Developing communities, business and people through social enterprise

Enterprises addressing social issues may seem a recent trend, but our company was established over three hundred years ago to meet a social need: supporting a community left vulnerable after the destruction caused by the Great Fire of London. After all these years we still support the same principles. Which is why we have increased our involvement with the School for Social Entrepreneurs (SSE). Our skills help their students address community issues on both sides of the Atlantic – and their experiences give us both personal and commercial insight.

Our long-standing values led us to build a partnership with SSE in the United Kingdom back in 2012. SSE helps people set up businesses with a social purpose, whether that is to tackle unemployment, educational needs, crime prevention, social exclusion or any number of other societal challenges. These new businesses, or social enterprises, are given access to expert training, tools and resources that help develop their potential.

It felt like the perfect reciprocal relationship from the start. Working with SSE’s social entrepreneurs allows us to influence community issues where we live and work in a way we otherwise could not. Plus RSA colleagues get the chance to develop their own skills and we gain insight into the priorities of our SME customers.

In the UK, we provide funding for SSE, share our skills and knowledge with budding social entrepreneurs and have mentored 21 students over the past three years. Now we’re helping out in Canada too.

For the past two years we have worked alongside SSE in Ontario, initially focusing on what we know best, sharing our risk management and business development expertise and experience with students. We have hosted a number of ‘huddle events’, giving entrepreneurs the chance to ask questions of RSA experts and have also run a successful online workshop teaching 40 SSE students, in the process of developing their own business plans, about mitigating risk.

Last year, we expanded our relationship and I became one of two executive team members to provide mentorship to social entrepreneurs. I shared my experience, offering support, advice and even introductions to business contacts. Whilst I hope it’s been useful to my mentee, I know it has been a tremendous opportunity for me. Indeed, our entire relationship with SSE is a two-way street.

We are supporting pioneering entrepreneurs in a way that enables us to have a real impact on societal issues that we would otherwise not be able to address. At the same time, RSA colleagues involved with SSE, including myself, find the diverse perspectives we get from students incredibly rewarding. We are developing new skills and knowledge of our own, not least concerning the key priorities of an SME market that is crucial to our Canadian commercial business.

As part of our sponsorship, we attend and address students at the SSE annual graduation ceremony and I was thrilled to see so many outstanding entrepreneurs graduate. Positive outcomes like these encourage our deepening engagement, as this year in Canada we run more webinars, coach more students and address more community causes – whilst learning more about ourselves and our customers.