The power of people was picked out as being of paramount importance at a recent conference for social entrepreneurs that was described as “nourishing” and “energising” by attendees.
Sonia Gayle was the keynote speaker at the recent Social Enterprise Exchange Conference and spoke plainly and frankly about the findings of the Sheffield Race Equality Commission, published in the summer, and how they relate to social enterprise.
The Social Enterprise Exchange Conference was held at The Circle in Sheffield to mark Social Enterprise Day and attracted nearly 100 attendees. It was the largest organised by the Social Enterprise Exchange project since the easing of COVID restrictions.
The project, which has worked with over 1,000 social entrepreneurs and social enterprises over the last five years, is managed by a consortium of partners, CM Solutions, Sheffield Live!, South Yorkshire’s Community Foundation, Sheffield Social Enterprise Network, Cultural Industries Quarter Agency, and Barnsley CVS.
The Sheffield Race Equality Commission urged key organisations in Sheffield to come together to create a city which actively fights racism.
Related to social enterprise, one recommendation focused on Sheffield in community life, with the emphasis on inclusion, cohesion and confidence. Gayle, who was born in Pitsmoor, talked about improving consultation and engagement, equity and fairness in funding decisions, support on grant applications and issues around housing.
Gayle discussed her charity role and measuring impact – making a difference in people’s lives. And on the work of the commission, Gayle said: “The social enterprise sector needs to carefully review the recommendations and findings and actually consider: have we been a part of this unwittingly, unconsciously? Can we actually be part of the solution? When we talk about serving the community, which lies at the heart of social enterprise, does your organisation at all levels truly reflect the community that it serves?”
Gayle also asked social enterprises to “recognise the challenges – the real challenges that are faced – by our black and minority ethnic social enterprises” and offer them support, employment, office space, services, outsourcing and help with grant funding.
Concluding her speech Gayle said: “The stakes here are very high. Even as we enter another age of austerity, doing nothing is simply not an option. It’s not just about money, I know money is tight, this is about having the will to do a good job and to work in partnership. I think that if we all join up together we can achieve a great deal indeed.”
Also on the day, attendees, who ranged from those just starting on their social enterprise journey to more established social entrepreneurs, enjoyed panel discussions, in-depth workshops and networking. Topics ranged from the cost of living crisis to environmental concerns.
Terry Murphy, Network Coordinator at the Sheffield Social Enterprise Network said that he found the event nourishing and that it highlighted the power of people and the power of individuals coming together.
Murphy said: “It was an opportunity for people to connect and share learning. It was just a way for us to revitalise that energy because we are living through really challenging times, and people are fatigued and demotivated, so events like this are really important to build that energy again in the network.
“We live in a society that preaches individualism and division and what an event like this shows is that, by having people coming here that lead busy lives, and have lots of things to do, how important it is to come together as a group and show that power of community, especially in difficult times.”
Social Enterprise Exchange is part-funded by European Regional Development Fund 2014-2020 and The National Lottery Community Fund.