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Social Enterprise: The Future of Business? We think so.

Written by Charlotte Harrington, Co-CEO Belu. Last week the Social Enterprise sector came together for an event focussed on the future. As part of this, I had the immense privilege of interviewing Paul Polman, Co-Founder & Chair of Imagine and former CEO of Unilever. I wanted to share with you a few highlights from our conversation that really resonated with me. Business with purpose is outperforming business as usual   Belu was founded on the belief that there was a different way to do business – that through business, we could help solve some of the world’s problems too. Paul said trends show that ‘multi-stake-holder businesses’ were doing better going into the Covid crisis and many are coming out stronger because the people they serve are firmly at the core of the business. Paul talked about how his values were shaped by his parents’ experiences living through the Second World War and wanting equality of opportunity and peace in Europe. He said that while humans are sometimes tempted to be greedy, giving is always more powerful. In change there is opportunity Paul talked about the scale of the challenges we, as global citizens face: the climate crisis, inequality, a capitalist model serving markets before people, and the need to be regenerative not degenerative. He also talked about how he saw Social Enterprises as leading the way in offering solutions:
“Social enterprises are a fundamental part of this, they are at the foreground of trying to move this society to be more inclusive.  They live every day with the challenges of inequality that we see in this world. They often come up with creative solutions to address them, and with a little help you have an enormous impact.”
Collaboration is key Paul talked about how these challenges won’t be solved by business, or government, or civil society alone. Instead, he said the next phase of problem solving will be cracked by cross-sector, innovative & disruptive partnerships. He shared insights from his time leading Unilever, saying that working alone he could realistically only implement 40% of the impact he wanted to achieve but by working other others, those seen as competitors, they could create large scale systemic change and reach tipping points to really drive impact. At Belu this is music to our ears – we are a small, and agile team who work with others to make amazing happen. We’ve worked with our long-standing partners WaterAid, the Sustainable Restaurant Association and, of course, Social Enterprise UK for many years and as a way of working, we know we’re better when we work together. If you like what you’ve read and want to get involved with our purpose-led ambitions, please do get in touch. You can get priority access the recording of Charlotte and Paul’s session for the Social Enterprise Futures event here by filling in a short survey.  

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