“I believe meaningful work is a key contributor to well-being so I set about designing something that could be made through other social enterprises, which could extend the social value”

By Natasha Almond, Founder of Living Interiors, York, UK and collaborator in the Social Economy in Higher Education Project

York had a thriving voluntary, community and social enterprise sector; however, to continue to expand it has to diversify its income stream away from grant dependency.  Within my work as a development officer at York CVS, I have had the opportunity to support some organisations in the sector to consider news ways of generating income. I observed the tensions within some trading social enterprises between staying true to the principles in developing meaningful opportunities for disabled people and the ability to develop a robust business model to bring in work.

Why I started Living Interiors

Living Picture

Living Picture

I believe meaningful work  is a key contributor to health and well-being and so I set about designing something that could be made through other social enterprises, which could extend the social value. I set up Living Interiors, as an experiment, to develop high end products and an end to end solution through social enterprise. If I can make a success of this I can help meet the skills gap within some social enterprise in taking products to market. Those enterprises could then concentrate on what they do best to, recruit, train and provide supported work opportunities for disabled people.

Trading with other social enterprise will increase social and financial value within the sector, and in turn sustainability. With this in mind I set off designing a number of ethical products. I was inspired by the new green wall technology that was starting to spread across the globe – covering buildings with beautiful plants, renewing life in urban areas, reducing carbon emissions and attracting wildlife. With some start up support from social enterprise specialists UnLtd, I developed an ‘indoor green wall’ for the domestic market. I loved the aesthetics of the green wall and its ability to improve indoor air quality, and hoped that crafting a product entirely from reused and recycled materials, would create a guilt free consumer experience.




 The supply chain

York Disabled Workers Co-operative build quality bespoke wooden furniture, and their skilled craftsmanship makes them the perfect people to hand build the wooden surrounds for the indoor green walls. The plants will be grown through Horticap, and the products and currently packaged and delivered through Paperworks, both North Yorkshire based social enterprises offering training and work experience for disabled people.


Reclaimed wood

Reclaimed wood

Like in any start up business there are some challenges with the resources to bulk buy and to pass the financial savings on to the customer, but there are different challenges I have found through working with social enterprise. Working through only social enterprise means going at a much slower pace, because of course all the elements of production, are also training opportunities for people. Training opportunities have to be organised and delivered, and the trainees have to have more time to understand instruction and complete the tasks.

Finished product

Finished product

However, the pace has been perfect, enabling me the time to think things through as I go and make changes. Working through social enterprise has also uncovered some other welcome surprises, such as people’s willingness to try new things and support your ideas, as this all creates new training opportunities for disabled people, building their skills and supporting their pathways back to work. The complex packaging design, which had to hold both the wooden surround and plants, if manufactured through commercial routes would have priced the product out of the market. Horticap, will grow any of the plants suitable for the green walls, offering very reasonable prices. It seems that with social enterprise, one good turn deserves another and people seem to be open to problem solving with a focus on social value rather than financial.  A much more harmonious supply chain, with transparency, ethics and collaboration.

6 ways a university can be a force in the social economy

As well as teaching and researching about social enterprise and cooperatives, it is important that universities explore ways of practicing the social economy. In the case of cooperatives, these lead to sharing of benefits among their members (students and staff) and the development of democratic decision-making and governance. Other forms of social enterprise can lead to more environmentally and/or socially just and sustainable outcomes. Here are some examples of the social economy operating on university campuses with a fuller explanation further down:

  1. Cooperative, student-owned businesses on campus – to cut prices/share profits with the main stakeholders, i.e. students and staff
  2. Credit union for students and staff on campus – to promote a savings culture in an ethical bank where members share the profits
  3. Social enterprise incubators on university campuses – to support students in developing their ideas for viable social enterprises
  4. Selling Fair Trade or other ethically sourced food in the campus cafes – to know that what we eat does not leave the bitter taste of exploitation of workers
  5. Recycling of student furniture – to ensure affordable prices, sustainability and training in furniture restoration for local people
  6. Student residence cooperatives – to ensure a fair price for accommodation and democratic decision making in the residence

1. Cooperative shops on campus, e.g. The COOP at Harvard/Massachusetts Institute of Technology, USA

sitewide_logoThe COOP serves the Harvard and MIT communities as a cooperative by providing quality products and services: textbooks; college logo mechandise; framing of diplomas; rental of graduation gowns; dorm room necessities. It is one of the US’s largest campus stores. It is open to all, and students, alumni, staff and other people affiliated to Harvard/MIT can become members for $1. Members previously received a share of the profits each year. As of July 2014 members will receive a 10% discount on all purchases, rather than receiving a share of the profits at the end of the year.


2. Credit unions on campus, e.g. the Changemaker Credit Union at University of Northampton, UK

Credit Unions are social enterprise mutual financial organisations set up by members to benefit their community. Members of a credit union save in a common fund. This fund is used to make low interest loans to the credit union members. All interest on loans repayments is reinvested in the credit union and nothing leaves the community. Credit Unions also promote financial education and a culture of saving and responsible borrowing. Because the credit union is not-for-profit, it is able to offer its members higher deposit rates on their savings and lower lending rates on their loans than most banks. It is often a small organization, so the customer service is more personalized, giving members the feeling of a community bank.


