Sam Conniff: "Social enterprise is too timid"

A lack of confidence is holding the sector back, the co-founder of social enterprise Livity tells David Ainsworth

Sam Conniff
Sam Conniff

Social enterprise is losing out on a lot of business because it lacks the confidence to raise its profile outside the public sector, according to Sam Conniff, co-founder of social enterprise Livity.

"The social enterprise sector has been talking to the social enterprise sector for a long time," he says. "But it's pretty poor in its relationship with the private sector, with the general public, with investors - everyone except the third sector and government, really. It needs to market itself much better."

Conniff knows about marketing: as well as training disaffected young people, Livity provides social marketing services. And Conniff is one of the UK's 28 social enterprise ambassadors, recruited by the Government to raise awareness of the sector and offer help and advice.

He says too many social businesses are content to stay within the sector's comfort zone. "The sector is far too timid around big business," he says. "It lacks the confidence to do with the private sector what it has with government. It is as if social enterprises fear they will be laughed at by hard-nosed professionals in the business sector."

Many private sector businesses have shown interest in working with social enterprises, he says, but the sector has been reluctant to take advantage of this.

"Private businesses can do lots of things for this sector, and are willing to," he says. "They're often able to form delivery partnerships, they bring expertise we can learn from and they are often willing to include social enterprises in their supply chains. But we need to talk to them."

In particular, he says, the sector needs to take advantage of a situation in which business with a conscience is fashionable. "We may have only a small window," he warns. "We need to cement our position by building links with every section of society."

Conniff says that communications company O2, which has agreed to consult the sector about the development of a social enterprise package, highlights the enthusiasm many corporations have for social enterprise. "O2 is putting together a package it thinks will benefit social enterprises," Conniff says. "But first, it's actually going out to the sector and asking people what they want."

He says O2 is looking into what else it can do to bring more social enterprises into its supply chain and might even form partnerships with social businesses.

Conniff believes public awareness of the sector is low. "A lot of people are interested in doing social good, but aren't aware that social enterprises exist," says Conniff. "I formed my business and had it up and running before I even found out I was a social enterprise; I think a lot of other people out there are in the same situation.

"We've not been good at reaching out to those people."

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