How Welsh social businesses can learn from the Rugby World Cup

With the country being alive at the moment with the Rugby World Cup, it seems only natural to draw parallels between it and the social business sector. Just as world rugby distinguishes its competitors into two categories, tier 1 and tier 2 nations, business sectors can be defined similarly.

Where tier 1 could represent the large, professional, corporate, market leading private organisations, tier 2 could represent the majority of those smaller, different, emerging social businesses. Yet, just like the Rugby World Cup, tier 2 competitors are quickly becoming the ones to watch; the ones who will surprise us, the ones to admire.

It is very noticeable that tier 2 organisations are ‘closing the gap’; they are becoming more professional, more competent in how they play their game, they prepare and research better, they focus on team cohesion and make maximum use of the limited resources they often have. While realistically tier 2 nations know, at this stage, that they have no prospect of winning the Rugby World Cup, competing more equally to close the gap in performance and winning one or two matches demonstrates how far they have come.

I believe this is where the Welsh social business sector is at the moment. Eventually, true success for a social business will be the winners’ podium that measures both private and social businesses equally, and this should be the medium to long term aim of any social business that is intent on becoming ‘corporate’. To extend the analogy further, those social businesses that were finalists or shortlisted for this year’s Welsh Social Enterprise Business Awards deserve high praise, but few will get out of the pool stages unless they continue to develop and improve their business performance.

However, unlike rugby where tier 1 and tier 2 nations play by the same rules, the same rules do not necessarily apply to social businesses. The manner in which social businesses are constituted and the extra drive that they have to be a profit + business, should be aggressively pursued to give them that competitive advantage. In Landsker’s experience, there are still many Welsh social businesses that are too social and insufficiently enterprising; this needs to change if they wish to command tier 1 business positions.  Landsker has worked with approximately 120 social businesses throughout Wales over the last 8 years, in many sectors, including agri-food, care, renewable energy, hospitality, manufacturing, ICT,  professional services and sport. I genuinely believe that market forces are more conducive to social business success now than they have ever been in Wales. There is a strong political will to support social businesses, there are huge opportunities through the contraction of the public sector, and there is improved awareness and understanding amongst intermediaries, and the private sector itself, about who social businesses are, and what they can do. In the current trading environment, a critical factor of success, is a business’s ability to change quicker than its marketplace. The signals are there for many Welsh social businesses to spot great opportunities, but in order to see and access them they have to behave like tier 1 nations.

All finalists are to be congratulated on their achievements at this years’ Social Enterprise Business Awards, in my view, you are all already my Japan. Who would bet against Japan qualifying from their pool either at this World Cup or at 2019’s when they host the tournament?

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Jeremy Bowen Rees

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