The Changemaker Credit Union is a joint initiative between the University of Northampton and Northamptonshire Credit Union. It provides innovative financial services package to all students and staff of the university.

Students, alumni and staff of the University of Northampton can become members of the Changemaker Credit Union. By joining the Changemaker Credit Union members will be supporting a local and ethical savings and loan scheme that is owned and managed by students for the benefit of all members.


3. Social enterprise incubators on campus, e.g. The Phoenix Centre, York St John University, UK

Enterprise incubators can include commercial and social enterprises. They support start up enterprises with office space, mentoring and practical advice. The Phoenix at York St John University currently has 4 social enterprises:

Inspired Youth: “an award-winning not-for-profit Social Enterprise who embrace the creativity and vibrancy of digital video production, arts, media and participative inclusion techniques to inform, challenge, educate and inspire.   Our drive is to make an ongoing positive impact in the community with a particular focus on engaging and empowering people who are considered by some as hard to reach”.

here:now dementia ltd:  “a social enterprise on a mission to rebrand dementia”.

Kindlewoods:  ”a vibrant social enterprise that leads outdoor programmes with schools, groups and families in York and the surrounding area. We are passionate about two things; nature – and our ability to live sustainably in it, and people – feeling good, confident, happy and fulfilled”.

Caroline’s Rainbow Foundation:  is a registered UK charity working to raise awareness of the importance of safe travel to young people, whether they are going abroad for independent travel, gap year placements, organised tours or simply thinking about visiting a different country

4. Selling Fair Trade or other ethically sourced food in the campus cafes, e.g. the University of Melbourne, Australia

“The University of Melbourne  comprises about 58,000 students and staff.  They believe that the consumer choices they make on campus matter. By using fair trade options, they help reduce poverty and make a real difference to the lives of farmers and to communities in the developing world. Every choice matters and a community of 58,000 consumers, could make a world of difference.

A fair trade university supports and promotes fair trade products on campus. At Melbourne, students and staff enjoy greater choice through fair trade options – for coffee, tea, chocolate, and other products – for those who prefer to buy or consume fair trade products.

As part of their fair trade commitment, the University:

  • Stocks fair trade tea and coffee in at least 50% of kitchenettes across campus
  • Serves fair trade tea and coffee in Council and Senior Executive meetings
  • Encourages other cafes and outlets to offer fair trade options, and
  • Over time, is committed to looking at fair trade alternatives for products such as clothing and sports equipment

5. Recycling of student furniture, e.g. the York Community Furniture Store and York St John University, UK

The York Community Furniture Store (CFS), a registered charity and limited company. The CFS collects unwanted  furniture from student residences at the end of the year, restores it as necessary and sells it at reasonable prices, giving further discounts to people out of work or on low incomes. They also provide work experience in restoring the furniture at the companion store in Selby. From their website:

Last year we saved more than 160 metric tonnes from being added to the landfill mountain and helped several thousand people furnish their homes.  The more donors and customers we have, the greater the recycling we can achieve.

This contact is a win-win situation. CFS will collect unwanted student furniture at the end of the academic year. Previously, this had gone into a skip and been thrown away at the expense of the University and unnecessarily high environmental cost.  Perfectly good furniture can now be recycled instead of discarded; people on low incomes (including students) get access to furniture at reasonable prices; and the CFS gets more business to expand its socially and environmentally-driven aims.

 6. Student residence cooperatives, e.g. the Edinburgh Student Housing Cooperative, Scotland

Edinburgh Student Housing Cooperative Ltd will be owned and run democratically by the students living in the co-operative. This means contributing to the community and helping with organisation. When accepted as a member, students join the co-operative for £1 and have an equal share in the co-operative and an equal say on how it is run.

Opening in September 2014, there will be regular meetings where members decide on the direction and policies of the housing co-operative as well as specific roles for members to carry out. These may include roles like waste reduction, workshop coordinators, financial management, or a women’s officer. There will also be task groups to carry out these jobs. As part of the rent, members will contribute work hours to maintaining and running the co-operative.

30 year study shows social ventures more likely to survive than PLCs

Research shatters the myth that social enterprises are more likely to fail than traditional start ups

Download full report ‘Who lives the longest?’ by Professor Simon Denny from Northampton University, associate partner in the Social Economy in Higher Education project

The following article is by Abbie Rumbold and is taken from The Guardian

There is a lazy but persistent myth that social enterprises should be viewed with suspicion as deliverers of public services or vehicles for new investment because they are inherently unstable, and risky and on the verge of bankruptcy.

Just how pervasive this myth is was brought home to me when I was negotiating, on behalf of a social enterprise client, with a large private sector provider of public services. The company wanted copious payment guarantees in the contract, because, “social enterprises go bust all the time and we have to protect ourselves”.

