Opportunity for UK social enterprises in 2015: expanding into China

TSIC’s New Year Blog Post discusses the global opportunities for the UK social enterprise sector in 2015 and the years to come.

As the UK social enterprise sector matures, many established social enterprises are looking to scale beyond the UK. Recent research conducted by British Council and Social Enterprise UK shows that 11% of UK social enterprises are now trading internationally, and 65% of these exporters expect to increase their export earnings in 2015. The growth potential of China – set to be the biggest economy in the world by 2021 – has particularly caught the attention of the UK social enterprise sector, as the British Council’s very popular “Social Franchising into China” event in November 2014 demonstrated.

Significant economic advances in the past three decades have masked the ever present social and environmental problems in China, ranging from urban-rural inequality to environmental degradation. The Chinese government, reacting to these endemic issues, has shifted their focus from the speed of economic growth to sustainability since 2012. Last month, in the opening speech at the Asia Pacific Economic Council CEO Summit held in Beijing, the Chinese President Xi Jinping reinforced China’s focus on sustainability and social innovation, which are relatively new concepts in China (Article in Chinese).

Another societal advance lies in the rise of private philanthropy. As the Chair of Narada Foundation, Mr. Xu Yongguang highlighted recently that the rise of entrepreneurs in China is contributing to the growth of private philanthropy. Wang Jianlin, the second richest person in China and the Chair of Dalian Wanda Commercial Properties, has donated US$70.09 million as the top philanthropist of China in 2014. While his annual donation only amounts to 2% of Bill and Melinda Gates, the top philanthropists of the world, Wang has remarked in a Chinese interview that he plans to donate 95% of his personal wealth to set up the world’s largest private foundation, with an estimated endowment of £10 billion (Interview in Chinese).

To fully maximise on these opportunities, the Chinese delegation hosted by the British Council expressed China’s wish to learn from the model of promising UK social enterprises as well as to provide access to a huge market – 1.3 billion people – for existing social enterprises to scale their work. The event articulated the potential for exporting UK social enterprises into China. With a few pioneering examples like MyBnk, UnLtd and The Centre for Innovation in Voluntary Action , more UK social enterprises may be inspired to explore this route to scale their social impact. This is also expected to facilitate building the global ecosystem of social entrepreneurship; an ecosystem underpinned by collaboration not competition.

What do you think are the best opportunities for UK social enterprises this year? Tweet to @TSICLondon with #UKSocEnt2015 and let us know your thoughts!

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