Reflections on Social Enterprise World Forum 2023

Reflections from our Programme's Development Manager, Sarah Cameron and Bolds, Creative Director Doug Summers on Social Enterprise World Forum 2023.

'I should have started in social enterprise much earlier...'

 Sarah Cameron - Programme Development Manager

What a fantastic city Amsterdam is and what an amazing venue. SEWF 2023 was the first time I’ve ever been to a predominantly vegan conference (except for all the chocolate of course) and the food was delicious. All the sessions were held within the building so there was plenty of chance to chat to people between workshops and plenaries.

The opening session was full of energy, it was incredible to look at the enormous room full of social enterprise people from all over the world- definitely a great atmosphere. The first panel really put the Netherlands on the Social Enterprise map with some really interesting speakers. Roetz-Bikes spoke about the bicycle issue in the city and their aims to tackle the problem- which we definitely saw when we spent some time in the city! The tone was set for the whole conference when SEWF chair Helene Malandain said: .'People and Planet, the way enterprise

models should be designed' in her opening speech. Subsequent sessions showed that environmental issues were at the forefront of peoples minds. Scottish delegates made up 6% of the 2000 participants which meant that we met so many old friends and could finally get a chance to reconnect after too many years without events like this due to covid.

The programme had so much to offer, with sessions about support eco-systems around the world, internationalisation, the role of governments, navigating times of change and addressing barriers. It was exhausting but also invigorating- it would be hard not to be moved by all of these impressive people. We were challenged over and over to put our heads above the parapet and speak up for our beliefs, to keep people and planet on the agenda.

So my reflections on SEWF 2023 are:

  • I should have started in social enterprise earlier, what a lot of time I’ve wasted! We have a lot to learn from the younger generation who are arriving on the scene and doing amazing things! 20% of speakers were under 30 and 60% identified as female.
  • My Scottish colleagues are a wonderful group of people and I really need to find more time to spend with them- planning to change the world or just catching up. We are lucky enough to have a significant number of experienced people in the sector and we should all be working together more.
  • I would have liked to hear more about issues around diversity in the sector. 
  • Scotland has always been seen as a leader in the world of social enterprise, but we have a lot to learn from the countries who have built their social enterprise landscape without any government support. Now, as we shift government department, are we more vulnerable as a sector? Should we be looking to the countries that have had bigger struggles than us, to learn about their successes and how they achieved them?
  • The big guys on the stage were still talking about scale and growth- how many social enterprises do we work with that want to scale and grow? Are we still applying old fashioned economics to our sector? We obviously still have work to do here on changing the narrative.
  • What we do at Community Enterprise is vital to our eco-system and access to the type of support we offer is envied across the world. We should be proud.
  • Is it not about time Community Enterprise had an international might take me a while to convince Douglas Westwater, but worth a shot.

SEWF panel

'There was so much inspiration to take from the trip...'

Doug Summers -Creative Director, Bold Studio

It was my privilege to attend the Social Enterprise World Forum in Amsterdam his month, and what an inspiring 4 days it was.

The conference was located in the thriving area of North Amsterdam, a short scoot on a playmobile ferry from the back of Centraal Station. The area was once industrial and now in transition plays host to many diverse and thriving social enterprises. The highlight for me was the walking tour of the area. We started off in a huge reuse warehouse called De Lockatie employing people far from the job market (which was a recurring principle of many of the SEs we visited). It was a real Aladdin’s cave and I noticed a healthy selection of windsurfing gear and high end barbeques among its many wares. In keeping with most Dutch social enterprises it was bedecked in the accepted SE uniform of exposed plywood and house plants. Next stop was Colourful Goodies, where they make and sell a vast range of diverse dolls to a thriving global market.

Then on to Roetz Bikes a bike factory that repairs contract city bikes and also makes its own range of high end cycles with beautiful curved plywood mudguards and cork handle grips. They are also producing a highly desirable eBike-for-life with all parts available online and replaceable in 5-10 minutes. Price £3000 euros.

Social enterprise in Amsterdam knows no limits. We took a canal trip on Rederij Lampedusa a migrant vessel reclaimed abandoned from the shores of Lampedeusa in Italy and repurposed in Amsterdam to provide boat trips with spellbinding tales of refugee back stories and dangerous journeys enlightening the world and providing employment. We ended the day sampling a beer called Liquid Bacon (I know, and yes it did.) in a wonderful social enterprise craft brewery and pub Da Prael.

There was so much inspiration to take from the trip it’s impossible to fit on one page. 60 nationalities were present and Scotland widely acknowledged as the frontrunner in Social Enterprise – which was a real eye opener. Bold Studio made connections with Studio MEO a social enterprise design studio providing recurring magazines and newsletters and employing 50 people far from the job market – we have already discussed collaboration. We spoke to Three Leafs Tea, a fairly traded artisan oolong tea company from Taiwan. And countless more links and connections that will keep us going until the next SEWF.

Massive thanks to Gosling Coffee who tirelessly kept 2000 delegates in freshly brewed coffee at 6 free to use coffee stalls in the auditorium. ALL conferences need to take a leaf out of this book!


SEWF Audience