Andres Morales On The Global Social Enterprise Movement
Andres is the co-founder and managing director of Minca Ventures Ltd and Living in Minca and a Doctor in Social Enterprise and Social and Solidarity Economy.
He has international experience, working as both a researcher and consultant in more than 40 countries. Beyond his empirical work, Andres has published many pieces of research that includes journals and books. He has also designed and delivered a Social Enterprise MOOC Programme that reached out more than 40,000 beneficiaries in 180 countries.
Andres provides a global view of the social enterprise landscape, talks about how to overcome challenges and the benefits of forming strategic partnerships to measure impact.
Highlights from the interview (listen to the podcast for full details)
[Nikoline Arns] - Could you please share bit about your background and what led you to working in the social enterprise sector?
[Andres Morales] - Sure. I'm actually a Doctor in Social Economy and Social Enterprises, but I define myself as a hybrid individual, because in my work, I try to integrate the best of different worlds. For instance, the practitioner, the academic, the change maker, the adventures the professional, the teacher, the student; because we keep learning from others. We keep learning from different social entrepreneurs around the world. And Minca is a clear example of it. We haven't only tried to showcase and promote the sector, but also we've been trying to educate people about the social enterprise sector by bringing stories that are built by very rigorous research methods, that demonstrate that social entrepreneurs are not only changing peoples lives, but also transforming the economy, by integrating the social and environmental ingredients within a sector, which is proved to be efficient. I'm sure everybody has a story to tell in terms why we ended up in the sector.
I think be socially and environmentally driven. I think it's embedded in us as human beings. I believe that everybody has in some way embedded the will to deliver good, but they haven't yet been stimulated enough. So people like us who work in the sector are lucky to be exposed to [this mindset as] a normal attitude, as they've had the chance to connect with others and with their own inner social oriented spirit. I’ve been working in the social enterprise sector since I was little, because before I wasn't aware that the social enterprise sector existed. I started as a volunteer in a charity back home in Columbia and we were developing projects to make the charity self sustainable and tried to give up the charitable syndrome. We were trying to integrate these entrepreneurial elements in order to create social impact.
But to be honest, since I've been working in the sector for many years, people's stories are what has really driven me to working in the social enterprise sector. Particularly working with those actors, which are invisible. People who started from zero till they are heroes. I know there are a lot of people that use this phrase and it became a cliche phrase, but since I've been visiting social enterprises initiatives from all over the world, particularly in grassroots organisations, this experience has given me the opportunity to look into the sector from a wider perspective. Simply because I had the chance, to see how people operate face to face. I've been nurtured by people's experience, and that is why I'm still working everyday in the social enterprise sector and I'm working hard for a better world. Funnily enough, today we were told that we've been granted a funding scheme through the British Council program to develop an upcycling program in South Africa in partnership with a South African grassroots organisation. So you know, this job never ends.
That's good news! Could you please tell us more about living in Minca and the impact that you're creating? [05:45]
The Minca name is actually rooted in an ancestral Indigenous practice. What we exercise in Latin America today is well known as Minga or Minka with a ‘k’ or Minca with ‘c’. Minca consists in a natural and spontaneous collective way to work based on solidarity and reciprocity principles. Basically, this is the work that we want to see and we experience, living in this kind of collective work in which people are working hard to make the world better and based on solidarity and reciprocity, and it comes out spontaneously. Minca is the practice of the Indigenous people and it has been practiced for more than 500 years, which demonstrates that it's possible. So is not an ideology, it is something which has actually happened and is practice based and people are doing amazing things everywhere in the world in their own way. So far, we've been to more than 40 countries and visited, video recorded, and counselled more than 400 social enterprises.
We've produced a large number of video case studies that are available on our Youtube channel. We've published academic articles and a book that is part of a trilogy that we still writing. We produce film, which is called Memoirs of Solidarity. We developed what we called a participatory video based social enterprise nomad school, and we co-designed with other partners a social enterprise MOOC program that so far has more than 50,000 learners from 180 countries. Minca is actually registered as a social enterprise in the UK. We've got our own social enterprise located in the creative economy and the profit that we make through all the services are reinvested in our Living in Minca platform. So far, our impact has been worldwide, in fact we recently published a paper with the MOOC that we created, and it's incredible to see how many organisations and individuals have been encouraged to create their own projects inspired by our programs, MOOCs, and videos, and they've been stimulated by these. Hence we could say that, we have been encouraging new people to get into the sector. We have encouraged new people to survive and basically to sustain or even scale up their own organisations. We stimulate people to enhance their social and environmental spirit. So it is really incredible and since we've been working everywhere, we can say that the impact happened worldwide.
