Social enterprises are businesses that are changing the world for the better.
Dr Mark Mann

Dr Mark Mann writes about our new initiative to stimulate impact-led innovation across the University, the Social Enterprise.


For me, the most exhilarating part of leading OUI’s activity in the Humanities and Social Sciences in Oxford is that first meeting when someone tells me their big idea, and I realise it could make a huge impact.

When hearing these ideas in years past, we may have seen the potential, but sighed in resignation that it didn’t fit any pre-defined model of innovation. Nowadays, I instead find myself asking the question: “do you know what a social enterprise is?”

I speak to lawyers, financiers, accountants, chief executives daily, but it is the academic community that immediately and intuitively grasps what social enterprises are:

“Social enterprises are businesses that are changing the world for the better. Like traditional businesses they aim to make a profit but it’s what they do with their profits that sets them apart – reinvesting or donating them to create positive social change.”
Social Enterprise UK

Unsurprising? Well, you could argue the academic community in Oxford are working in a 922-year-old social enterprise. The University exists to make impact first. When you talk to the academic community it is part of their DNA. OUI has helped to deliver huge impact through its 160-plus mainstream commercial spinouts. But when you look at departments such as International Development, Geography, Anthropology and Theology, the mainstream spinout model simply doesn’t fit.

This is why OUI is now launching social enterprise spinout support to help the whole academic community create impact from research that doesn’t fall into the traditional spinout box. Social Enterprises sit at the boundary between companies and charities. We can find the best solution which works for a particular project, help put a team together, and help find both translational funding and seed funding to get the project off the ground. As with our mainstream spinouts, we will continue to provide advice on how to make the company financially sustainable. Most importantly we will ensure that a social or environmental mission is written into the company’s DNA.

Our first social enterprise, sOPHIa Oxford Ltd was spun out from the Department of International Development in July. The team in the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative led by Sabina Alkire has developed a multi-dimensional poverty index, which both measures poverty and provides workable solutions to eliminate it. The company will be providing an accreditation service to businesses, which will begin in Central America, with plans to expand across the world.

This is the first of many, we already have over 20 in the pipeline and we’re looking forward to helping Oxford
maximise its positive impact by rolling out its great ideas for solving social and environmental problems across
the world.

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