Social Enterprises: Leading the Way Against Climate Change

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Dr Dan Roberts argues social enterprises have a crucial role in helping transform our economy to face the climate emergency.

One of Wales’ most famous historians, Gwyn Alf Williams, said that for 1500 years we Welsh people have lived in a permanent state of emergency, needing to transform ourselves to survive as a nation.

Our economic heritage shows this clearly; our transformation, from an agrarian land to heavy industrialisation, followed by the brutal deindustrialisation, has often been the focal point of our history and our identity. 

Now is the time for Wales to transform its own economy and society once again, to prioritise models of business that put community well-being first.

There will be extreme challenges and ruptures in our future too and now is the time for Wales to transform its own economy and society once again, to prioritise models of business that put community well-being first. From the Covid-19 crisis to the climate emergency, building our resilience in the face of these challenges must now be the number one priority.

We have known for some time that the climate emergency poses as big a threat as any to Wales and the world and that spirit of transformation is needed once again. As we approach the end of the COP26 summit in Glasgow, the urgency and the severity of the climate emergency is becoming clearer than ever. 

It is tempting simply to ignore both the physical warning signs and the scientists’ stark messages regarding just how big a challenge this is for humanity. But rather than burying their heads in the sand, many people and communities across Wales have been using their ingenuity, work ethic and determination to come up with and deliver real, radical and socially entrepreneurial solutions.  

The impressive work of social enterprises across Wales, in response to the climate emergency, in supporting our communities through the nightmare of the Covid-19 pandemic, and in seeking solutions to alleviate the poverty that scars the whole country, has been inspiring. 

The model’s unique triple bottom-line of prioritising prosperity, people and planet each to the same degree means environmental and social concerns aren’t an afterthought, but are embedded in its model of entrepreneurialism. This radical redesign of what it means to do business is the level of transformation required to find solutions to an emergency as stark as the climate crisis. 

In the context of us needing and demanding a change in our society for the better after Covid-19, the wellbeing-centred model that social enterprises use is pivotal. Social enterprises put the lives of their workers and the wider community at the forefront of what they do.

There is no better way of demonstrating the significant potential that this model has for Wales than by showcasing the work that is already being undertaken. 

The question for policymakers is what role government and, in our context, the Welsh Government can play in creating an economy in which social enterprise is a more significant player.

I recently had the chance to chat virtually with Adrian from Creating Enterprise, a social enterprise in Conwy, where I grew up. A subsidiary of Cartrefi Conwy, they started trading in 2015 and have quickly grown into the Social Contractor of Choice for North Wales. They build environmentally-friendly homes using sustainable materials, and are innovative in finding new ways to lower their carbon footprint, such as by sourcing 80% of its timber from Wales and constructing their frames onsite. 

As well as having an environmental mission, they have a social mission to create well-paid, full-time employment opportunities for the local community they serve. Their Creating Futures Academy helps local people find and access training, volunteering and employment opportunities.

In November 2020, they were named as the Fastest Growing Company in Wales. This team is the perfect example of how social enterprise can deliver on its three ambitions: business success, environmental sustainability, and helping people. 

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This is the type of business we should be proud of in Wales. When young people in Conwy think of entrepreneurialism, it should be this creativity and determination to stand up and solve the problems facing our communities that comes to mind. 

The question for policymakers is what role government and, in our context, the Welsh Government can play in creating an economy in which social enterprise is a more significant player.

Just as I was inspired by hearing about what social enterprises are doing in my hometown, I know that people across Wales and the world will be hugely grateful of what social enterprises are doing in the battle against climate change. The seriousness of the problems facing us and future generations require us to both do the little things on an individual level, but also think big about the system changes that must be made to ensure the sustainability of our communities. 

Wales’ history is one of transformation and radical change – social enterprises will be waiting to stand up and be counted, and it’s our job to support them.


 All articles published on the welsh agenda are subject to IWA’s disclaimer.

 

Dr Dan Roberts is Policy and Research Officer at the Wales Co-operative Centre.

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