That's really impressive. Great impact. [08:55]
When you're measuring impact that is something that you cannot measure immediately - it's something that you have to follow up on. Then eventually you can really look at what's going on or what did you manage? Because what we are doing is a long term investment. We don't know, and I think many people in the social enterprise sector are not really aware of what we’re actually building. Let's see what happens.
I'm looking forward to seeing what impact is made from that. What are the biggest challenges you have seen in setting up your social enterprise and what are some examples how to work around them? [09:31]
This is a really good question because based on our experience, social enterprises around the world face many challenges, such as lack of professional human resources, business capacities, institutional pressure, charity syndrome, lack of funding, keeping the balance between the social and the economic objective; lack of resources to invest in marketing, financial pressures, difficulties to diversify the business, lack of innovation and so on. There are many, and multiple issues. However, we need to look at this from a more holistic approach because the thing is, social enterprises are not a homogenous thing. The people do not operate similarly, hence it depends on the country that you are based. They might face similar difficulties or similar issues but also it varies. So what I'm trying to say is it depends where you are based. Social enterprise organisational behaviour isn't the same in all societies.
In the UK, the sector is recognised legally, there is an official definition of what a social enterprise is. There is a big social enterprise umbrella, which is Social Enterprise UK. Also institutions such as the British Council have supported the social enterprise sector incredibly. They're doing an amazing job. So has the School of Social Entrepreneurs. There are many organisations that are working and are nationally recognised. They are pretty advanced in their own model, but there are other regions where social enterprises are invisible. They're not even recognised. For instance, the social and solidarity economy sector in Latin America, which is huge, hasn't yet recognised social enterprise. Even though for instance social enterprise, has been blamed to be a neoliberal approach.
That is why in so many countries in Latin America they haven't really encouraged this social enterprise sector. So what I'm trying to say is, it varies and it depends where you are.
In China, although there are social enterprises by definition, (because they operate to create social and environmental value), they don't know that there are social enterprises but they are also different from the others, because they have the kind of communist gene. They tend to be collective, they have these inclusive governance forms, they have autocratic leadership and so on. So it's very interesting.
In order to say what challenges social enterprises are facing worldwide, we need first to look into each context, each society, because it varies, even within within the UK, there are regional challenges, there are local challenges and national challenges.
How would you advise to work around these challenges, more on a local level? [12:48]
That's an excellent question actually and from our perspective, (and I'm talking on behalf of me and my colleagues in the Minca, because basically we are scholars)…
The key is to integrate different stakeholders, including academia. Because if you want to transform institutions at local and national level, you really need to look into proper rigorous research.
You really need to look into statistics, measure your impact properly and efficiently. You really need to explore the indicators. You have to prove that you are contributing to the economy. So based on these, you need a bigger megaphone, right? Universities or even bigger institutions, already have the platform to tell these policy makers, that there are people who are doing this. We tend to be rigorous in terms of research because it is very important to be passionate about the sector but also it is very important to look into it critically.
It's amazing what they're doing. We need to take it seriously because it's very efficient, sustainable and they are actually integrating entrepreneurial elements and they are contributing to the economy. Hence we have all the elements, to tackle the institutional barriers.
The key for local organisations or grassroots organisations is to enhance the local networking with bigger institutions, which hopefully are not politically involved; which means they don't have their own agenda in terms of politics, but rather they have their own research agenda. So it's important to go there and see the big organisations, universities, people who have a bigger platforms in order to look into what they're doing already. Hence to create these kind of partnerships is extremely effective. For instance, we’re working with Indigenous communities in Colombia and there is one which is called the Misak. Their organisation, partnered with a local university and they have developed amazing projects by widening their stakeholders and networking. They were basically treating a problem that they have with agriculture, and they gather and they co-create a program and it's working. From there, because they were working with a big university, they managed to publish, and then the published material was approved for something else. They influenced the policy-making. What I'm trying to say is…
it’s very important to form strategic partnerships with people who are rigorous in terms of measuring impact at local level.