My initial reaction was that this was a ridiculous assertion for which there is no hard evidence. One very successful social enterprise, the London Early Years Foundation, has been around for more than 100 years, for example, and now boasts a trading income of £10.4m. But I wanted to test the “conventional wisdom” that social enterprises are innately more precarious business ventures than their private sector equivalents. So I asked Professor Simon Denny, director of enterprise, development and social impact at Northampton University, to compare the longevity of FTSE 100 companies and the top social ventures.

Denny’s research looked at the survival rates, for the period from 1984 until 2014, of the 100 top social enterprises and trading charities in comparison with the top 100 PLCs. He found that the social ventures were not more likely than the PLCs to cease operating or fail to repay investments. In fact, overall, 41% of these ‘competitive third sector organisations’ have endured, compared with 33% of the PLCs.

When you take out the 40 trading charities in the list, and just look at the remaining 60 social enterprises, there was a small but not significant difference between their percentage survivability and that of the PLCS – 31.6% and 33% respectively.

No one is claiming that being a social enterprise or trading charity is plain sailing. There will always be those that fail. But this research shows that giving social ventures tougher contracts than traditional businesses on the grounds that they are inherently riskier, is unjustified and unfair.

The research also found that PLCs are significantly more likely to be acquired by other companies than social enterprises. If a company is bought out, it can affect the focus of the organisation and its ability to fulfil a public sector contract. Social enterprises are far less likely to merge or be acquired by a competitor. It does happen sometimes, but it’s much less common. In that sense, social enterprises are significantly less risky as deliverers of public services.

I hope public sector commissioners will examine this research and lose some of their nervousness about commissioning from social enterprises. This nervousness is reflected in qualification criteria that demand huge financial reserves, thus excluding many social enterprises. As a National Audit Office report last autumn showed, government relies far too much on four big private sector suppliers to deliver public services. This research demonstrates that there are reasons why there should be much more diversity among providers.

Abbie Rumbold is a partner in Bates Wells Braithwaites’s Charity and Social Enterprise Department.

Women entrepreneurs on a roll: Jacinta has bought a cow!

Update by Mike Calvert on the group of women from Nairobi who are expanding their businesses with micro-finance

Those of you who are interested in the fortunes of the Nairobi women entrepreneurs (see earlier posts), will be pleased to hear that things are going well. I thank the readers  of the blog for their encouragement which I am sure means a lot to the women and those that support them.

The micro-finance initiative has attracted a fifth member, Rispa and she is following in Alice’s footsteps and rearing chickens and needed the KES20,000 (£150) to ensure continuity of laying by having a second batch of chicks in the wings (pun intended) for when one batch stops laying.

I mentioned last time that the women were considering offering overdrafts short term to maximise the value and usefulness of the money. Three women have taken overdrafts of KES38,000 in total (£250) to be paid back over two months. The women are also working on registering the group so that they do not have to pay taxes.


Jacinta (left) with her husband, Steve with a customer in the shop.

The big news is that Jacinta (who has got the shop and the café) has bought a cow! She did have grand plans for a top of the range model but must have settled for a more modest animal using the proceeds of her second loan. She will now have all the milk she needs and more and will be able to supply milk to others.

I have not got a picture of the cow – I could not go out to Nairobi last week due to the bombings but watch this space. Kenyans are not sentimental about their animals but I have suggested Daisy and this has been given preliminary approval.


Building community an hour at a time – Timebuilders Sheffield, UK

Article written by Mike Calvert, York St John University, UK

Time Banking is not a new concept and many of the blog’s readers will know of the history and development of Time Banking which is a fast-growing global phenomenon. Founded in 1980 by Edgar Cahn it has spread to at least 24 countries and there are well over 250 Time Banks in England (including Timebank York by the way). All Time Banks are different but crudely what they have in common is the use of time as currency, there is the concept of reciprocity and the notion that we all have something to offer and we all need other people.

An interview with a Timebuilder at Sheffield led to this blog which may well be of interest to those committed to community action, social enterprise/economy and is seeking other ways of dealing with serious social issues that shrinking public services are finding increasingly hard to address.

The Big Lottery-funded project (£325K) in Sheffield is 18 months in and is based at St Mary’s Church at Bramall Lane Community Centre. The location had the advantage of already being used by community groups and to house projects. It is used as a centre for teaching English and is used by new arrivals including asylum seekers who have just come into the country and need to learn English. It has conference facilities that can be hired out. There are four paid staff and they recognise the need for some paid staff.

As was mentioned above, every Time Bank or similar is different from the next. It depends on a number of factors and the context. What works in one place might not work in another. Interestingly, Sheffield Timebuilders moved away from one-to-one skill share as a) they feel it has a short shelf life b) it is labour intensive and c) it was unlikely to achieve the deliverables that they were charged with in the lottery bid d) given the demographic sending people out to vet or visit individuals could be quite risky.

The aim is to have 1000 people as active timebuilders. The project attracts a range of people including those from minority backgrounds, those suffering from substance abuse and recovering from mental health issues. They work more extensively with groups of people rather than individuals. They set out to earn as a group and spend as a group. They have established a framework within which they can learn from each other, earn with each other and socialise with each other. They have a weekly joining slot for new members.

