| What do you get when you bring together 1400 delegates from 47 countries to discuss social entrepreneurship and social innovation? In my opinion a showcase of inspirational stories and a collective determination to make a change for the better in our society. This was the scene of the tenth edition of the Social Enterprise World Forum (SEWF) that was hosted in Edinburgh (Scotland) between the 12th and the 14th of September 2018. Social entrepreneurs, support organisations, policy makers and academics from different parts of the world where represented. On the two days preceding the SEWF, around 100 academics gathered in Glasgow for the SEWF Academic Days. This event was hosted by the Glasgow Caledonian University (GCU).
The SEFW provided an arena to celebrate social entrepreneurship and the inspiring initiatives that are going on around the globe. Fortunately, the event did not turn into a sole act of self-celebration, but also provided a stage for critical reflections on current developments of the social enterprise movement. Like for example the plead of Indy Johar (Dark Matters Lab, UK). He challenged the audience to start to actively with reimagining what we want our future to look like. With ambition and even some boldness. He argued that we should not only use the mainstream ways of business and policy to achieve that, but also that of for example science fiction. In this he mirrored the societal importance of one of the first interracial kisses on television, broadcasted in a Star Trek episode in 1968, in the discussion on racial equality. He urged the audience to be critical towards ourselves and the real impact of our actions. And yes, the SEWF, with its like-minded audience, was an inspirational event. But the real opportunities for change might lay in interacting and engaging with people that you normally not engage with. Because the only way we can create a structural societal change, is by making sure the largest audience possible embraces the goals and values reflected within social enterprises.
In order to achieve our high-level ambitions, we possibly need to dream big but act local. Because one of the other aspects that was highlighted in different ways was the importance of context in the social entrepreneurial field. During the SEWF Academic Days, this was strongly voiced by amongst others Diane Holt, professor at University of Essex. She enlightened the audience with examples of her research in Africa and highlighted the importance of leaving our own frames of reference at the door when we enter a community. It is a challenge to try to understand the social structures and social challenges specific to that community. Our understanding of concepts such as poverty and exclusion are highly influenced by the context in which you place them. This again, influences the phenomenon researched and solutions perceived in the field. From an academic perspective, it means that we actively have to engage in the communities that we research.
I feel these aspects are strongly reflected in the philosophy of RurAction. There, we as early stage researchers are facilitated to approach the topic from both an academic and a practitioner’s perspective. And we are challenged to submerse ourselves into the different regions present within the consortium. The results from the 10 research projects undertaken through RurAction can hopefully truly advance the discussions in the academic field of social entrepreneurship. And in the light of the plead of Indy Johar, we can hopefully also challenge ourselves and the wider research community to be creative in our contributions to the broader social discussion. I agree with him that this is the playing field were ultimately the real change needs to be created.
Mara van Twuijver