City’s Social Enterprise Festival (SEF) was a public, seven-day platform focused on making an impact through highly innovative workshops, debates and competitions across two institutions, seeing it named as the first collaborative SEF of its kind in London.

The festival was also supported by Santander Universities who took on a proactive role in promoting it to their businesses.

There are 70,000 social enterprises in the UK, contributing £24billion to the economy, SEF provided a platform for City to break into this sector and begin creating new relationships with local social entrepreneurs and their companies, as well as enabling engagement with communities to progress social enterprise ideas.

The outcome was discovering 116 social enterprises in our neighbourhood, that until now were not engaged with us.

The SEF targeted London’s community interested in the learning and development associated with social change and those businesses and people at earlier stages of development. SEF provided a platform to launch new strategic community projects and offered an ideal setting to give existing social enterprises and social entrepreneurs the opportunity to promote their products and services, and to debate and discuss current issues.

Speeches, hackathons, panels, workshops and networking all featured at this SEF and attracted more than 1,000 guests including staff, local businesses, students from local, national and international universities, and members of the public. Attendees gained expert insight, skills and met several business founders making a difference and 96% said they would recommend this event to a friend.

The extent of the community reach was national with the leading journal, Pioneers Post, featuring the SEF as well as Guardian’s own social pages. Google placed our SEF as the second most popular searched item and it featured on many community channels such as CAN and the Knowledge Quarter.

There were three advocacy clinics helping the community with their legal, financial and marketing strategies. As well as social enterprises, the SEF attracted large corporates such as PwC, Natwest and Wates Group as part of their commitment to Corporate Social Responsibility. The team also collaborated with Queen Mary University of London and held some sessions at their Mile End campus, bringing together the East London community with City’s central London location.

The programme concluded with the Big Social Debate which critically looked at whether social enterprise can truly deliver social impact and financial return? Debaters included: June O’Sullivan, MBE, CEO of awardwinning childcare charity and social enterprise (London Early Years Foundation – LEYF), Vanessa Sanyauke, Founder and CEO of Girls Talk London, recognised as a Changemaker at 2015’s World of Love Festival, Guy Battle, experienced business leader and founder of The Sustainable Business Partnership and Rob Wolfe, an award-winning leader in the construction field, and senior executive of Construction & Housing: Yorkshire, promoting responsible business practice in the industry.

The week showcased that social enterprise can be a viable solution to the current economic crisis, and that we can generate wealth sustainably, create meaningful and well-paid jobs and tackle some of society’s most intractable problems.


This article first appeared in the 2018 State of the Relationship report, commissioned by Research England and compiled and published by NCUB.