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In my view.

Byline: By Neil Foster

If you stopped and quizzed people five or 10 years ago about famous collaborations or duos, many answers could include Lennon and McCartney, fish and chips or Torvill and Dean.

But increasingly quite radical and perhaps unlikely collaborations are taking place. Only last month did hip hop legend Dr Dre announce that he is to work with Burt Bacharach on a new album.

Yes ( Burt Bacharach ( as in (the not very hip hop) Raindrops Keep Fallin' On My Head. Whether Dre and Bacharach contribute to a timeless classic will largely be a matter of time and taste, but there are perhaps three things worthy to note of all collaborations. First, in practical terms, due to rapid advances in global communication and technology, joining up with others is now quite easy to do. Secondly, far more people are aware of the demonstrable benefits to working together. It's been a while since Andy Cole linked up with Peter Beardsley, but anyone could see the sheer weight of goals and assistance they gave each other through their partnership.

Now it is easier for all organisations to measure the benefits they bring to each other. Thirdly, there is a deeper realisation that the mono-solutions of previous generations simply do not meet our current expectations. So it shouldn't be a complete surprise that we are now witnessing the collaboration of community values business expertise through "social enterprise".

What do we mean and understand by social enterprise? Well, it is two things ( what you do and the way that you do it. Social enterprises are businesses with social objectives. They are businesses that can operate in any given field, but tend to heavily invest in people's skills, carefully consider the environment and work with some of the most vulnerable people in the labour market. Social enterprises work for community benefit and are shaped accordingly.

Crucially, profits are ploughed back into the growth of the enterprise or used to benefit the workforce or wider community.

Social enterprise may be a relatively new term, but the concept is far from new. From the co-operative movement initiated by the Rochdale Pioneers in 1844, to Jamie Oliver's Fifteen Restaurants employing and training disadvantaged young people, social enterprise is a thread that runs through communities past and present.

The North-East has an encouraging story to tell. Our region has strong and distinct communities, within which are some very dynamic leaders. The Inspire project hosted a trans-national event at the Assembly Rooms in Newcastle last month attended by over 100 social entrepreneurs, to tie in with National Social Enterprise Day on November 17.

Each person attending had the opportunity to replicate some of the best successes of social enterprise (several of which originated in the North-East) in their communities. We are truly at the cutting edge.

Social enterprise is also attracting the interest and enthusiasm of civic leaders and policymakers across Tyne and Wear.

It can succeed where others have failed. Traditional public bodies have a limited reach. Bureaucratic or vested interests still exist.

Unfettered free market capitalism has splintered society and failed to heal it. Something simply had to emerge that was nimble on its toes, possesses entrepreneurial spirit while retaining social solidarity.

Social enterprise is arguably one of the answers.

Among his earlier lyrics, Bacharach observed: "I'm never gonna stop the rain by complainin".

Over the next few days why not reflect on what problem or need in society that you've observed and care strongly about? Ask how social enterprise could help solve the problem.

By contacting the North East Social Enterprise Partnership on (0191) 270-4565 you'll be able to find out what support there is in our region to turn such ideas into reality.

* Neil Foster is Project Director of Rooted, a Northern-based organisation promoting social enterprises.

To find out more contact him on
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Copyright 2005 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Date:Dec 10, 2005
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