Young people are driving the growth of businesses that benefit society and the environment, the organizer of a global gathering of ethical entrepreneurs said as it opens Wednesday.
Some 1,500 people are meeting in Edinburgh as the 10th Social Enterprise World Forum — one of the most important networking events for the sector — returned to its birthplace after being hosted in Melbourne, Seoul and Rio De Janeiro.
“The key thing [that’s changed] in the decade is the transformational views of, and engagement with, young people,” Gerry Higgins, head of CEIS, which convenes the forum, told Reuters.
“Increasingly, young people are looking for careers of purpose, looking at social enterprise as a way of being involved in business and doing social good — and that has to be significant and heartening and positive.”
Scotland is the only country globally with a dedicated 10-year strategy to support social enterprises, or businesses that seek to make a profit while also doing good.
The country of 5 million has almost 6,000 social enterprises, providing about 80,000 jobs, the government says, many of them in poor rural communities.
Higgins, who has worked in the sector for more than 30 years, said he was encouraged by a rise in the number of universities teaching ethical entrepreneurs as well as growing interest from governments around the world.
Scores of universities, from Hong Kong and India to Greece and South Africa, now teach students about social enterprises, typically through work placements or incubating their startups.
Taiwan is sending more than 60 delegates to the forum as the government regards businesses with a social mission “as a way of reaching young people,” said Higgins.
“Ten years ago, when we pitched up in countries speaking with our partners to their government about social enterprise, God it was a hard sell,” he said.
But politicians are increasingly providing ethical firms with policy support, like the rest of the business sector, because they recognize the economic benefits they can deliver, he said.
“There are a lot of communities and individuals being supported by social enterprises around the world in a more sustainable way than existed 10 years ago,” he said.
“Ten years isn’t a long time in the growth of a business movement. We’re really at the start of the work of creating a global business model that’s used by an increasing number of people coming into the market.”