Networks connect enterprising community organisations, social enterprises and social entrepreneurs who operate within a specific geographical area (regional, national, international). Networks can also connect within a specific sector (for example – agriculture, tourism, food, youth, older people), or who are united by a shared social or environmental purpose/mission (homelessness, ocean plastics, food poverty).
This gives members a platform to interact with other like-minded people, to ask questions, share ideas and experiences, and identify opportunities for working together. Events such as conferences or networking events are a great way to be able to make the right connections and build your network.
Social enterprise networks (SENs) can connect individuals and organisations from across different communities, social enterprises and locations into supportive networks, where they have an opportunity to work together, have a collective voice and access to resources, advice and peer support.
See this short factsheet from Senscot about ‘Local Sens: What are they?’
Why is this important for small, community-led social enterprises?
Grassroots or community-led social enterprises benefit from being members of a social enterprise network because they provide access to a shared wealth of resources, expertise, contacts and peer support. As individuals or individual organisatons the pool of knowledge, resources and support is much more limited.
Being based in a rural and remote location can add rural-specific challenges, so it is important to have a platform to discuss and share with similar people and organisations, your approaches, solutions and experiences of dealing with common challenges.
Remote geographies often restrict the ability to network in person, or attend networking events due to the financial and time constraints of travel so by networking with organisations across your region, or with a rural-focus, you will likely find that they promote a greater number of locally-held events, events based in nearby rural locations or virtual networking opportunities, rather than centralised urban networking events, to encourage rural participation.
An example of the benefits of joining a network in numbers:
Senscot is Scotland’s national agency who support social enterprise networking. They published this blog post ‘Putting the benefits of SEN membership into numbers’, which examined the actual social and financial impact made by four social enterprise networks in Scotland. The study compared the connections that individuals and/or organisations could expect to gain from joining a network, and compared the before and after. This is shown in the graph below.
The headline figures to come out of the report are that individuals and/or organisations who join a social enterprise network can expect to make:
- 10 times the amount of connections to other social enterprises and sector influencers. This equates to a 900% increase in connections, just by joining a SEN!
- 11 times as many connections to influencers and policymakers than social enterprises outside of networks. The before and after connections to influencers and policymakers increases by almost 1000% after joining a network!Full report here.
A short infographic of the same report can be accessed here, which provides specific information on the benefits gained.
Networks are highly useful to enable you to identify potential partners with common goals to work collectively and collaborate. Other benefits of networks include the ability to inter-trade, to be able to reach a wider market and to raise your profile collectively.
1.2 Existing networks
Social enterprise networks (SENs) exist locally, regionally, nationally and internationally. Their members are connected either by geography (for example, region or municipality), theme (arts or recycling), social mission (employability or tackling loneliness), or a combination of these.
Joining a local network will help you to network and connect with social enterprises and entrepreneurs in your area who you might not already be aware of. It will also help you influence local decision-makers, including political representatives, local councillors, council officers and local media, to make them aware of your successes, needs and ideas.
National networks bring together all types of social enterprises and supporters under one umbrella to network, campaign, exchange ideas, and help shape the social enterprise movement in that country. Membership to a national network can give you a voice in national policymaking and government decisions which affect your enterprise and the sector more widely.
SENs which have a national or international focus give their members more visibility on the global stage, allowing them to connect with members from a range of countries worldwide and improving access to international collaborations and projects.
How do I find social enterprise networks to join?
A quick google search for social enterprise networks in your area (local, national), or within your theme/sector, will provide you with a starting point for some research into what networks you might consider joining. See the links below for ViSENet informative documents about the social enterprise networks you might consider joining internationally, within Europe and nationally.
The ViSENet International Network of Rural Social Enterprises is a network for rural social and/or community enterprises, and can be found at this link: