Why we need social entrepreneurs

Chris Durkin, co-author of Social entrepreneurship; A skills approach, reflects on his experience of redundancy and how the uncertainty it brings is representative of life in the ‘gig economy’. He highlights the urgent need to teach new skills, creativity and resilience and how social entrepreneurs can show us the way.

Christopher Durkin

I have been very lucky throughout my working life and only recently experienced the indignity of being made redundant. What was apparent was that redundancy has a formality, which goes through various stages – notification, ‘consultation’ and final notice – a process that involves you in attending various meetings, both as a group and as an individual.

What sticks out for me on a personal level was that throughout the process there was a high level of uncertainty, a complete loss of confidence and a feeling of anger, loss and failure; feelings that are both natural and individual.

As a nation, we are also going through a period of incredible turmoil, uncertainty, insecurity and self-doubt.

“The rise of the so-called ‘gig economy.'”

I started thinking about this when reading about the current job market in the UK which is increasingly being made up of people in insecure jobs, self-employment, zero hours contracts; the rise of the so-called ‘gig economy’. Combine this with the fact that many of the current jobs will not exist in 30 years’ time brings into question what needs to be done about this. A simple answer would be to say that we need to invest in skills, but that begs the question, what skills?

We need to focus more on educating people for a very different, challenging and fast-moving world, which may provide opportunities for some but for many will also be marked by years of short-term contracts, unemployment, poverty and uncertainty. I am not sure if many of our current institutions are planning for this scenario.

“We are stifling the very creativity and innovation that we as a society need…”

Much of education curricula, for instance, looks back as to what has worked in the past rather than looking forward helping us to develop resilience and skills to cope with uncertainty and failure. In this era of league tables and a system obsessed with tests and examinations, we are stifling the very creativity and innovation that we as a society need and potentially heightening the insecurity of many. We need to help our young people to become more resilient and creative risk takers.

In the broader national social policy context, we need to have policy devolved and developed at a more local/ community level, testing out ideas within communities, seeing what works and what fails and recognising that failure is not something to be ashamed of but part of the process of development.

Many of our social problems are complex and ‘wicked’, requiring much more individualised approaches to be adopted and a move away from centralised decision-making and policy-making. Social entrepreneurs, intrapreneurs, social designers, social innovators, community developers and others are increasingly needed in all sectors to work in partnership with others to develop new and innovative ideas to solving society’s problems.

An example of this approach is going to be used in the London borough of Dagenham and Redbridge where the foundation ‘Participatory City’ are working with the local authority to develop neighbourhood projects¹. The starting point for all is the needs of an individual within a social context rather than starting from an organisational form.


¹Every One Every Day (accessed 8/7/2017)

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