Internationalism at the SEA Global Gathering 2018

Jim Bennett is a Co-Founder of the Social Enterprise Academy. He is a social enterprise specialist with over 30 years' experience providing leadership in social change organisations.

I have four children, two grown up and two wee ones. I gave up my work to look after each of them when they were born, so I often have feelings of pride, attachment and loss when I see them plough their own furrows. Attending the Social Enterprise Academy Global Gathering gave me similar pangs of egotistical delight and identification, coupled with that parental feeling of distance when a child has come of age.

When I founded the Social Enterprise Academy (alongside Aidan Pia and Alasdair Grimes), it had been two years in gestation. Two years was the longest I’d spent developing any new enterprise; the process involved visionary work, cajoling, politicking, unceremoniously dumping potential partners and being lectured to by the Head of Entrepreneurship at a Scottish University on my spelling! Needless to say, he didn’t get a contract with us…

We spent the two years developing the Academy because we firmly believed that radical social change could be aided by social entrepreneurs. We also believed that social entrepreneurs required structured opportunities to critically reflect in their practise in order to create greater social impact.

The Academy is now a mature part of the social enterprise landscape. It provides leadership, enterprise and personal development learning programmes for people and organisations enabling social change. It has successfully embedded this approach in Scotland, working with 1200 social entrepreneurs each year and providing a world renowned Social Enterprise in Schools programme for 45000 children each year. Social entrepreneur, Sam Baumber now leads the Academy’s international franchise offer which has established their model variously in New Zealand, Australia, India, Malawi, South Africa as well as many others.

It was my belief in founding the Academy that the relentless action of social entrepreneurs would never be enough to change the world; social entrepreneurs needed to combine that action with critical reflection. That original “why” of the Academy had powerful international roots. Talking to the Academy’s new and potential hub members from South Africa and Canada as well as a civil servant, who was formerly an engineer, reminded me of some of those conceptual roots.

One of the first thought influences over the Academy was found Brazil: the radical educator, Paulo Freire. Freire argued against the emptiness of both “thoughtless action” and “actionless thought”: that social change comes through “praxis” – the dialectical combination of action and critical reflection. Freire’s learning system was based on a new form of dialogue, rejecting the “jug and mug” idea that a learner is simply a vessel to be filled. Freire commented that

"You can’t use the methods of domestication for liberation."

Talking to the new Canadian colleagues of the Academy prompted me to share with them that the intellectual roots of the Academy were also to be found in Nova Scotia. The Antigonish movement was founded in the 1920s by Catholic priests,  Moses Coady and Jimmy Tompkins. The movement was predicated on the idea of delivering social change through education. Programmes were community based and designed to deliver self-organised social impacts such as credit unions, cooperatives for selling fish, retailing consumer goods, building homes and marketing agricultural produce.  The principles of the Antigonish movement have since been adopted across the world.

Sharing dinner with the Academy’s South African Hub Manager also reminded me of the role that South Africa had played in developing an ideological base for the Academy’s work. Training for Transformation had a profound effect on me in the 1980s. Founded by Anne Hope and Sally Timmel and influenced by Steve Biko, TfT was banned by the apartheid government. However, the programme was circulated widely as The Community Workers Handbook providing an invaluable tool in combining education for social action. With influences from Freire and Catholic liberation theology, TfT was a learning programme firmly fixed on creating radical social change.

"TfT aims to build  a new generation of leaders who are self-motivated and whose thinking and practice is grounded in communities’ realities. TfT recognizes the importance of linking local and national initiatives to the global civic movement. It concerned with the process of transforming societies."

At the Global gathering I also chatted with a former engineer, now civil servant. That discussion reminded me of how engineering had influenced the Academy’s thought processes.

David Shön’s The Reflective Practitioner is a seminal book, in which American Shön formulated his theory about reflective activity. Shon used the example of engineering to demonstrate how problem solving in practise by engineers was divorced from academic teaching of the discipline. For Schön, reflection-in-action was the core of ‘professional artistry’.

Schön defined reflective practice as the method by which professionals become aware of their implicit knowledge base and learn from their experience. Reflection in action is to reflect on behaviour as it happens, whereas, Reflection on action reflecting after the event, to review, analyse and evaluate the situation.

Although Shon’s theories weren’t connected to social change, his views on educational methodology were key concepts in the Academy’s formation.

"The Academy is now a mature Scottish organisation with a growing international stature. It’s original intellectual underpinning, however, was always international – Brazilian, Canadian, South African and American."

It is with a sense of pride that I look at the impact the Academy is making. It has developed on a journey far beyond what I and the other original founders envisaged or could have delivered ourselves. Owned and influenced by its partners, I’m confident that the Academy International will build a significant contribution to changing the world, based on its own reflection in action. 

To find out more about SEA International, please visit:

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Scottish Government