They recognise the value of reciprocity and have preserved the notion of time as a currency but regard what they do as volunteering with a difference – it is ‘a two-way street’. They value caring and the range of people’s talents and contributions and see the process as being a mechanism for recovery for some including those with mental health problems. They talk of ‘unlocking the resources in the community’.

They used to use time online to register the hours but felt that there was some rigidity there and have moved to paper time credits that the participants have to take responsibility for managing. They still record the hours on a database to show what is being achieved but this is more for monitoring purposes. They currently have 220 people on their books. They focus on group activities such as litter picking and gardening and can supervise a range of people in one place and fulfil their duty of care.

They are also in receipt of a different funding stream ‘Awards for all’ to the tune of £5000.  This means that they have additional funds to offer social events and trips such as the one to York. This attracts those who might not volunteer, as well as those who might providing an additional ‘pull factor’ of being able to spend the hours on something nice. They have partnership arrangements with football clubs, theatres, other organisations and endeavour to try to get as many free tickets as possible but this is quite challenging.

They have a Timebuilder leadership programme where people can learn transferable skills around facilitation, and make them more effective as Timebuilding volunteers. They recognise the need for capacity building for sustainability that can be brought about by developing the volunteers. They also have a Timebuilders Catalogue specifying what you can spend and what you can earn. They also have a ‘Timebuilders University’ helping those who might be able to go on to study. ‘Speak and grow’ brings together people with different languages to speak and do gardening at the same time.

I recommend justaddspice.org (not an advert for after shave but a great site from Wales) and more locally newhorizonsdoncaster.co.uk as well as our own yorktimebank.org.uk. See also an interview with Viv Chamberlin-Kidd from York Timebank on the Social Economy site. The parent body is timebank.org.uk

Caux Round Table, Japan and Corporate Social Responsibility and Human Rights

The network for  the Social Economy in Higher Education project has expanded to another part of the world.  In this case the selection of  a Japanese organization: Caux Round Table,  is a typical example of how our project is shaping a “global” network interested in contributing with their expertise to the sustainability of the project’s outcomes.  The expertise of Caux Round Table,   as an organization focused on the correlation between Corporate Social Responsibility for  private organizations and Human Rights, allows us to deepen the the quality of information the handbook will be offering to universities worldwide.

The following has been written by Guillermo Juarez Salinas, CRT Japan

The Caux Round Table (CRT) is an international network of principled business leaders working to promote a moral capitalism. The CRT advocates implementation of the CRT Principles for Business through which principled capitalism can flourish and sustainable and socially responsible prosperity can become the foundation for a fair, free and transparent global society.

Since CRT-Japan accepted to become an Associate Partner to the Social Economy Project  their priority has been sharing relevant information about the activities of CRT globally that would become  a leverage  to the dialogue  among the participants to the Social Economy Project and encourage proactive discussion.

One of CRT-Japan concerns is to create awareness around global issues and tracing a roadmap that can lead to a better understanding on how business activities impact a broader range of stakeholders. In this regards we would like to share some of our ongoing activities which we believe can enhance the understanding of “Social Economy” to Japanese corporations from a Human Rights perspective. And also may present a baseline to social economy organizations to find new ways to come together to organize their economic interaction.

Human Rights Due Diligence Workshop

In 2012 the Nippon CSR Consortium was established to raise awareness and promote activities in the field of business and human rights by offering Human Rights Due Diligence Workshops in which companies can discuss human rights issues with NGOs, experts and other companies

We are ready for the next step and from July to December this year we’ll continue with the Human Rights Due Diligence Workshop in which so far 22 companies and 40 people have been registered.

You can find some of the results from the workshop on the following links:



“Sustainable Navigation” framework

To facilitate the practical implementation of UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights we developed the “Sustainable Navigation (Sus-Navi)” framework, a roadmap that marks out twelve steps from A to K in order to create a clear link between Human Rights issues, CSR Activities and Reporting (transparency). You may find more information about the Sus-Navi framework on the following link: http://www.crt-japan.jp/EN/files/Holistic_Approach/framework.html

Supply chain management

As part of the roadmap we identify potential risks throughout the supply chain with the support of CSR initiatives such as Sedex, Maplecroft and the Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC) which is holding its full membership meeting from May 6th till 9th at Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam and where we are participating, discussing with more than 200 participants about Supply Chain Management and how SAC can maximize collective impact through the industry. You may find more information about our activities on Supply Chain Management on the following link: http://www.crt-japan.jp/EN/press/140128_Sedex_report_E.html

CSR Risk Management Conference in Tokyo, September 4th and 5th, 2014

Caux Round Table Japan has organized the Conference on CSR and Risk Management since 2013 in order to explore the possibilities of strengthening risk management by implementing the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. In 2014, the Global Conference on CSR Risk Management is planned to be held two times in March and September. At this moment we are preparing the final list of international speakers.

