Seoul Man, Peter Holbrook

Since its launch in 2008, the Social Enterprise World Forum (SEWF) has established itself as a leading international event for social entrepreneurs, policy makers, social investors and support organisations.

After being staged in Europe, Australia, Africa and North America, the 2014 edition of the SEWF was held for the first time in Asia - in Seoul, South Korea. This is a region in which social enterprise is developing rapidly and addressing significant social economic and environmental issues. 

We caught up with Peter Holbrook, the chair of SEWF and CEO of Social Enterprise UK, to get his take on the event, the benefits of international collaboration, and the crooners of the social enterprise world.

What is the mission of the SEWF? 

Peter Holbrook: To connect, to learn, to share, to build, to reflect and to ultimately grow the social enterprise movement in neighbourhoods, communities and countries, right across the world.

We know that business can be used as a wonderful tool for solving complex problems; social enterprises do just that and so we want to showcase social enterprise solutions too.

The mission of SEWF is to unleash the potential of social entrepreneurs and their businesses on the most urgent challenges we face. In whatever part of the world the SEWF takes place, we are always determined to leave a positive and lasting legacy. We have seen the creation of new partnerships, new supportive policies from governments and new investment in building the sector as a result of hosting the SEWF. 

Why is it important to foster international collaboration on social enterprise and social investment? 

PH: Because so many of the major challenges we face in the UK and Europe are mirrored right across the world, the solutions we seek need to be developed with collaboration from around the world. Many of these challenges are interdependent or at least interrelated. They require broad and holistic thinking.

It is only by coming together, by sharing and learning that we have any hope of finding the answers the world seeks. And of course we know that social capital, as valuable as that is, is not nearly enough, so the dialogue must include private business, investors, public officials, NGOs and communities themselves. Collaboration is critically important in mustering the goodwill and resources required to respond to these challenges. 

What were the highlights and takeaways of the 2014 SEWF?  

PH: The highlights of SEWF? Well taking to the stage to speak at the opening ceremony and seeing a vast hall, fizzing with energy, with over 1000 people, from over 50 countries, well that makes you feel very much a global citizen and part of this rapidly growing global movement. 

Entrepreneurs, activists, organisers, public officials, academics, investors all coming together in our shared belief that a pro-social economy can provide many of the solutions we seek. Well that’s kind of exciting isn’t it?

And of course visiting Seoul, seeing how social enterprise is gathering so much momentum, visibility and scale was another great highlight.

East Asia is one of the most dynamic environments for social enterprise in the world right now. Given the size of its huge population that’s also incredibly exciting isn’t it?

What are the priorities for the SEWF in the lead-up to the 2015 edition in Milan?

PH: It’s well documented that Europe has experienced its greatest economic crisis in more than a century; the impact will be long lasting. This has created a perfect opportunity to talk openly about new economic ideas, about how social and economic policy can mutually reinforce each other. The European Commission has quite recently embraced social enterprise and prioritised its growth.

In Milan we’ll be able to explore the role social enterprise plays in job creation and job protection and how this can be advanced with the support of public policy across a large economic and geographic community. I think that the opportunity is well expressed in the theme for SEWF Milan 2015: “Growing the New Economy.”

Secondly it no coincidence that we’ll be in Milan alongside the 2015 International Expo whose own theme is “Feed the World, Energy for Life.” SEWF Milan 2015 will complement the Expo by having a strong theme around social enterprise and the food economy, from agriculture to food packaging, waste recycling, work integration and food poverty initiatives.

Social investment will also feature strongly on the agenda as will international development and the growing role of social enterprise within the developing world.    

We’ve heard rumours of a memorable KTV session in Seoul. Are there any great crooners in the SE world? 

PH: I should probably say no comment, no recollection, are sure your sources are correct? And anyway what happens in Seoul should stay in Seoul! But crooners in the social enterprise world? There are plenty.  

I’ll soon be heading off to watch the Christmas concert of The Choir with No Name, a great social enterprise, a wonderful choir assembled entirely from within the homeless community.

Other than that there’s lots of hidden and not so hidden talent within the movement. There are a couple of British Council staff based in Beijing that found their soul in Seoul. They were actually not bad. And a certain professor of social entrepreneurship, based in the States, also revealed his inner rock god and as a consequence picked up a few new groupies.