Social Enterprise Growth and Development

Impact Area: Social Enterprise

Institution: Middlesex University Business School

Leading Academic: Professor Fergus Lyon



There has been a growing interest in the concept of social enterprise; that is organisations that are trading but with a social purpose. The research undertaken by the Centre for Enterprise and Economic Development Research (CEEDR) in Middlesex University’s Business School has influenced government policies in a range of UK national departments, as well as the Scottish Government, to support social enterprises. Research findings have influenced how government measures the size of the
social enterprise sector and the supply of social investment funds. Research findings have also fed into strategy documents of the Cabinet Office and supported the development of Big Society Capital, stimulating significant growth of individual social enterprises.
Underpinning research
Research on the process of start-up and growth of social enterprise explored the capabilities and contextual factors that shape how social enterprises develop. Other research examined the particular types of support and finance required for the development of social, innovation and scaling impact. Findings have provided insights into the scale and scope of social enterprise activity which have informed further mapping exercises around the world (including Australia, Canada and Israel). This research has been published in the International Journal of Management Reviews, European Urban and Regional Studies, Organization Studies, International Small Business Journal, Environment and Planning C, Journal of Social Entrepreneurship, and Social Enterprise Journal.
Building on this social enterprise research tradition, MU led the £1.3 million, ESRC funded Social Enterprise Research Capacity Building Cluster and the social enterprise stream of the Third Sector Research Centre (TSRC) (led by the University of Birmingham), a £10m, 6 year funded Programme (ESRC, Cabinet Office - Office for Civil Society, and Barrow Cadbury Trust). This has supported a programme of research into issues of growth, ethnic minority involvement and mapping the scale of the social enterprise sector.
Benefits and impacts
Instrumental impact
Evidence on social enterprise support needs fed into key policy documents with papers referenced in Briefing Paper (unpublished, 2009) for the Prime Minister’s Office on ‘Staff Led Enterprises and the NHS’ and in ‘Scottish Government Social Research Support for Social Enterprise Start-ups’ . Fergus Lyon was invited to speak at the Houses of Parliament to Ministers and senior MPs in the All Parliamentary Party Group on Social Enterprise. Research on the scale of the social enterprise sector in the UK challenged figures widely used in policy documents and ministerial speeches. Following our briefings and coverage in a range of media and influential blogs, these figures were removed from government documents. Middlesex University (MU) is now advising policy makers in the Cabinet Office and Office of National Statistics on future measurement.

Policy influence was developed through a series of invitations to brief policy makers and at the Cabinet Office’s Office for Civil Society (6 events), Department of Health (2 events), Communities and Local Government (3 events), Business Innovation and Skills with the Office of National Statistics, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Embassy in China), Big Lottery Fund, and European Commission (DG Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion). MU research influenced the development of the social investment infrastructure, particularly Big Society Capital, and the associated policy makers in the Cabinet Office who have
referenced MU research. There has also been interaction with Local Authorities, with training courses to over 160 local authority officials and councillors and specific advice to councillors in Stevenage (2010-13) and commissioners in Camden (2013).
Impact on social enterprises
Research on the operations, management and governance of social enterprises gave insights into the strategies for growth. The frameworks for understanding approaches to growth developed in the research were used by organisations when deciding on their strategy. Existing and ongoing social enterprise research led to a Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) with the London Early Years Foundation (LEYF), looking at social enterprise models for early years’ provision (2010-2011). This KTP activity led to the development of a growth, social franchising and networking strategy. LEYF has related this research to their growth of 30% (to 24 nurseries and an extra 200 places with a focus in deprived areas) and the raising of over £100,000 investment. LEYF stated that the system put in place by the KTP allowed the growth to take place at a faster scale while ensuring quality was not affected.