SocialEnterprise Andrew Lansley may have grabbed (nearly) all the headlines with his NHS announcement at this week’s Voice11 conference, but there was a lot more going on at this year’s social enterprise conference. Read on after the jump for our highlights.

Voice11 brings together an exhibition of more than 130 social enterprises with a range of passionate and charged panel debates, before topping the whole lot off with an awards ceremony. The purpose? Bring business and the social enterprise closer together and “make the external business environment truly supportive and truly fertile to social enterprise”. O2 is committed to social enterprise as part of Think Big,  a sustainability programme which enables customers to make a real difference for people and the planet.

Voice11 Keynotes come delivered by senior government ministers, such as Health Secretary Andrew Lansley who used the conference to reveal an additional £10 million investment in the Social Enterprise Investment Fund to help deliver the Right to Provide scheme. 

This will enable staff across the NHS to set up as independent organisations to run the services they deliver. It’s a bold move but an empowering one for those involved and a big boon for social enterprise. has a good write up on the details of the deal.

Nick O’Donohoe is currently putting the finishing touches to a the roadmap for a “Big Society Bank”, which he plans to reveal to the government in the coming weeks and which he suggested, during his Voice11 presentation, could be up and running by this summer. The bank, O’Donohoe suggests, will kickstart “a sea change in sentiment towards investing in social enterprise”. It’s main aim will be to help boost investment in social enterprise, something O’Donohue himself believes has greater opportunity now than even three years ago. Read more by The Guardian on the Big Society Bank.

Elsewhere, the Big Venture Challenge is offering a range of investment opportunities for 25 lucky winners. Voice11 saw the start of its search for 25 winning social enterprises which will each win an initial grant of £25,000 before being able to apply for an additional seed investment of £150,000. The scheme is looking for enterprises which can “scale up quickly” and benefit from rapid investment. Launched by UnLtd the Big Venture Challenge will be announcing its winners in September. Check out the Big Venture Challenge website for more.

All very exciting, but what is a social enterprise? We’re glad you asked as another feature of the show was the opportunity to show off the “Social Enterprise Mark” which businesses can apply to use. 


Registered businesses can not only show off their social and environmental credentials, but also help raise wider awareness of the benefits of being a social enterprise and differentiate itself from competitors. Any social enterprise can apply to register for the mark, so long as they fit the requirements, including the government’s own definition of a social enterprise: “businesses with primarily social objectives whose surpluses are principally reinvested for that purpose in the business or in the community, rather than being driven by the need to maximise profit for shareholders and owners.” Find out more at the Social Enterprise Mark website.

There seems to be an overall theme coming away from Voice11 which was pushing for a move away from big banks and towards what, according to @e4educated, Ali Parsa called “a rebalancing of society” which has greater social ownership and consequently more social responsibility. Elsewhere, MP Vince Cable called for ideas around “unconventional finance” and the Post Offices whilst Clare Fox laid the gauntlet down on social enterprises, challenging them to be real businesses and to win purely on merit and as @thirdsectordave pointed out “no special pleading”. 

See what the rest of the Twitterati had to say about Voice11.

For it’s part, O2 also has its own “social enterprise package” which was created following last year’s consultation with a wide range of businesses. Free line rental and broadband services line up alongside bill credits and free accessories to form a package of support available specifically for social enterprises. The offer, which was announced in February this year, will also be updated as more feedback is gained over the coming months.

So, the awards winners have barely put their champagne glasses down but already it feels like there’s no time to lose. We’re in an age the like of which we’ll likely never see again, where new opportunities pour open every day unleashing a flow of creativity and accessibility for all. 

Now, more than ever before it’s possible to do good business, by doing business good. Even if you don’t have an ambition to start a social enterprise yourself, doesn’t mean you can’t find an opportunity to support one. Heck, if you ever have reason to use the NHS, you might even be using one without even realising.

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