Reality TV shows such as Dragons' Den and The Apprentice have captured the public imagination. They have also inspired a wave of business support programmes that adopt the competitive, high-pressure and high-profile characteristics of these shows.
Despite the many competitions that are now organised in the social economy to distribute money, mentoring and support to voluntary organisations and social enterprises, not much research yet exists about the impact or value of these competitions.
Muhammad Yunus, Nobel Prize winner and social entrepreneur, is an advocate and imagines competitions as an effective means of generating creative solutions to social and ecological challenges. He imagines '...local, regional, and even global competitions, with hundreds or thousands of participants vying to create the most practical, ambitious, and exciting concepts for social businesses.'
But insiders have voiced healthy scepticism. And let's face it when another announcement of an awards ceremony for social enterprise lands in the inbox it is hard to resist the temptation to discard as junk.
So what's the answer here?
In the last twelve months, we have designed and delivered two social enterprise competitions (Spark and Equal-Invest), and so I am particularly keen to explore the value they offer to building the capacity of social enterprise.
As a starting point, we have recently published an article which seeks to explore the question in more depth. For this piece, we reviewed competitions run by organisations such as NESTA (Big Green Challenge), the Social Enterprise Coalition (Enterprising Solutions Awards), the Big Lottery Fund (People's 50 Millions), McKinsey (SocialStart), Ashoka (Changemakers) and NESsT.
Generalisations are hard to make because of the variety of competitions, but nonetheless we found that social competitions can move beyond the hype when their high profile is used to generate more funding, more support and access to new networks for social entrepreneurs. In the right circumstances, when the programmes are well-implemented, and when they encourage cooperation over competition, they can have a lasting impact.
We would welcome your thoughts and experiences and any further ideas you may have on how to make business support more effective for social enterprises.
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