Tuesday 24 January 2017

A milestone international study visit from East Africa to the UK organized by British Council for an inter-country and inter-institutional delegation team of ten government officials and policy influencers from Ethiopia and Kenya was undertaken during November 14-18, 2016. Relevant government bodies such as Ministry of Industry, Education, Cooperatives, and Urban Development and Housing or their subordinate agencies were represented by top officials. Also in the team were leaders of social enterprise and impact investor institutions. The event for an initial delegation team with such diverse stakeholder composition was an important building block in the capacity building work of the EU-funded Support for Social Enterprises in Eastern Africa project with policy makers and policy influencers. Indeed the event outputs and impacts evidently showed that this first EU study visit was critical in sparking interest and impetus in building government support for the development of the domestic social enterprise ecosystems in Ethiopia and Kenya.

The study visit programme incorporated a range of key activities that provided valuable international social enterprise networking and learning opportunities. During the first two days, the Delegates attended Good Deals 2016 Conference and Exhibition Fair in Birmingham University. Good Deals, UK’s  leading international conference event for social enterprise, social investment and social innovation, was a logical starting point for the study visit in sparking high level commitment and engagement among the delegates to share, acquire and bring home a wealth of global knowledge. The delegates drew useful experiences and lessons from the presentations and discussions deliberated in a range of UK focused workshops and visits to the market place at Good Deals. They also went through a similar learning process at a globally focused social enterprise workshop that accommodated a range of country case study presentations. Among these was a powerful case study by Kibret Abebe, an award winner Ethiopian social entrepreneur. This case study had significant effects on creating awareness about the local contexts and realities of social enterprise in East Africa and invoking comparative learning processes. "Don't let structure stop - learn from the different models", remarks a delegate.

At enterprise level, the delegates undertook selected case study field visits to several successful community and social enterprises working in diverse sectors such as low-cost housing construction and transport services. In Birmingham, they were very impressed with the case of TRIDENT, a group of housing associations, charities and social enterprises that manage 3,558 homes across the midlands. In London, they learnt the model of HTC, a social enterprise transport institution and Unltd, a social enterprise market place. In addition, the experiences shared by other prominent social enterprises such as Bryston Group, Soap-Co, Coin Street Community Builders were very insightful. Also visited was Impact Hub, a growing community engaged in creating impact on people and the planet.

The powerful cases they saw on the field were so illustrative and convincing that the delegates became more familiar with what social enterprises really are and what actual potentials they entail. A delegate witnesses the "evidence that social enterprises offer market based solutions both financially and socially. Social enterprises can be finally viable and socially responsible and that these are not mutually exclusive." Above all, the delegates found the different models to be similarly relevant for the local contexts in East Africa too. "I’m surprised by the opportunity that is already in my country around housing, transport, etc. This motivates me to inspire others locally to look at new business ideas using social enterprise." Still another delegate ascertains that he has "gathered good ideas about job/economic development using social enterprise."

At a national sector-wide level, the delegates carried out activities that provided opportunities to gain a more in-depth understanding of the social enterprise ecosystem in the UK and be in a much better position to draw more adequate lessons from the role the UK  government plays to support the development of the sector. They met with government officials and other key actors in different sectors such as education. Such meetings were useful to learn how social enterprise is embedded in UK's education system and other development programmes.  One delegate was very impressed to learn the "relationship between education systems and social enterprise development." Another underscores "the need for a paradigm shift in education." At the House of Lords, the delegates conducted a policy dialogue  with parliamentarians, prominent social enterprise leaders and other actors. In addition, they had a discussion session with officials of a leading UK charity law firm on the social enterprise legal structures in the UK. Such activities were valuable to more meaningfully learn how the policy, legal and institutional frameworks favoured social enterprises in the UK and how these could be adopted elsewhere. One delegate was impressed to learn from UK on "What support systems look like - ecosystem." Another delegate views the "importance of ecosystem and access to funding." Still another emphatically underlines "The dynamics and complex ecosystem that exists in the UK for social enterprise."

At global level, meetings with heads of UK and other international organizations such as  British Council, FCDO, and UN Representative for Innovation, Science and Technology in Asia created further opportunities focused on global social enterprise and related programmes in East Africa and elsewhere. The delegates became more familiar with the works of not only EU and British Council in East Africa but also other global actors that support the development and sustainable growth of social enterprise and assist governments of partner countries to develop supportive systems for social enterprise.

A delegate concludes that "social enterprise is not just about curriculum content in higher education but about creating an enabling and enterprising environment. The study visit was wound up with a concluding group exercise that led to the production of the key study outputs. In doing so, the delegation team synthesized the lessons learnt and recommendations on the way forward to promote social enterprise in Ethiopia and Kenya. Above all, the delegates made a commitment to form an advisory panel, among other actions, that would lead and move forward the initiative to bring social enterprise to the development agenda and build policy and legislative support for its growth. The study outputs, coupled with the country baseline studies underway, are expected to inform well next steps such as a policy dialogue in each country.