By Simon Devonshire, Head of O2 Small To Medium Sized Enterprise Marketing and Founder of Social Enterprise One Water

Nearly half of the adult population do not know what a social enterprises is, according to new research carried out by O2 in partnership with Social Enterprise Magazine and Livity, despite the fact that it is the fastest growing sector in the economy, contributing £28bn a year to GDP.

The research, examining public perceptions of the sector, was carried as part of a consultation launched this week by O2 and follows on from the announcement in February that it is to be the first major corporate to recognise the groundbreaking new Social Enterprise Mark. The findings will inform the development of a package that supports and champions the sector.

Although social enterprises are an increasingly significant economic force in the UK, over half the population believe they gain most of their income through grants and donations, rather than trading. Seventy seven percent so believe that social enterprises performed the same or worse than the mainstream small businesses during the downturn, when in reality they outperformed them, with 56% actually improving their turnover.

Whilst businesses in the sector are founded on ethical principles, the value they add goes beyond social benefit — they also play a vital role in the UK’s economy. O2 has an under-lying passion for social enterprise objectives and wants to champion growth in the sector and make sure it gets the recognition it deserves.

Measures currently considered to support the sector as part of the consultation include raising awareness of social enterprise customers through O2’s website and customer engagement channels, supporting them with business advice and technical knowhow, and developing a specific package which will include Social Enterprise Mark accreditation funding to help them grow.

The consultation will run until the end of June and will include a short survey asking social enterprises for their views on how they would like support from O2 and a series of meetings with influential figures from within the world of social enterprise. Social Enterprises who wish to take part should go to: www.surveymonkey.com/s/O2socialenterpriseresearch

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