A million micro-enterprises

Greg Clark MP, Minister for decentralisation at Communities and Local Government, has been talking about what The Big Society means: http://bit.ly/c4vjiN . He says it has three strands: public sector reform, community empowerment and philanthropic action. NAAPS believes that micro-enterprise is a blend of all three.

We are often asked by policy makers how to scale up micro-enterprise. Clark quotes a Bangladeshi economist called Mohammed Yunus, a founder of micro-credit, to back up his case that the fastest way to make progress is to think small:

“For those who are considering becoming involved in social business, you don’t have to wait. You can see the impact right away – not on the whole of society, but on a portion of it… It’s not necessary to wait to see the impact on millions of people. “Millions” is a big number. But if your work has a positive impact on five or ten people, you have invented a seed. Now you can plant it a million times.”

One thing that people involved in micro-enterprise tell us fairly consistently is that they don’t want to “scale up”. When council and Third Sector professionals start talking about how micro-entrepreneurs can take the next step, become a registered charity and so on, this can sound the death knell for some people, who were clear when they started up an enterprise that their goal was simply to make a living, or recoup their costs, whilst helping an individual or small group to whom they felt close. It may be possible to find a compromise between staying personal and spreading the value of a successful enterprise, through approaches currently being explored by our social enterprise, Community Catalysts, such as “micro-franchising”. But perhaps “How can we scale this up?” is the wrong question. Perhaps the right question in many cases, is “How can we create the conditions in which more people can do this?”

Some of the entrepreneurs we know have set up small care or support businesses through sheer determination, and sometimes at great personal sacrifice and risk. But not everyone is willing and able to do that. If we want more entrepreneurs, councils and the NHS are going to have to start opening up things like insurance, training and sickness cover to our members. They will need to make loans more accessible and ensure that the ways in which councils continue to buy services are accessible to small co-ops as well as to Bupa.

If you are involved in micro-enterprise, feel free to make some suggestions about the barriers you face using the Comment box below – we’d love to be able to tell the government what they need to do, if they want to see a million micro-enterprises transforming care and support in this country.

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