financial independent and creatively fulfilled.

As social enterprise has developed as a serious part of our economy alongside social purpose businesses as a whole, I have seen this longing influence more and more women across the country to start small community businesses where they can enjoy the close connection with others as well as make contribution.

I hear many success stories of women running ethical community businesses such as shops selling local produce or locally made goods; opening community cafes and well-being centres or creating on-line businesses marketing fair trade products, all of which, when combined together, can make a considerable contribution to our local economies.

Key findings by Social Enterprise UK shows that 14% of all social enterprises are start-ups less than two years old, are than three times the proportion of start-ups amongst mainstream small business over the same period of time. And 85% of the social enterprise teams contain at least one woman director.

Identifying personal values and incorporating them into business plans has always been a key aspect in my SEED learning programmes when training women start-ups. And nurturing, integrity, authenticity and respect always figure high up in most values lists of women groups I've worked with, interestingly from such diverse environments as women's prisons to the corporate world.

I believe that we will see more and more local women's-led businesses opening in both rural and urban communities like the pop-up SEED cafes and SEED Empowerment Peer Circles which I am currently developing, where women will learn to support other more disadvantaged women and young people with skills training, confidence building and mentoring.

This Friday, 8 March, on International Women's Day 2013, I am focusing my annual business workshops at WOW (Women of the World) at London's Southbank Centre entirely on social enterprise.

In the first one, entitled What is Social Enterprise? I will be interviewing three award-winners from the sector. Hilary Cottom, the founder of Participle Design Group, Emma Stewart, founder of Women Like Us and charity retail expert Jayne Cartwright will be telling their stories and explaining what social enterprise means to them.

We will follow this session with a SEED café-style workshop with various experts on 'How to Start Your Social Enterprise', explaining the many and various types of legal structures that are considered social enterprises including co-operatives, charities and community interest companies (CICs) and the processes needed to start one.

There are starting to be many specialists and advisors in this area, which is a minefield of constantly changing new government rulings and changes in perception with regard to investment and funding. Crowd funding, angel investors, foundations, banks, philanthropists and local councils are all part of the funding sources currently available for social enterprise - with varying levels of involvement and return.

I just hope that all the bureaucracy involved doesn't put off the many women and of course men who are opening up businesses based on their hearts as much as their heads, determined to show that there is a new way to creating a sustainable economy which is not just about growth and greed but about small businesses creating value and growth in the local and global community.