With these activities, we aim to assist organizations in (1) ‘identifying and assessing any actual or potentially adverse human rights impacts’ as defined in the UN Guiding Principles, (2) integrating and acting upon the findings, (3) tracking responses, and (4) communicating how impacts are addressed with the affected stakeholders, such that companies can use the knowledge acquired to support their human rights due diligence activities, which help the implementation of the United Nations ‘Protect, Respect and Remedy’ Framework.


Patio of hope, Cuba


As part of the social economy in higher education project we are visiting the universities of several countries in Latin America. Our first visit has been to Pinar del Río University in Cuba. Thanks to the Dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences and Humanities, Juan Silvio Cabrera, we had the opportunity to visit various community projects. One of these is Pelegrín’s Patio, a space which encourages and promotes artistic expression amongst all sections of the community. It is clearly a space for learning artistic skills and creative expression as well as promoting the value of community.

The Patio is an informal community space. It receives no external funds. Its founder, Mario Pelegrín, has three ‘lines’ which he pursues:


environmental, which aims to promote love of the environment and education about its protection and preservation;

socio-cultural, to preserve traditions, promote culture and stimulate the participation of creative talent; and

productive, the production of fruit and vegetables and the provision of a café, which provides income and enables the sustainability of the project.


It is an example of the promotion of social capital through providing opportunity for community engagement and mutual education.


Margaret Meredith and Catalina Quiroz


(Map below by permission of Carlos C. Torres)




Daima Cardoso Valdés, journalist and academic at the University of Pinar del Río has kindly given us the following article about Pelegrín’s Patio.


A patio open to hope

By Daima Cardoso Valdés

pelegrin-1Today Cuba is experiencing a massification of its culture to all regions of the country, without making distinctions about particular local cultural needs. This is prompting Cubans to reclaim their humanity and create the means to address their current problems.

Cuba, a poor country under a US blockade, strives to make visible its social projects which prioritize community and culture, because it is within community that we realise our spirituality.

In Pinar del Rio various projects exist, generally in the areas in which access is difficult. These projects give the possibility of recreation and contact with the cultural heritage of the region. Puerta de Golpe has around 6000 inhabitants within its immediate area. These people are in need of cultural and community projects.

With this in mind an artist from the community,  Mario Pelegrín Pozo, opened up his home and gave his free time to support a project, Pelegrín’s Patio, in order to meet the social and recreational interests of his neighbours.

Pelegrin's Patio3

The greatest possible number of artistic expressions find their space in this place maximum amount of space art forms found on this site, which is a tropical paradise touched by the magic of art. Pelegrín’s Patio will pass into the history of the region as a new option for recreation, instruction and aesthetic education.

The Patio has stimulated great interest amongst the local population and foreign visitors. It attempts to revitalise popular and traditional culture, and it is a way of saving the Revolution and its history. It is very significant that it promotes artistic and cultural values which exist in the community as well as enabling new talents to be discovered.

The direct beneficiaries of the project are 75 fans of arts, handicrafts, painting and ceramics, including women in their later years who enjoy knitting. They get together with children and students from the Basilio Caraballo polytechnic and devote time to creating ceramics and work with papier mache.

They include 23 folk music enthusiasts and poets. They join 2 historians and community researchers and a literary workshop of 15 members. There is also a dance club, a cinema debating club, alongside a circle of people interested in traditional sweets.


This project addresses all groups and sectors in an egalitarian way and represents a laboratory of innovation at the service of culture. Its methodology could be replicated in other areas of the region. It’s worth remembering that everything done in communities today with the purpose of promoting the well-being its people, and to promote expressions of culture, are important steps towards a better world. Pelegrín has demonstrated this with his project. Congratulations!




‘Junior Cooperativas’ – promoting employability of university students in the Basque Country

junior_cooperativasLegislation has been passed in 2013 in the Basque Country in Spain allowing students to form workers’ cooperatives called ‘Junior Cooperativas‘. The aim is that these can be a real and practical instrument for students to learn how to manage a cooperative, work with real clients and gain entrepreneurial skills during their courses.
The objective of these cooperatives is to create jobs for their members, i.e. the students, who develop their entrepreneurial skills by producing goods and services to real clients. The members can work full-time or part-time. In this way students will be ‘user members’ while they develop a project and ‘collaborating members’ when they are not developing a project.
Their goal is to be a real and practical instrument so its members can learn to manage a cooperative. A junior cooperativa is a cooperative society with a clear social objective: the practical implementation of the skills and knowledge acquired by the student, the ‘user partners.’
Tell us about how your university is promoting social enterprise and the social economy. Our aim is to give the field greater visibility, in all its successes and challenges,  to an international audience. Please get in touch socialeconomy@yorksj.ac.uk Twitter: @YSJSocialEcon;

“I feel passionately about consulting people with dementia. Still things are done for and to people with dementia, and I find that highly irritating”

Former nurse starts social enterprise to enable people with dementia to live a good life.

One of the chapters in the forthcoming handbook about teaching and practice of social economy in higher education will address social responsibility and transformation. The following case study is about the work done by Emily Abbott, founder and director of a UK social enterprise called Here:Now Dementia Ltd, a not-for-profit company limited by guarantee. Emily works alongside people who have dementia and public organisations to make modest changes to their buildings in ways that can be transformational for the well-being of those living with dementia.


