Interview: Josephine Allen on secondment from PricewaterhouseCoopers to Big Issue Invest

She tells Alex Blythe how social enterprise differs from the coprorate world

After eight years honing her finance skills at PricewaterhouseCoopers and working her way up to director level, Josephine Allen was ready for a new challenge.

So in January 2008 she started a nine-month secondment at Big Issue Invest. The differences between the private and voluntary sectors were apparent to her at once, notably the difficulty social enterprises have in getting funds to expand.

Allen believes the focus social enterprises have on both social and financial returns can frequently lead to a less commercial approach than in the private sector. So recruiting people with the right balance of skills to drive both objectives forward can be difficult. She feels a lack of funding lies right at the heart of this issue, so greater access to finance would be of benefit to these social enterprises.

"The biggest difference I noticed was that in the voluntary sector people have to do almost everything themselves," she says. "At PwC there's an expert to help with any problem you encounter. At Big Issue Invest I had to learn to be more of a self-starter. I was particularly impressed by how brilliantly people in social enterprises network. They really use their contacts to the full."

For Allen, the most important lesson for social enterprises to learn is that they need to rely less on government funding and do more to access venture funding such as that provided by Big Issue Invest.

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