I am writing this blog from Hanoi, Vietnam where I am spending the week with groups of students, who have made it through to the bootcamp stage of a social enterprise competition I helped launch last year.
I have spent my time helping them to prepare their pitch, where I and a panel of experts chose 10 wonderful social enterprise ideas ranging from enabling street vendors to sell from a mobile cart, rather than the pavement; to helping women in poor, rural communities gain employment and skills.
I was lucky enough to accompany the students on a visit to Mai Chau, a village of social enterprises who work with city children to teach them about rural life, healthy living and several craft production ideas for working with disadvantaged people. While here I met the founder of Hoa Ban, who having left school after Grade 3 at just 9 years old,has now spent more than a decade helping women with disabilities to learn to sew and make products that are sold to tourists. As a social enterprise this is a very basic concept but one that has taken a long time to build up, gain acceptance and make work as a business.
While here I received a note from CEIS and it struck me that I would not be having this amazing opportunity of seeing how these students’ ideas have taken shape and how their presentation skills and confidence have increased since I first engaged with them last year, had it not been for the Social Enterprise World Forum study visit in 2013.
Sitting on the bus from Vancouver to Calgary I was talking about the work I had been doing at the Universities of Teeside and Durham when a fellow traveller mentioned that she had just had an email from Vietnam looking for a social entrepreneur to support a student programme there. A quick forward from the blackberry, a bid completed in my hotel room and finalised with a colleague across a 7 hour time difference, then a Skype interview two days after I returned from Canada, I found myself in Hanoi, Vietnam helping to launch a social enterprise competition to lecturers and students just a week later.
Having taken part in the Social Enterprise World Forum (SEWF) in Rio de Janeiro in 2012, it was an easy decision to join the CEIS visit to Calgary, Canada in October 2013 for the SEWF that year. Talking with policy makers, investors and visiting social enterprises as part of the visit added to the debate and discussion that took place at the World Forum.
I learnt a lot in Canada about creating ecosystems for social enterprises and I have since been working in the North East of England to develop the environment in which we work. What made the trip even more special was the great group of participants who came on the tour from Vancouver through the Rockies to Calgary.
Taking part in a study tour gives the opportunity to have conversations you would not otherwise be able to have, so I am now saving up for SEWF 2014, Korea where I hope to discover more new and exciting opportunities!
Kate Welch, Chief Executive, Social Enterprise Acumen CIC
To find out more about the work Kate and Social Enterprise Acumen do, visit http://www.socialenterpriseacumen.co.uk/
You can also take a look at some of the inspiring social enterprises set up by students, lookPositive and Sasa Twende, where Kate has been offering support to students and staff to better understand social enterprise and how to become social entrepreneurs.