Emily Abbott started Here:Now in 2013, having worked previously as a freelance. She explains the driving force behind her work:

“I want to change the way dementia is perceived, understood. You know, a couple of decades ago, people still would whisper ‘cancer’ rather than speak the word directly. There was a big stigma, it was very hush-hush. And that’s completely changed. But dementia’s in that position. And I’d love to see a really dramatic change – a more positive understanding of what dementia is”.

She points out that there is a very strong dementia carers’ lobby, but that this is not the same as hearing from the people who have dementia themselves. “Carers don’t have the same needs and thoughts and understanding as people with dementia. No matter how good they are, carers are not the same. And so I want to get people to understand that”.

As she explains, you would never have a cancer conference where most speakers are carers and then a couple of token people with cancer might get to speak. But that’s what happens with dementia at the moment. “There will be a few people with dementia, but it still feels quite tokenistic, and then you’ll have lots of representation from carers”.

Part of the work that she has been contracted to do is to help organisations find ways to hear the voices of people living with dementia. She works with York Minster, which has over 500 volunteers, some of whom will almost certainly have dementia. She is helping them think about actively recruiting people with dementia and supporting – openly saying ‘You are welcome’.

Emily is adamant that the changes needed to make buildings dementia-friendly are often small. She believes that these modest changes can be good for everybody, not just those living with dementia. As the room everybody has a strong interest in, she starts with toilets! She explains, “It’s about making little changes – it’s not difficult or dramatic. There’s no special secret. It’s about access.

“It’s about giving plenty of visual clues so things are easy to understand. Also, lighting and use of colour are very important. People with dementia often have problems distinguishing colour and that becomes harder as it progresses. Depth perception is also a big problem for lots of people with dementia. So if you have two completely different floor coverings that meet, that is often interpreted as a barrier, or a step perhaps. And that can lead to falls, or sometimes people just won’t walk further. And things need to look, you know… a tap needs to look like a tap. Or a toilet – if the flush is really obscure or hidden, that becomes very difficult. And it’s not just about being able to see it – it’s about it being very clearly a toilet seat. So if you have a white-walled toilet and you’ve got a white basin, and you can’t afford to completely redecorate it, you could paint a block of colour behind sink and behind the taps so they stand out more. It’s little things that. It’s not fancy. Also, really the most important thing is that very often, as the illness progresses people have incontinence problems. And so for an awful lot of people, they don’t go out because they’re anxious about being able to find the toilet. So good signage is important. Or, if somebody has a carer with them and they need to go into the toilet together, they need to be able to do that without being made to feel embarrassed about it. So often, lots of couples that I know, talk about… so their plan, places they go, they will go because they know ‘Oh, that café has a toilet where nobody notices if we both go in together’. You know, somehow it feels a bit more discreet”.

Reflecting on her training to become a nurse, Emily commented that “you just never were given that message that you can do something different.” This is currently being addressed in a professional development course for nurses at York University where Emily will be collaborating in teaching and assisting with feedback on students’ project for social innovation in community health. She believes it’s important that student nurses see their training opens up all sorts of possibilities for serving the public.

In terms of aspirations for the future, Emily has one simple one: to have a desk to work from away from her house. “The computer I use is the family computer, the desk that it is on I share with four other people”. She would also like to have a bank of reliable volunteers, trained by her and with the same understanding of helping people with dementia live a good life. She is interested in doing more teaching or training. In the long term she would like to have a base for people with dementia to “come and just be”.

Emily will be sharing some of her challenges and triumphs as a start-up social entrepreneur on this blog.

Reflections on the ‘social’ economy from Cusco, Peru

By Edwar Reynaldo Arenas Rocha

Edwar Reynaldo Arenas Rocha is Peruvian anthropologist who graduated in the University San Antonio Abad del Cusco (UNSAAC) in Peru. He is a member of the team working on the project  ‘Enhancing study and practice of the social economy in higher education’ at UNSAAC [1]. He has written this article for the project blog.

When discussing the social economy it is necessary to explain one’s position. The theoretical field is clearly under construction and the concept has many names, such as the ‘third sector’.

The theoretical models used to define the social economy are economic-political models: based on Keynesian and monetarist capitalism; and on socialism with centrally planned provision. But is the social economy an economic or a political model? Theoretically it is a concept that has many meanings; in practice it consists of collective and individual experiences, traditionally called cooperatives, mutual societies and associations.

José Luis Monzón (1998) argues that the social economy is not a replacement of the liberal capitalist system of the economy and is not a by-product of the cyclical evolution of capitalism, and I give him credit for this. However, he says that it emerges as an additional institution of the economic system [one asks, ‘which economic system?’], different from the public sector and the capitalist sector, and it is structured as these are.

I think that the social economy is not one more institution of the capitalist economic system as argued by Monzón. Rather, the economy has always been social, but this feature of being social has been lost over time. This current loss of the ‘social’ aspect manifests itself in what is called individualism, or the service of the few: corporations, for example.

