Thursday, 28 August 2008

The Secret Millionaire: Social enterprise in action

As regular readers of my website will know I've a big fan of business reality television. So much of a fan in fact that I've started a blog on the subject!

The posts so far have been dominated by Dragons' Den, which I love watching although the amount it teaches entrepreneurs about the realities of business is diminishing by the episode as the desire for Simon Cowell-style entertainment takes over.

But one show which entertains as well as teaches is Channel 4's The Secret Millionaire. For those who don't know, each week the programme features a rich entrepreneur who is sent undercover into a deprived area of the UK where he or see interacts with community projects and local people before handing over financial support.

The show has it critics with many find it uncomfortable viewing. I disagree. It's an hugely inspiring show and it demonstrates just how many social entrepreneurs - although many may not call themselves such - exist in the UK.

This week's episode was a case in point. Marketing millionaire Carl Hopkins was sent into the former thriving mining village of Easington which has been in steady decline since its pits closed in the 1980s leaving thousands unemployed and destroying a way of life which had existed for generations.

During his stay, Hopkins met Jimmy Egan and if Jimmy can't be called a social entrepreneur I don't know who can. The former miner bought a piece of land and developed it into a city farm. Encouraging kids off the streets and onto the land to take responsibility for rearing livestock and tending vegetables, he has transformed the area.

Like the very best social entrepreneurs Jimmy has thought out of the box. When his livelihood disappeared after the mines closed he didn't sit back and feel sorry for himself; he got out and did something. And rather than traditional public sector ways, he has taken a business like approach which has worked wonders.

Carl Hopkins, a man who has made millions getting people to buy stuff they don't really need, recognised his business acumen. "This is a man who knows his audience", he said. Exactly.

The UK is full of people like Jimmy but they just don't receive the plaudits like should. Things like The Secret Millionaire and this blog are aimed at putting that right but it's not enough. Embracing and recognising the people in our community who maybe don't even know they're are social entrepreneurs needs to happen. It will benefit us all.

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