4 Great Ways Networking Can Help Grow Your Social Enterprise

People standing in a large open space talking to each other and networking

Imagine an ambitious social entrepreneur who wants to tackle major social challenges worldwide but is limited by only operating locally. How could networking help them expand their impact globally? This pressing question brought together attendees at an International Social Enterprise Observatory (ISEO) webinar on 7 September 2023. The 90-minute webinar featured proven strategies pioneering social enterprises used to strategically network their way to achieving global growth.

The webinar hosted ISEO’s James Finnie alongside renowned experts Gerry Higgins, Zakia Moulaoui Guery, and Jess Kemp who each grew social enterprises across multiple continents by leveraging strategic networking approaches. Their advice highlighted important connections between actively cultivating relationships, sharing industry knowledge, and forming partnerships that enabled their global expansion.

Making Connections at Large International Conferences

In 2008, global social enterprise champion Gerry Higgins founded the rapidly growing Social Enterprise World Forum (SEWF). This landmark annual conference succeeds in connecting over 5,000 participants from the highly fragmented international social enterprise sector across more than 130 different countries worldwide.

But how can emerging social entrepreneurs achieve this level of effective global collaboration? Higgins advised that while SEWF provides a powerful platform for networking, participants must be very proactive in cultivating relationships themselves.

Jess Kemp of the Social Enterprise Academy (SEA) expanded on the vital role attending major conferences including SEWF played in their global growth. From modest beginnings in Scotland, SEA now operates extensive programs across Africa, Asia, and Australia. This isa direct result of forging and developing relationships made at international conferences over many years.

Kemp stressed that smart social entrepreneurs must actively nurture global connections established at such events through ongoing touchpoints long after. Do not view conferences as isolated one-time encounters.

Participating in Digital Communities Specific to Your Social Enterprise’s Industry

While in-person conferences provide valuable networking opportunities, digital communities enable social entrepreneurs to engage in continuous globally interconnected networking within their niche or industry. Zakia Moulaoui Guery, founder of the tourism-focused social enterprise Invisible Cities, significantly expanded her enterprise’s reach by participating in established tourism industry associations, digital conference forums, and hospitality company networks. This strategic digital engagement provided Invisible Cities with customer referrals, sponsorship opportunities, and vital insider knowledge that helped accelerate the enterprise’s global growth.

As a practical example of effectively harnessing the power of digital communities, Gerry Higgins highlighted how SEWF and similar organisations actively use platforms like Good Market that enable connections between social enterprises seeking global visibility and mainstream businesses looking to partner with ethical suppliers worldwide.

Higgins also outlined how SEWF’s newly developed social enterprise verification system, People + Planet First, simplifies and strengthens international procurement and partnerships. This is achieved by connecting corporations with trusted social enterprises verified by SEWF’s global intermediary network. This provides businesses worldwide with access to certified social enterprises as suppliers.

Forming Local Partnerships to Enhance Relevance

The experts in the webinar agreed that balancing broad global visibility with deep local relevance is essential for social enterprises to network effectively across borders. Higgins cautioned that just because a social enterprise may have had success with one model locally, that it may not translate exactly into another country. Cultural context matters, and social entrepreneurs must be sensitive to this when looking to expand into new regions.

Moulaoui Guery shared a relevant example of how when strategically launching tours in new overseas cities, Invisible Cities proactively partners with carefully selected local community organisations who provide vital specialised hyperlocal support and insights. They start small via targeted pilot collaborations to rigorously test partnership fit before committing to larger expansions.

Kemp explained that establishing their educational programs locally first in Scotland provided the Social Enterprise Academy with the robust foundation needed to then expand impact abroad sustainably through close in-country partners. By co-creating appropriately adapted localised programs, SEA gained invaluable on-the-ground insights from communities that allowed responsibly shaping offerings for each distinct culture.

Core Principles for Growth-Focused Global Networking 

Combining their experiences, the expert panel have suggested guiding principles for social entrepreneurs to build international networks for global growth:

  • Attend targeted international conferences to actively create relationships with potential future collaborators and customers
  • Ensure regular touchpoints over time to maintain and develop your relationship
  • Proactively join digital communities of international peers to mutually share and access knowledge about new overseas markets
  • Start small via exploratory pilot collaborations to rigorously test partnership fit before cementing full-scale partnerships
  • Ensure cultural alignment and local community buy-in by co-designing locally beneficial solutions with on-the-ground in-country partners.

Key Takeaways

In today’s complex world, driving change beyond headquarters requires strategic networking to access crucial knowledge, connections and allies globally. Fortunately, it is easier than ever to develop these relationships, as we found out during our practical ISEO webinar. .

Fellow changemakers need not tackle global challenges alone. By proactively networking worldwide, social innovators can gain the collaborators, insights and supporters necessary to successfully expand solutions across borders. Conferences, digital communities, and global partnerships provide vehicles to accelerate impact beyond borders.

Looking to Build Your Networks?

Towards the close of the webinar, our very own James Finnie expanded on how a central part of ISEO’s mission involves actively helping Scottish-based social enterprises strategically network their way to responsible global growth and visibility.

ISEO provides customised market research, legal guidance, funding opportunities, and critical connections., It also shares specialised knowledge and support so social innovators can effectively spread solutions worldwide without compromising local relevance. Our diverse experts offer tailored advice for each enterprise’s unique needs throughout each stage entering into international markets.

So, whether you’re a social enterprise based in Scotland looking to expand into international markets, or an international organisation that wants to locate in Scotland, we can make key connections that will help you expand your networks.

To learn more, get in touch today.

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