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What’s the place-based social value of rural social enterprise?

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There has been a lot of research and evaluation into the social value that social enterprises create for their direct beneficiaries but less about the social value they create for particular places.

However, in a recent article in the journal People, Place and Policy Online I discussed the findings of research into the ‘place-based’ social value created by ten rural new-start social enterprise projects. The research focussed on the extent to which local residents felt the projects would make their area a better place to live. I think the findings are very interesting and can help social enterprises in rural areas understand how the contribution of their work on place-based social value can be maximised.

Overall, a majority of respondents (57%) thought the local area would be a better place to live as a result of the social enterprise project in their area but there were wide variations by project, ranging from 96% of respondents in one area (project A) to only 32% in another (project I). We found that these variations reflected the type of project that was developed and its success in reaching, engaging with, and meeting the needs of local people. However, we also found that economic considerations were a key factor in residents’ views about the social enterprise in their area: whether or not residents thought the project in their area would lead to more employment and bring more tourists or visitors to the area were important predictors of the view that the local area would be a better place to live as a result of the local social enterprise project.

The following examples shed some light on these findings and may prove helpful for rural social enterprises looking to create social value for widest range of people in their communities. In Area A, where the social value for local people was greatest, the project provided the only shop, post office and café, and a much needed community hall and meetings rooms. In Area I, where the social value for local people was lowest, the local project created a ‘School of Food’ that primarily targeted people from outside the village and undertook a range of events and activities to support and promote local food retailers and producers. To people in Area I the need for the project was less evident and the direct benefits for their lives and the prospects of the area less clear.

Our research highlights the challenge for social enterprises in balancing for-profit activities without compromising the principles of voluntary association and responsiveness to local needs if their contribution to place-based social value is to be maximised . But for the projects covered by our study and for rural social enterprise more generally, a number of barriers may prevent this social value potential from being realised. In particular they will need to achieve sufficient scale, longevity and sustainability that the value created can be maintained and expanded into the future. This will be a major challenge in the current economic and political climate, but is one which will need to be overcome if rural social enterprise is to have a significant and lasting impact on individual and community life.

  • Chris Dayson is a research fellow at the Centre for Regional Economic and Social Research (CRESR) at Sheffield Hallam University. Chris spends a lot of his time working with social economy organisations to help them understand, measure and communicate the social value they create as a result of their work. You can follow his work and thoughts on Twitter 
  • You can read the full article on which this blog is based online for free here

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