So the ‘social economy’ aims to recover this characteristic of sociability of the economy, with which it was born, i.e. one at the service of society. I would argue that it is the economy itself that needs to be recovered, with its fundamental nature of sociability, rather than the creation of another sector within the system (mainly capitalist), as I believe Monzón was referring to.

However, the capitalist economic model has a public sector and a private sector. Let us take an illustrative example; each nation has a Magna Carta or constitution called a social contract. The constitution in Peru changed in 1993. Since then, this Constitution clearly stipulates; “… private initiative is free. It is exercised in a social economy of the market [2]. Under this regime, the State guides the development of the country and acts mainly in the areas of promotion of employment, health, education, security, public services and infrastructure [3]”

I have commented that the economic-capitalist political model has two variants: Keynesian and monetarist. The type introduced in Peru is monetarism, and this regulates all economic activities in the market.

A major deficiency in the analysis of the social economy is that it is not known exactly what the principles governing these two variants of capitalism are and what the principles governing the economic planning of socialism are. We do know that each economic model has political and economic principles. One of the principles governing the capitalist model is the private ownership of the means of production; and in socialist economic model planning it is the public ownership of the means of production.

There is a difficulty if in a nation’s constitution it is stipulated which economic model is accepted and therefore legitimised. Knowing that the monetarist variant is stipulated in the Peruvian Constitution we can state that it is the market that regulates all economic activity. It is a mistake to assert that the State should offer solutions to any failure of economic activity, when the State only guarantees actions as set forth in the Constitution. We would be falling into an interpretative error, since that would be demanding the intervention of the State, i.e. the Keynesian variant.

The monetarist variant of capitalism includes public and private activity, which is very different to affirming the principles stated previously regarding means of production.

Now the questions are: What principles was the economy born with?  If the economy was always social, why is it being considered as a third sector and not as an economic model? If the economy was always social, what are we therefore talking about? Are we not trying to return to the principles of the social character of the economy? We are therefore conscious that this has been lost.

But we are adding principles: reciprocity, solidarity and primacy of persons, self-management and internal democracy. The social economy is based on different principles to the two economic models above. Empirical evidence shows that the social economy works with different socio-economic principles from the two models referred to. So are we not talking about a new economic model?

If so, wouldn’t there be a paradox within this new economic model that it interacts within the market and accepts a national currency which is heavily tied to the international currency market.

Or that some empirical evidence is demonstrating that some organisations considered part of the social economy do not guarantee that they operate under its principles. In Peru, there are or there may be many “social institutions” that have nothing associative, mutual or cooperative about them other than their name, which serves only as a facade for activities involving profit and advantage.

[1] Peruano. Egresado de la Carrera Profesional de Antropología por la Universidad Nacional de San Antonio Abad del Cusco. Miembro del proyecto “Economía Social y Aplicaciones en la Educación Superior” de la UNSAAC-Cusco.

[2] The emphasis is personal.

[3] Art. 58 Constitución Política del Perú de 1993.

500 responses to social economy survey .. and counting

Thank you to everyone who has completed our survey. So far we have responses from:  Argentina, Colombia, East Timor, Guinea Bissau, Ireland, Mexico, Peru, Portugal, San Tome, Spain, United Kingdom!

and they include: cooperatives dedicated to food production, health, education and food retail;Survey_En

mutual financial associations owned by their members;

informal groups dedicated to producing crafts;

social enterprises seeking to promote employability of young people;

associations for local development;

and many more.

If you belong to an association which exists for the good of the community, a cooperative which works to provide fair working conditions to its members or to the public, if you work in a social enterprise which is aiming to address a social/environmental issue in your community, we would love you to be part of this. Your experience will help to inform universities as they teach human-centred and sustainable ways of doing business. It will only take 10 minutes.

See more about the social economy in higher education project

Complete the survey                              Complete the survey (UK version)

The survey is also available in Portuguese and Spanish:

Complete the survey in Portuguese

Complete the survey in Spanish (Latin America)

Complete the survey in Spanish (Spain)


Women entrepreneurs in Nairobi showing the way

The Social Economy in Higher Education project handbook will have a chapter on the importance of social capital to the social/solidarity economy. This article describes a women’s group in Kenya which is drawing on the bonds between a group of women to manage micro-finance in order to provide sustainable incomes to support their families and provide employment. This post is written by Mike Calvert, York St John University, UK, collaborator with the Social Economy in Higher Education project. 

Readers of the blog may have read an earlier post (Dec ’13) in which I described the work of four women entrepreneurs in Nairobi. Recently, I had the good fortune to meet them again in Nairobi and visit two of the enterprises. It is clear that they are going from strength to strength. Having paid back all the money they were lent in June 2013 with interest by November, they decided to take out KES30,000 each and step up their investment. A further injection of capital enabled them to increase the size of their loans. They had requested a longer period to return the money (December – August) and this had been agreed.

