As we are in the final stages of finalizing the Conference Report from our past #7EMESconf, here’s an account that our member Rasheda L. Weaver generously wrote down for us that we wanted to share with you. We thank her and all the EMES members for their continued support and unbelievable enthusiasm for making things happen.
Serving as a United States delegate at the 7th EMES International Research Conference on Social Enterprise in Sheffield, England this July gave me the amazing opportunity to learn more about social enterprises in other geographic contexts.
My own research focuses on how social enterprises are addressing social problems, how they generate revenue, and the legal structure they operate under in the United States. Thus, while this conference was not my first engagement in EMES, the conference presentations and visits gave me a wealth of knowledge and connections with social enterprise scholars from all over the world.
Here are some things that I have learned from the experience:
- The future of social enterprises and the social enterprise ecosystem are optimistic. Countries around the world are doing a diversity of work in this burgeoning field. It was exciting to meet scholars from England, South Africa, Ireland, Lithuania, Korea, and more countries. These scholars are developing academic programs, serving on social enterprise advisory boards, using their research to foster national policy and more. It was intriguing to see that while we share a common focus on social enterprise, the way that we go about doing our work is different and thus has different implications for our national and local communities.
- Mapping initiatives aimed at tracking the growth of social enterprises at the national level are growing. Countries such as Australia, Canada, and Scotland all have benefited from capturing the growth of their social enterprise sectors. Benefits include the establishment of government-social enterprise procurement relationships (government commitments to purchase social enterprise supplies), the development of new research studies, and the creation of entrepreneurial support organizations that provide operational and leadership training opportunities for social entrepreneurs. On a personal level, this helped me to better understand the reach and impact that I could have with Weaver’s Social Enterprise Directory, a social enterprise directory that I created in 2018 to help track the growth of social enterprises in the Unites States. The more our social enterprise sector grows, the better it is to capture that growth. In doing so, we can identify, support, and make use of the diversity of opportunities that stem from it.
- On a similar note, the United States has one of the highest rates of social enterprises in the world. However, we lack a unified governmental commitment to advancing the sector. The Social Innovation Fund was created by the Obama Administration in 2009 to fund projects that find new solutions to solving social problems (which may or may not include social enterprises). However, the fund has recently been dissolved. At the state-level, various states have enacted legal structures (e.g. Benefit Corporation) that aid social enterprises in achieving their social and economic goals. Some states (e.g. New Jersey) even have funding programs for kickstarting social ventures. However, without a national commitment to financially back competitive research, new ventures, and new supports for the field, the United States social enterprise sector is not making the best use of its potential. Seeing the commitment that other nations have made to their social enterprise sectors inspires me to be a driving force for change in this area in the United States.
Overall, I left the conference feeling like there is an abundance of undiscovered and underemployed opportunities in this growing field. As such, I am enthusiastic about the future of social enterprise around the world. In regard to my own contribution to the field, the EMES International Research Conference on Social Enterprise left me motivated to take my work to the next level. In both my teaching and in my research, I see a variety of ways that I can help shape the field in the United States and beyond.
Rasheda L. Weaver, PhD is Assistant Professor at the Hynes Institute for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, Iona College (United States)