You recently wrote a book with Sarah Calvo and Yanni Zikidis called The Social and Solidarity Economy, The World's Economy, With A Social Face. It's actually a trilogy that you are still working on. And one of the things you explained in the books are the strengths and weaknesses of social enterprise initiatives across four continents. The circular economy, social propaganda, social enterprise, NGOs and new social movements. Can you please share a bit about what you see as these new social movements? [15:51]
In our book, we debate global mapping. Traveling the world, we bring to the table different case studies. When we looked into these, they are divided into themes or topics, which includes organisations working with the environment, or others that work within the creative economy or solidarity economy; time banks, complementary currencies and so on. The definition of a social movement is that they change when their objectives are achieved. Then they transform into something else such as, organisations, trade unions, NGO's and so on. So we are actually going into what a social movement is. As a definition. But then we proposed that new communities are based worldwide. With the introduction of technology, now you can see new communities that connect to each other from all over the world. The big communities are based upon social enterprise principles because they are using entrepreneurial elements. They emerged from social movements, but it’s a new way to perceive community because it's incredible how people connect to each other, even though from different locations.
You explained a little bit about the structure and the legal recognition of social enterprise in the UK. How do you compare this with other countries? [17:52]
UK has a very well established social enterprise sector. As I said before, they've been doing a lot of good work. They actually influence the development of the social enterprise sector in different contexts. For instance, the Ethiopian social enterprise sector is rooted in the UK social enterprise model. But it's important to understand that social enterprise as practice and as a definition is rooted in the UK context and according to the literature, is business like, which means it's a strongly influenced by this kind of entrepreneurial spirit; but with a social and environmental objective. When you compare this with other societies, it's difficult because if we're going to talk about the social enterprise sector in Latin America or perhaps in Southeast Asia, we need to really look into what the context offers, because you might find social enterprises that are actually inspired by these UK institutions that promote and encourage and stimulate the sector, nonetheless there are other similar practices. But they are basically influenced by other elements, their own culture or their own sector. For example the solidarity sector in Colombia.
The key is to learn from the best that the UK scenario has to offer, and integrate these into existing sectors within the other countries.
I think it's very interesting how these organisations and umbrellas are in a way supported by the state and enhance and stimulate the sector. For instance, such organisational umbrellas are really an example for other countries. I think the British Council, Social Enterprise UK, Unlimited Social Entrepreneurs are amazing. I think they have been doing an excellent job, there are really good, very coherent and cohesive institution and are encouraging others. So I think we can basically export some ideas of what they doing well there in order to improve their own methods which means to create hybrid sectors.
It's like in Barcelona as well. There's a different movement, more based in the culture of the cooperatives. I think that takes the strength from the communication and the structure from Britain and applies it to the culture that you already know, because in the end, it needs to fit with the needs of your own culture and your own country and your own people. [20:44]
There is a British escolar who identified three social enterprise discourses: the first one is called the social entrepreneur hero, which is rooted in US culture, the person, individual who is able to transform the destiny of our society based upon their good leadership skills and so on. The second one is the social enterprise model, which is rooted in the UK, which is very business like; social enterprises have social and environmental objectives, but they have this entrepreneur spirit, and then the third one, which is community oriented, which is embedded in cooperatives, and they have this sense of being an association. So you can see that there are three different discourses. It depends where you are. People like to identify themselves according to what they think is better for them or what suits them best. At the end of the day what we propose is, let's integrate the best out of them and make a hybrid.
Can you please tell us more about the participatory approach that you are using to co-produce knowledge with social enterprises? [22:31]
As a company or as a project we realise through our experience that it wasn't enough to just go there, talk to people, video record them, and that's it. We realised there were methodologies that integrate participatory approach in order to co create and collaborate horizontally with the people that you work with. Hence we came across these participatory methodologies which have been widely practiced in academia, especially from anthropology, media studies and so on. Not so much in the business and economic sectors because usually they tend to be more quantitative and look into statistics and so on. Nowadays you can see a lot of case studies. We discovered this participatory approach and it's been very effective, and that is why we developed our own methodology. We called it "a participatory, video-based social enterprise school". Because we not only provide education about social enterprises based about worldwide examples, but also we integrate video methods, which means we run a workshop with the communities that we work with.
