Press release - 18 April 2012

Expanding a social enterprise is not the only way to increase its impact, says new research from the Third Sector Research Centre.

The research examines ways that social enterprises can increase their scale and social impact, using case studies from the early years sector.

While social enterprise is a loose concept with a range of definitions, the early years sector illustrates how it can offer an alternative way of providing services -  often providing additional support to children and families and making childcare more affordable. The research highlights ways that social enterprises can expand these benefits.

Organisations can increase their impact by expanding their organisation, reaching new customers and winning new contracts, but they can also have huge impacts by sharing ideas and approaches with other organisations – training others, sharing learning about what works and establishing networks.

These strategies allow for a much greater expansion of impact, but require social enterprises to relinquish a much greater level of ownership and control. 

The research also details a number of ‘halfway’ approaches that organisations can use – sharing practice through formal relationships that allow them to retain some control. This includes setting up spin out organisations, licensing products and services, or setting up social franchises. These provide exciting opportunities, but also challenges in terms of enforcing agreements and standards.

Fergus Lyon who conducted the research said ‘When a good idea or approach has been developed, it is important to find ways of maximising the number of people that benefit. While growth is right for some organisations, it is not the only way of expanding impact. We need to consider how impact can be widened through building networks, sharing knowledge and supporting others to replicate and adapt approaches.

He added that ‘With both financial and social objectives, social enterprises will need to balance pressures to retain intellectual property as well as to share ideas that can have a social benefit.’

Read the research: ‘Strategies for scaling up social enterprise: lessons from early years providers’, Fergus Lyon and Heather Fernandez 

Fergus Lyon will be taking part in a live Q&A on this topic with the Guardian Social Enterprise Network, Thursday 19 April 12-2pm.

For more information contact:
Naomi Landau, Knowledge Exchange Team: / 020 7520 2421

Professor Fergus Lyon: / 02084116856