Alastair Wilson

Backing social change – who are the winners?

Alastair WilsonChief Executive, School for Social Entrepreneurs


Organisations that deliver support to social entrepreneurs exist in pressurised, competitive markets. Therefore they are incentivised to back “winners” in order to compete and survive. To a multi-national corporate, the “winner” often looks like them: well educated, successful and fluent in ‘business speak’. This approach makes sense in the commercial world, where financial return is the primary objective, but is more questionable where the objective is social value. Are those who look good on paper, with good qualifications and experience, really the best people to bring about social change?

At the School for Social Entrepreneurs (SSE), we believe that in order to bring about social change, we need to devolve power. We need to get people that understand (and have a vested interest in) social problems to author the solutions. That means that a powerful social entrepreneur won’t be someone who has studied social policy at university, but rather someone who has experienced social problems first hand. That way their solutions will be fit for purpose, popular and authentic, based on real experience rather than theory. We need to apply a different lens of merit to those we back to create social value – they can’t be assessed by their qualifications or social class. In other words, the solutions to the social inequalities and problems that plague our society, often our “winners” are found at a grassroots level not necessarily at the top of the class.

At SSE, we back social entrepreneurs, using small grants and an approach to “learning by doing” which tackles both personal growth needs and project development. Our approach allows us to target the least privileged who we believe have a unique insight into social value solutions that will work. We aren’t a typical school – our students don’t need any qualifications to join our courses and they won’t leave with any either. Instead what they come away with are the soft (and hard) skills needed to turn their passion and drive for a cause into a credible solution, a network of support which includes fellow social entrepreneurs and corporate mentors and the belief that they can achieve what they set out to do.

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