For the first time, British Council brought together the partners of the Business and Investment Readiness Programme (BIR) for a Partnerships Meeting last 18 to 21 January at Edinburgh, United Kingdom. The goal of the four day programme is to facilitate knowledge sharing and discussion for the general direction of the programme. Participating countries included Bangladesh, Pakistan, Thailand, Myanmar, India, Ghana, Indonesia, Vietnam, Malaysia, and the Philippines.

Representing Foundation for a Sustainable Society, Inc., the British Council’s partner organisation, were FSSI Communication Advocacies Manager Miriam Azurin and FSSI board member and APPEND Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Virginia Juan. 

Nick Temple of Social Enterprise UK and Jenni Inglis of Social Value UK facilitated an academic session that focused on expounding the nature and function of social enterprises in the context of each country in attendance. In this session, Azurin highlighted three well-known social enterprises in the Philippines and gave an overview of the type of business and impact that they have on the society and environment. 

There were also activities that allowed the countries to evaluate each other’s BIR programmes, giving the participants an opportunity to gain insight on how to further improve their respective programmes. As the BIR implementation for each country varies across different phases, delegates were able to give realistic feedback based on first-hand experiences. 

A study tour was also organised by the CEIS UK for the participants that divided the group into the directions of rural and urban social enterprises. The Philippine delegates chose to participate in the rural tour since majority of their beneficiaries come from rural areas and are organised as cooperatives or people’s organisations. 

In the rural tour, the participants visited three social enterprises, each with different models and insight, namely: McSence Business Park, The Whitmur Farm, and the Cockenzie House. 

McSence Business Park

The first location, McSence Business Park, is a community-owned social enterprise (6 out of 12 board members are part of the community) that provides a range of services for different clients. From being partly grant-funded, they are now run as an enterprise with three main offerings: Services, Communications, and Workspace. The first two train young people on trades like cleaning, facility management, home care, hospitality & catering. These young people are then able to provide services to the community. McSence also subleases workspace for conferences and offices to other charities. 

The Whitmuir Farm

The Whitmuir Farm, on the other hand, is a certified organic production facility that produces and sells meat, vegetables, fruits and dairy products. The farm delivers to the Scottish borders and encourages customers to be  part of their farm support community. Tours are held throughout the year to educate children and adults alike on the importance and sustainability of organic farming. Interested parties may undertake their own farming activities by renting a 2000 square meter piece of land and producing their own crops. 

The delegates were treated to a tour around the farm and educated on its best practices, ending with a meal of organic beef stew and vegetables. Delegates were also able to buy gifts and souvenirs from the farm’s grocery.

Cockenzie House & Gardens

After the farm tour, the group proceeded to the Cockenzie House & Gardens. The charity that supports this is a group of individuals who are fascinated with the 17th century home that once belonged to George Seton, and eventually the Cadells family. In the course of its existence, the house became an orphanage, a care home, and a temporary home to notable figures like Sir Walter Scott. The house is currently on lease with the funds gathered by volunteers, and to  generate funds, the Cockenzie House has rooms for rent on a daily basis, as well as studios that they lease out to members of the community to serve as offices or artistic space. The house also hosts events like weddings, functions, and exhibitions to engage the community.

The Experience

As a final stop, both rural and urban tour visitors had the chance to visit The Experience, a social enterprise that trains out-of-school youth in various capacities such as culinary, hospitality management. The premises used were once a car making factory. From there, it was converted into a Go-Kart arena, a Laser Tag premise, and a restaurant, all of which serve as training ground for the youth. 

The final day was a synthesis of the event and a visioning exercise for future BIR programmes. Participants were invited to share what they learned and how they plan to continue the partnerships formed through the BIR programme. FSSI representative Virginia Juan said that as a result of the programme, she gained a deep appreciation of the value in working with government for expanding the sector.