My first experience of the Social Enterprise World Forum by Charles Morgan, Business Advisor at Firstport

As well as enjoying the exciting location (Amsterdam!), Charles shares what he learned from insightful sessions on doing social and environmental good around the world.

I was excited to attend the Social Enterprise World Forum (SEWF) for the first time, and this year in Amsterdam. I have a connection with the Netherlands as I have two sons living there, and I’m also a Dutch speaker!

The Netherlands is the ideal place to hold the SEWF with so many forward-thinking environmental initiatives, even their bus shelters had roofs seeded and planted with wildflowers for the protection and benefit of bees.

Before the forum began, I spent some time in Utrecht, where I visited, to my lasting impression, an eco-department store called E&co. I uploaded a video to the SEWF app of a sustainable hold-all bag from the store, made from green vinyl bus seat covers, car tires, an inner tube and car seat belt handles.

Part of the enjoyment of being at the SEWF was the ability to link in with new contacts on the app, collecting points based on how interactive you are. It’s safe to say by the end of the SEWF, I beat my colleagues by getting the most points!

A meeting of Scottish minds

The first evening of the forum gave us a welcome opportunity to spend time with Scottish delegates from across the social enterprise ecosystem. We met new people, sharing ideas and our hopes for the forum. There were social enterprises present who we supported and who felt we helped to get them started on their journey. It’s always incredible to hear how far the social enterprises we have worked with have come.

And so it begins

The forum itself was on the banks of the Amstel River running through Amsterdam and onto the Noord peninsular.

The Amstel river by the venue of the Social Enterprise World Forum 2023
The Amstel River viewed from the SEWF23 venue

The first session welcomed a packed-out auditorium within an old warehouse, repurposed as an events venue. The Deputy Mayor of Amsterdam addressed the conference with a welcome to the city. There were 2000 participants in attendance, with over 130 speakers from more than 50 countries. All the sessions were also live-streamed across the world.

Our CEO Gael spoke about ‘Unlocking social investment’ – she did a stellar job sharing the work of Firstport in the investment space, alongside an impressive lineup from across the globe.

Gael speaking on the Unlocking social investment panel at SEWF23
Our CEO speaking as part of the Unlocking social investment panel, chaired by Marieke Eyskoot

The most exciting prospect about the forum was hearing about the approach to social enterprise from other countries, where we agree, and where we differ.

Insightful sessions

Two of the sessions that particularly stood out to me were ‘The power of social procurement through the stories of buyers and suppliers’ and ‘An action manifesto for rural social enterprise’.

The first discussed the art of procuring your goods or supplies at the best price possible whilst considering fairtrade and eco credentials. In business, margins are everything. The difference between cost price and selling price can impact your business, but the social and environmental impact needs to be considered too.

Some of the speakers in a session at the SEWF23
One of the sessions Charles attended

The latter session focused on areas often neglected and overlooked at the expense of more populated areas. The lack of amenities in rural areas due to low local and national governmental spending compared to bigger towns and cities is a big factor in rural deprivation. Social enterprises can thrive in these areas due to the lack of interest of larger corporate businesses and have the advantage of being supported more fully by the local population.

But, the one session that particularly impressed me focused on the impact of fairtrade organisations across the world.  Roopa Mehta, the President of the Board for World Fair Trade Organization (WTFO), is remarkable. She has been involved with WFTO for 40 years and I was privileged to spend some time with her listening to her story.

My takeaways

I found the SEWF23 to be a hugely worthwhile event, with so many opportunities to engage and network, sharing and learning about ways we can do business in the world.

Interaction and collaboration are the key to success and working together is now more important than ever as we want to see progress in business.

Now, where can I sign up for the next one?!

Charles Morgan is a Business Advisor with Firstport, he delivers start-up support as part of the Just Enterprise programme. Sign up for free start-up support for social enterprises or get in touch with us.