In the earlier post, the women described the impact the micro-finance had had on their lives:

Susan Wangui

Susan needed the money to expand her boutique. She sells clothes and cosmetics. She started by selling goods from home. As her customer base increased she needed the capital to expand. She had identified an opportunity but her limited finance was a brake on expansion. She regarded the funding and the funder as a ‘tyre jack’ (piga jecki in Swahili). She had found it easier to pay back the money than she had anticipated. She now employs one person to run the shop which frees her up for other tasks.

She had increased in business confidence as a result. Her aim was to register modest profits. She concentrated on customer care and customers speak well of her business. The principal challenge was the balance of what to take as salary and what to re-invest. This was seen as a delicate balance.

Jacinta Waceke

Jacinta was a housewife before meeting Mary. She earned her living by going to people’s houses cleaning clothes – an arduous and poorly remunerated task. She had acquired a kiosk but there was no produce to sell. The capital had enabled her to establish a greengrocery business. The intention was to have the kiosk divided into three sections to host a ‘hotel’ meaning a canteen and a shop. She intends to employ someone else to work with her.

Alice Muthoni

Alice used the money to expand her egg business. The issue for Alice was cash flow as it takes four and a half months to rear the chickens until they produce eggs and the cost of food, upkeep and electricity means that there are considerable outgoings but no income until the eggs are laid. She described herself as ‘almost stuck’. The income will enable her to have continuity rearing another batch of chicks whilst the others are laying eggs. She is now selling 16 trays a day (thirty per tray) and making KES1000 profit per day. The market demand is high for eggs. She is also selling the manure from the chickens adding to her income.

Eunice Mama Magiri

Eunice had been in the tailoring trade since 1986. She moved to her current place and had increased responsibilities for school fees and the house. She had visited Susan to request money when she learned of the project and requested the loan of KES20,000. She was not new to the market but needed the funding when she received an order that she could not source for lack of funds. This enabled her to supply clothes to Eldoret. She now had many orders and was keen to get more funding to allow her to expand.

Update: what have they been up to?

Susan and Milka outside Susan’s clothes shop

Susan and Milka outside Susan’s clothes shop

All four women have benefitted from the investments they have made. Eunice Mama has been able to control her cash flow. She is able to source materials more confidently and gives work to her previous employees who carry out piece work. Susan has diversified from selling women’s clothes to selling men’s and children’s clothes, shoes and cosmetics. Her business is flourishing. Jacinta wanted to diversify in terms of what she could offer at her kiosk. As a result of the second injection of money she has been able to provide samosas, chapattis, chips and tea and, most importantly, she is employing her husband full-time. Previously, he was doing odd job work digging gardens, etc. She is now talking about buying a cow which is an ambitious aim but with a cow yielding 30 litres a day, she could sell a great deal of milk apart from putting it in the tea – Kenyans tend to put tea in their milk and sugar rather than the other way around as in the UK! Jacinta is much more confident and can now feed her children well. Alice, who is breeding chickens, has been able to buy a second brood of 600 chickens and when the current hens are no longer laying eggs, will have a new source of eggs. She is currently using a wholesaler to sell her eggs. She is also selling more chicken manure (14 bags up from 10).

What then are the next steps?

With a further injection of capital, the group can currently draw on at least KES50,000 from the new capital in addition to the money they are paying back as it becomes available. They have decided amongst themselves that they are going to save KES 1,000 (£7) per month in addition to making their monthly payment. This is an important shift in their thinking as they plan to save for the future. A further investor is possible.

They have decided also to open an M-pesa account. M-pesa is a way of transferring money electronically via the mobile phone. This is highly developed in Kenya and can even be used by Kenyans without a bank account. This will mean that they can make payments or receive new monies via the phone rather than face-to-face.

Jacinta and Steve’s boys (Jeff, Ian and Michael) outside her shop/café

Jacinta and Steve’s boys (Jeff, Ian and Michael) outside her shop/café

Finally, they also talked about allowing the money to be used like an overdraft facility for those who needed cash in the short term and would pay it all off in a month (at 5% interest). It is interesting to note that they have gone from first time investors to behaving like social bankers. They are certainly sharpening their business acumen.

Entrepreneurial caution

A crucial decision is the extent to which they open the scheme up to others. They have now decided to offer a loan to another member of their core group (of 11 women) and to mentor that individual. This pilot will help them to understand the challenges of opening this up to a wider audience. There was reference in a previous blog to the issue of how much to draw as income and how much to invest. Their issue now is whether they should open a bank account and what interest their money would attract compared with what they can gain in terms of their own value-added work. They have decided to open an account that needs several signatories for withdrawal but they would rather re-invest money rather than see it sitting in a bank.

The group collectively want to move slowly but also have tasted the transformational impact of the investments to date and may be impatient. Our discussion touched on risk management and the need to ensure that they did not overreach themselves.

All four women and their mentor are showing that with a relatively modest level of help and close support and encouragement, they can produce impressive changes in their lives and businesses. It is early days but there are grounds for optimism and it is hoped that this model, however small, can benefit others.

Our next meeting will be in June 2014 when we will be able to visit the businesses and see for ourselves what is happening on the ground. Watch this space!