Today’s distrust in politicians and politics is creating an environment from which social entrepreneurs can benefit. Politicians are desperate for believable, positive news stories, and social entrepreneurs need government support to further social enterprise. This opportunity should be relentlessly exploited by social entrepreneurs and politicians should recognise the value of championing this pivotal movement.

Peter Holbrook, CEO of Social Enterprise UK, made this message clear at the signing of the accord between the British Council and the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP) on 27th February 2017, a partnership that hopes to promote the growth of social enterprise across the region.

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The United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific, Bangkok, Thailand

If politicians were to lead the way in promoting social business, they would be considered an enabler of social progress, rather than a hindrance. Socially positive news might start trickling into the media: a win-win for both distrusted politicians and distrusted news outlets.

The focus of the accord signed at the UN building in Bangkok is to concentrate efforts in boosting progress towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The panel was unanimous in their agreement that governments must play a role in supporting and fostering the growth of social enterprise and directing efforts to prioritising the SDGs. Holbrook believes that the only way to ensure markets and businesses behave in accordance with the 17 SDGs is if government spending (25% of global spend) aligns itself to the goals. Businesses will inevitably have to adjust if they want to secure government contracts.

Jonathan Wong, innovation advisor to UNESCAP, commented “if we can shift the business aims of big corporations just a few degrees more social, it will have a significant impact.”

UNESCAP incorporates over 50 countries in the Asia-Pacific region, home to two-thirds of the world’s population. British Council uses and shares the UK’s experience, expertise and partnerships within the social enterprise sector to support governments overseas to develop ideas of how to incorporate social enterprise into the business arena. The Asia-Pacific region is facing some of the world’s most critical social and environmental problems, whilst also growing and developing at a fast pace.

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Rodolphe Prom (centre) is the President of the not for profit organisation, Destination Justice. Destination Justice has also set up a social enterprise, Justice Cafe & Library, in Phnom Penh, Cambodia to provide a participatory space with freely accessible books and resources to support young people advocating for better justice in Cambodia.

There was a huge feeling of potential around the partnership that was sealed in Thailand. The event happened to coincide with the long-awaited signing of the Thai Social Enterprise Law, which the British Council has played a considerable part in bringing to fruition. Following the passing of Vietnam’s own Social Enterprise Law in 2016, which allows organisations to register as a social enterprise and not be taxed on donations received, the passing of the law in Thailand signals another promising step for social enterprise in the south-east Asian region.