Interview with Andre Mostert

What is your knowledge of social enterprise and your experience in the area?

AndreUEL PhotoI’ve been working in social enterprise for the last five years formally, prior to that it was much more informal. Presently my major focus is on social enterprise support, supporting enterprise developments and looking at how we create formal structures to encourage business development, nurturing of start-ups and obviously then with a bias towards social enterprise.

How does this centre promote social enterprise, training, education etc?

Historically the whole idea that education is more classroom based and training being on the job type of situation. For us, we don’t have that distinction. Our goal is to nurture not necessarily just young people but predominantly young people who have an interest in entrepreneurship and the distinction between private entrepreneurship rather than social entrepreneurship is something we’ve not really focused on. More recently, because of the developments internationally around the concept, we’re moving towards that bias but in a sense our philosophy as a support centre is that everyone is an entrepreneur to a degree anyway and how we encourage them to realise their aspirations, whether it be through an education based structure which would be more formal, or a training basis with workshops and other support mechanisms and we’re flexible in that respect.

With students in the UK, what do they expect from Social enterprise training.

In a sense we’re still in the early days of having that specialisation in social enterprise. A lot of our local students, when confronted by an enterprise programme, they tend to veer towards social enterprise solutions because they’re motivated by problems in their communities and would like to find solutions. It’s not a ubiquitous opportunity in our communities. A lot of students haven’t had exposure to entrepreneurship per se and many of them aren’t seeing it as a viable career alternative. They think it looks interesting. The students do enjoy the methodology. You’re not assessed as to whether it’s a viable idea or not. For me it’s more a case of training people in the process of what it means to start a solution or start a business.

How do you do needs assessments and analyse effectiveness of programmes and how does that link into getting funding or businesses involved?

When it’s part of a formal process your impacts and metrics are part of a formal education process, so it perpetuates the modular based submission/evaluation system. In terms of the training element, and supporting entrepreneurs moving from the classroom and creating something sustainable, our success has been fairly limited. Perhaps because we’re operating in a conventional system and we don’t have the resource base. Someone who has a strong entrepreneurial bend will probably get on without us. In that sense, we have to nurture entrepreneurial spirit, which requires ongoing support. The challenge is to ensure we don’t go the same avenue of having formal systems that become ends in themselves. How we measure impact is a key element and a key gap in the academic area in this regard. In order to attract more state and other financial support we need to create some sort of effective metrics, which is not a debate institutions like to have as there does tend to be a questioning of the rationale as to how the whole operation operations. Analysis is going to be much more prevalent, especially in times of austerity.

What is the demand for this kind of programme? It must be challenging given that qualitative data is hard to come by?

That’s one of the reasons why we, with our programme have moved towards focusing on the idea that your life is a business, and improbability forms a big part of that. Just because you are focusing on an entrepreneurial course per se, it doesn’t mean you have to go on to be an entrepreneur. Many people on our programmes go on to more traditional jobs in the short-term, others do go straight into the entrepreneurial world.

What are the shortfalls of social enterprise training?

To impart the skills needed to be an entrepreneur aren’t difficult (managing finances etc.) but the underlying motivation has to be intrinsic to the individual is something we find difficult to nurture. They tend to be delivered by educators and so there is that education/nurture feeling that doesn’t necessarily lend itself to the realities of what being an entrepreneur is. The programmes don’t give that exposure to what it really means to be an entrepreneur. There are a number of strengths in creating an eco-system where a young person, or entrepreneur of any age gets a sense of what it takes in terms of commitment and focus. But translating those types of strengths in terms of experience and access, is extremely difficult. With things like social enterprise, people feel like their idea is such a good idea, and it invariably is, but they feel the authorities should tick a box and give them money, so [when that doesn’t happen] their ambition can easily be diluted by failure. It winds someone down obviously. Creating a structure which allows budding entrepreneurs and social entrepreneurs to safely engage with the realities as they mature as an individual is where the weakness lies, beyond the modular basis. How do those modules form a reality?

What government support than you need?

Creating an environment where failure is accepted as part of the process is important. Government must give more funding, but that’s an ideal situation, it’s not going to really happen. The nurturing and the enabling legislation is in place in this country, not necessarily elsewhere.