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Data insight: what are we learning about enterprise in the youth sector?


Last month, we launched a survey as part of our research to better understand social enterprise activity in the youth sector. You can still be part of this research - The survey is open for all youth sector organisations to complete until the end of August. We’d especially like to hear from those thinking about or currently running a social enterprise.


As the sector lead for the Enterprise Development Programme (EDP), managed by Access – the Foundation for Social Investment, we are undertaking research to understand:

  • what shapes the youth sector’s engagement with enterprise; and 
  • the role of social enterprise in helping youth organisations to diversify income, employ and/or positively impact their beneficiaries.


The data we collect will further learning from the EDP on how to best support organisations to develop successful enterprises, and generate knowledge that will support social investors to better understand their audience and how to fund enterprise in the youth sector.


We’ve had a sneak peak at the data, with survey responses and EDP grantee interviews starting to give us some insights into the motivations, barriers and perceived impacts of social enterprise. 


So, what exactly are you telling us?


Motivations for involvement in social enterprise. Survey responses here are mixed, with ensuring financial survival, increasing social impact and growing enterprising attitudes in staff and young people all featuring. The interview data supports the idea that enterprise is seen to serve a range of purposes within youth sector organisations, including:

  • Mission alignment, with the enterprise activity seen to support specific organisational aims for young people, such as developing skills for employment; 
  • Financial resilience and independence, allowing organisations to be less negatively affected by a turbulent funding environment, and have greater freedom in the provision or services they offer; and
  • Increasing impact for young people through expanding the reach of the organisation, improving the diversity of their provision, or the quality of services/provision offered.


Importantly, interviewees also touched on enterprise as a vehicle for supporting young people’s interests and providing a natural progression route where there is strong and natural alignment with their provision. As one grantee told us:


“[Enterprise] is a big thing within Hip Hop culture and independent artist culture which is obviously massive for us. All the big acts that these young people are listening to, they have a story of being a self-made artist, of being fiercely independent and building their own brands. [...] It’s kind of baked into the culture around here that being an entrepreneur is aspirational.”


There is a sense that ‘young people are enterprising’, and this frames enterprise activity as something that potentially sits comfortably within good youth work practice, in terms of being driven by young people’s interests and providing key development opportunities. This notion of ‘sector alignment’ is something we’re keen to explore further. 


Barriers. Unsurprisingly, both the survey and grantee interviewees have cited the challenge of securing grant funding or finances for set-up costs, and a lack of internal capacity to dedicate to enterprise development as key barriers to the process. Interviewees have also touched on the value of the EDP – through enabling market research, providing specialist business support and a supportive network – as giving them confidence and belief in their value proposition.


Impact. As with motivations, the data is showing that organisations perceive enterprise to contribute to their provision in a variety of ways, and it is difficult to pinpoint its single biggest perceived impact. In the survey, the main ways in which enterprise is seen to contribute to organisational capacity are through:

  • Maintaining core service delivery to young people;
  • Increasing the number of young people supported;
  • Improving the frequency of support/services to young people; and
  • Creating a culture that supports the development of enterprising attitudes and behaviours in staff and young people.


Whilst the above impacts relate to outcomes for young people, interviewees have also pointed to the potential for enterprise activity to raise their organisation’s profile and therefore amplify its potential to affect positive change. This suggests that with time, the impact of the enterprise in terms of financial return and outcomes for young people can stretch far beyond the enterprise activity itself.


Inclusion and Equity. We’ve touched on sector alignment already, and what the emergent data is telling us about the role of enterprise in inclusion and equity very much builds on this. The majority of enterprise activity reported so far has either adopted a ‘lock-step business model’ where trading activity has a direct social impact and also generates financial return, or a ‘trade-off model’, where there is a managed trade-off between financial return and social impact. Within these business models, youth sector social enterprises often provide specific opportunities for:

  • Young people to be actively engaged in decision making processes (e.g. in business development plans and delivery);
  • Under-served groups (for example when provision is targeted, young people who are less likely to gain employment can access structured work experience); and
  • Varied skill development, including technical skills such as project management and social and emotional skills such as communication.


This is just a glimpse of what we’re learning about enterprise – and we still really want to hear from you, to improve the quality and robustness of our data. If your organisation has a background in enterprise, or you’ve just thought about giving it a go, please take 20 minutes to fill out the research survey here.