We do this cost effectively. We use available equipment, for instance, mobile phones or action cameras, which are not very expensive, and we give them tips in order to improve their own video skills. So we are doing this, first to provide them with knowledge that we have. And secondly, we opened the opportunity to let people that are involved in our projects to be more involved. Basically they participate actively. And they do it because we allow them. It's not like we go in there and we teach you how to do things, because these are people who know more than you, and are really doing amazing things. Hence, this is why I'm saying this is a journey that you never stop learning from others. Participatory approaches allowed us to work face to face with them in a very collective way.
They feel not like a research object, but rather than like co-researchers.
We have produced tremendously amazing knowledge. We've been working a lot with Indigenous people and it's been very effective, especially with these kinds of vulnerable communities, because they don't feel that we extract their knowledge. Rather, we leave something for them. They learn through the process and eventually we create a better relationship because it's a one to one work.
A learning experience on all sides. How have you seen the social sector transform and change over the last five years and where do you see it heading? [25:39]
I think it is incredible.
Seven years ago nobody really knew what social enterprise is.
When we started, we met with people who were already working on it for many years, but they were few, and when we started we were a niche. I think it keeps growing.
I think what it is really interesting, is that social enterprise is now integrating with other sectors.
For instance, the green environmental sector, which is very important. Before this social enterprises discourse only included social inclusion, lack of employment and so on. But the thing has been evolving, so now we're talking about the circular economy, upcycling and so on. So we are now including the environmental ingredients, and it keeps going. Now people are talking about the cultural impact that people are making. And I think it goes on and on, so we can see how the sector is transforming and integrating with other sectors. As an example of this, the British Council has introduced the creative economy within the social enterprise sector. So they are trying to basically bridge these two sectors and encourage creative enterprises to integrate social entrepreneurship into their existing projects. I think it's a really good bet. I think it's very important. Also you can see this transformation in Latin America. Now social enterprises are including things such as "Buen Vivir", new approaches to development. For instance from the UN they are talking about the SDGs, the Sustainable Development Goals that also are trying to integrate new ways to develop society. Social enterprises are integrating different concepts, different sectors and are evolving rapidly.
I can tell you that in 10 years time, social enterprise will be very recognised.
What is one piece of advice that you would give those listening who are keen to start a social enterprise? [27:59]
Overall I would say…
You have to work collectively. Alone is four to six times harder. My piece of advice for these people who are actually willing to start their social enterprise is, go out there and fish for people to work with you.
People who are willing to work for you and to change the world. And I mean that. Because there are a lot of people ready to do that, but they don't know how. I think it's very important to create a team of expertise in different areas. It doesn't mean that you only have to have professionals, but also you can integrate practitioners or entrepreneurs, activists, teachers, women groups and the minorities; whatever.
Diversity and collectiveness are the two key ingredients to actually kick off a proper social enterprise.
You can go online through existing platforms that people exchange ideas. So my key advice is, go out there and fish people, pitch your idea and listen to the others and integrate different opinions and collaborate on projects.
What books would you recommend to our listeners? [29:19]
There are plenty of different books in the social enterprise sector. But I’d recommend Muhammad Yunus’ autobiography. He's very interesting and provides really good insights. There are books now talking about growth, and de-growth by different authors and scholars. I would definitely recommend the audience to go to all the existing literature about "Buen Vivir", which is extremely interesting, because it's rooted in Indigenous, or a Latin American society's philosophy and new ways to encounter development. I’d advise to go through our book because, although it has a lot of academic discussions, it provides a lot of examples which are developed in order to reach out to any audience. It's video based, so you can hook up with the links to our Youtube platform and there are excellent examples from all over the world. We visited more than 400 social enterprises in more than 40 countries and across four continents. In this first book, we did a lot of mapping and in the other two books which are coming up, we'll basically enhance what is missing in this first book. It wasn't made by us. It was made by the people that are sharing their experiences.
If you want to get practical, subscribe to our MOOC; it's totally free and easy. We integrate different examples from all over the world.
There’s a lot of resources that we can dive into there. Thank you very much for your generous insights and time, and I hope to see you at the Social Enterprise World Forum this year in Ethiopia.
I hope to see you guys there and please keep up with your excellent work. I think Impact Boom is making a tremendous effort to promote the sector.