I recently came across an article written by OECD; a multi-disciplinary inter-government organisation of 34 member countries, with the core mission of helping governments work together towards a stronger, cleaner and fairer global economy.

Words such as ‘social economy’ and ‘social entrepreneurship’ were jumping out from the passages, but what really stole my attention was the mention of social economy organisations (SEOs) working with vulnerable individuals. Had it not been for COINS’ social enterprise; The Cookie Bar and COINS Foundation, I would have struggled to fully understand what this actually meant. Social enterprises have gained importance in the policy debate in many European and non-European countries, also demonstrated by the European Commission’s recent ‘Social Business Initiative’. This marks an important milestone for European policy makers and other stake-holders involved in promoting national and sub-national eco-systems for socially oriented business.

A social enterprise is an operator in the social economy whose main objective is to have a social impact rather than make a profit for their owners or shareholders. It operates by providing goods and services for the market in an entrepreneurial and innovative fashion and uses its profits primarily to achieve social objectives.

European Commission

Establishing an environment that enables social enterprises to fulfil their potential is vital, not just through their creation of jobs, but also by addressing wider social and economic needs. Geof Cox, who has over 30 years experience in social enterprises, commented that the most difficult area is one that tries to create employment for people with disabilities or facing other influential difficulties.

The Cookie Bar is the perfect example of tackling this. With multiple beneficiaries, 100% of profits are reinvested back into charitable projects, demonstrating the unique way that a private company can operate. Alongside this, it also works in partnership with Stepping Stones (a school founded for children with mild to moderate disabilities) offering a safe environment for students to gain valuable work experience and social skills that are necessary for future employment.

Children are often asked what they want to be when they grow up. Some have pre-prepared answers, a few simply shrug their shoulders, but nevertheless, they get the message that there is an expectation of ‘becoming something.’

Janet Snell claimed that: ‘In recent years more children with learning disabilities go to mainstream schools. But when it comes to work experience, all too often they end up doing menial jobs in the school itself, while their classmates are sent out to local employers.’

Stepping Stones children are given the opportunity to develop and flourish based on their individual strengths. They’re provided with an environment where they are supported, encouraged and taught skills that will enable them to become social and economic contributors.

"We seek to change lives for the better and strive to ensure that every child can realise their potential and make their unique contribution to society."

Larry Sullivan

Having been responsible for several of Stepping Stones’ students during their work experience in the COINS Finance department, I strongly feel we have a responsibility to become more active in driving inclusivity.

All pupils should have the same opportunities to participate to the best of their abilities and deserve to have the same successes expected of them, allowing them to develop the confidence to expect it of themselves.