A new report by one of the world’s leading sustainability non-profits, Forum for the Future, has uncovered the enormous potential community businesses have in making local economies both more inclusive and democratic.
Drawing on the views and experiences of more than 40 community businesses and 20 experts, Community Business in 2030 illustrates the transformative effect the sector could have on both local people’s lives and society as a whole.
To turn the vision into a reality, however, the researchers say eight big shifts are needed – including building a collective sense of purpose. The report suggests a series of priority actions for a range of actors in the system – from community businesses and infrastructure organisations, to government and citizens.
The report, commissioned by charitable trust Power to Change, envisions that by the end of the next decade, community businesses will have proven that there’s a radically more inclusive, democratic way to run local economies – owning assets, sharing power, and putting people first. As a well-established part of the UK economy, they will have transformed lives, while contributing to bigger shifts in society – redefining meaningful work, regenerating the natural world, and enabling people to impact global issues, locally.
Vidhya Alakeson, CEO of Power to Change, said: “With the challenges facing the country over the next decade, there is an urgent need to find a better way to support local communities. This inquiry tells us that community businesses feel excited for their future, and believe they are part of a different, more inclusive approach to running local economies.”
The report highlights community businesses that have already lead the way, such as BS3 Community Development, Bristol, which offers Ofsted-outstanding childcare, dementia support for the elderly, social day clubs and Qui Gong classes. Or the Goodwin Development Trust, Hull, whose 200-strong workforce supports young and disadvantaged people to find work, provides affordable housing and care, and distributes surplus food to those in need.
Simon Lee, Principal Strategist at Forum for the Future, said that despite all the promise of community business, to fulfil its potential would necessitate a series of significant changes – or “big shifts” – to take place.
“This requires action from a range of actors, from community businesses themselves to central and local government, as well as citizens and mainstream businesses,” he added.
Among these necessary big shifts is the need to build a collective sense of purpose for the movement, strengthened and mobilised through deep peer-to-peer networks. Local community business assemblies could, the report says, form to co-ordinate efforts, while closer relationships with other players in the social economy, at different geographical scales, would help nurture a supportive environment.
Another required shift is a clear and consistent policy consensus for localism. Community businesses would be important delivery partners in local partnerships for development and improvement. Central government would encourages a cultural shift among civil servants, towards understanding citizens as active participants in the co-creation of public services.
Ed Mayo, Secretary General of Co-operatives UK, which took part in the visioning project, said: “A map of our future economy without community business on it is not a map worth having. It is high time that the remarkable contribution of community business was recognised, and this work, building on our own National Co-operative Development Strategy, helps to do just that.”