Community spirited, ethically minded and environmentally friendly are not terms automatically associated with commercial success, and yet with each year a growing number of entrepreneurs are proving this assumption wrong, placing a social purpose at the very heart of their businesses and making a profit.
From biodegradable bottles made from corn to high fashion created with recycled saris, the very best of social enterprise in the UK was celebrated on 10 May at the 2007 Edge Upstarts Awards ceremony. Held in the splendour of St James's Palace, finalists and guests took part in an evening of appreciation and praise for the sector in which they work.
Social enterprises combine public service with innovative and efficient practice. They are businesses with primarily social objectives that reinvest the bulk of their profits either back into the enterprise itself or into the community.
Speaking at the awards ceremony, the minister for the third sector, Ed Miliband, paid tribute to both the "can-doism and dynamism" of social entrepreneurs, saying there should be greater recognition of the valuable contribution such businesses make to society.
The social enterprise sector, and in particular the Edge Upstarts Awards finalists, also received high praise from the Duke of Kent, who presented the winners with their trophies.
The first award of the evening, the Social Enterprise Trainee of the Year, was presented to Craig Watson from the Prescot Oasis Centre. Craig overcame a difficult and disadvantaged beginning, leaving school with no qualifications. Through his hard work and determination he became one of the highest graded students to have completed the horticulture course at Myerscough College and is soon to become a trainee supervisor. On winning the award, Craig said: "It's my first time in London so it's mad to be at St James's Palace and get an award. I didn't ever think I would be here."
Trevor Lynn, founder and director of Mow and Grow, won the Social Enterprise Mentor of the Year award. Through his sustainable gardening service, Trevor has not only helped those who struggle to maintain their gardens, but has also motivated, inspired and trained over 30 volunteers, willingly sharing his expertise and encouraging his trainees to develop both life and job skills.
Setting up three environmental organisations by the age of 26 is an outstanding accomplishment by any standards and has earned Tom Savage the Young Social Entrepreneur of the Year award. Tom co-founded Blue Ventures, a social enterprise dedicated to marine conservation, set up Travel Roots, an ecotourism travel agency, and founded the website tiptheplanet.com, where visitors can find various tips on how to be kinder to both themselves and the environment.
The Social Entrepreneur of the Year award was presented to Sital Punja, whose company, Sari UK, aims to provide financial support for children's charities in developing countries. Sari UK creates couture clothing in a sustainable way by recycling traditional Indian clothing donated by thousands of Indian women in Britain.
Commenting on the evening, Sital said: "What I love about the people here is that we all want to put something back into society. Hopefully big multinational companies will take stock and fully realise their potential."
Continuing the theme of sustainability, the company Belu Water was awarded the Social Enterprise of the Year award. Belu Water, the first bottled water brand not to contribute to global warming, has brought the challenge of social purpose to the bottled water industry. Having designed the UK's first biodegradable bottle made from corn, and donating all profits to clean water projects across the world, Belu Water is helping both the environment and people in the developing world. A further achievement has been the creation of the "Penguin Approved" mark, which enables customers to identify carbon-neutral products.
The surprise of the evening was the presentation of the discretionary Edge Start-Up award, which was given to Ahmed Al-aagam. At 21 years of age and originally from Yemen, Ahmed's is a true success story and he is a worthy recipient of this prize. Ahmed has only lived in Britain for seven years, but within the first two of those he had mastered English, immersed himself in community projects and achieved 11 GCSEs. Now Ahmed is studying events management at Leeds Metropolitan University as well as setting up 3E Community Events. He aims to enhance community and neighbourhood relations by organising such events.
Chief executive of Social Enterprise London and a member of the judging panel, Allison Ogden-Newton, praised all who were nominated for an award saying: "It has been our strongest year ever and the great thing about the entrants is that they were much more entrepreneurial than in previous years."
Commendations were also given to Sartaj Zazai, Servane Mouazan and the social enterprise Galeri Caernarfon Cyf for determination, hard work and the significant contribution each has made to society.
With consumers increasingly demanding ethical practice and social responsibility from business, it is likely that the social enterprise sector will continue to grow from its present annual UK turnover of £27bn. Small start-ups are leading the way, showing multinationals that it is possible, desirable, as well as profitable, to successfully run a business with a social purpose.
Edge Upstarts is a New Statesman programme sponsored by Edge. For more information and photos of the winners please visit http://www.edgeupstarts.org