iSE | Exploring Social Enterprise Tourism in Birmingham

As we launch Birmingham as a Social Enterprise Place, development organisation iSE considers how social enterprise tourism and shared learning can be utilised to create global social economies of scale.

The Digbeth Social Enterprise Quarter (DSEQ) – a nationally recognised Social Enterprise Place – is a microcosm of social enterprise activity. Once the industrial heartland of Birmingham, Digbeth today has been reborn as a hub of creativity and social innovation  – home to over 70 social enterprise thinkers, makers, thought-leaders and innovators all located within a neat square mile.

27912733_1698070690249977_7021185069090629373_oiSE’s CEO Sarah Crawley welcomes visitors to the Digbeth Social Enterprise Quarter .

We’ve recently seen an influx of visitors wanting to find out more about the Quarter – what makes it so appealing to social entrepreneurs, who’s based here, what binds the organisations together – leading us to develop our Digbeth Social Enterprise Walking Tour. We’ve had visitors from all over the world including Brazil, India, Japan, and Norway and most recently the UK Government’s Inclusive Economy Unit based in the Office for Civil Society.

gov't office

Inclusive Economy Unit outside Digbeth-based social enterprise Changes UK.

Not only are the organisations we visit inspirational, giving a real, often heartfelt insight into life within a social enterprise, Digbeth is a fascinating part of Birmingham that has defined the subculture of the city from its industrial past to the present day, where the arrival of HS2 will reinvent the industrial urban landscape.

So what benefits can social enterprise tourism bring? Experience shows it’s a way to connect with social entrepreneurs, share best practice in developing Social Enterprise Places and transfer knowledge and learning on how the social enterprise model can transform local communities nationally and globally. There’s benefits to be reaped for the organisations we visit too. Often they gain visibility, grow their networks, gain new business and reach audiences that otherwise wouldn’t know of their existence.

We’re also developing approaches to social enterprise tourism as part of our USE IT! project in West Birmingham, finding community-rooted solutions to local issues. We’re mapping local assets and consulting with communities to understand how resources can best be utilised to boost visitors to often underused parts of the city. Read more here.

UoW IIAm Digbeth Tour Sept 2017Visitors from India with the University of Warwick Business School in September 2017.

With our City Drive 2018 programme now at an end, we’ve been thinking of more ways we can replicate good practice through social enterprise tourism, bringing more people to visit the often ‘hidden’ businesses contributing to our economy. There’s lots to explore. Guided tours, bringing disused parts of the city back to life, opportunities for social enterprise retreats, immersive experiences, events and festivals. And now, thanks to the hard work of our CEO Sarah Crawley, Birmingham has Social Enterprise City status, it feels like we have a great opportunity to showcase our vibrant sector to visitors far and wide.

And we have plan. We know Birmingham as the city of one thousand trades…how about Birmingham as the city of one thousand social enterprises? Is it possible? We’ll certainly give it a go….

If you have any ideas as to how social enterprise tourism might work for you, or are interested in a social enterprise tour of Digbeth or Birmingham, please get in touch.

Elizabeth Forrester

elizabeth.forrester@i-se.co.uk 0121 771 1411

21032624_10159308512530118_530121895469560744_nGroundwork Mishima (GWM) and Nagano University in Japan, outside the oldest pub in Birmingham in the Digbeth Social Enterprise Quarter.

Below, business leaders from Brazil hear from Graham Beaumont, former CEO of the Health Exchange.

downloadWBS-Brazil-2018-HEx-300x178