3 August 2020

Suwen Chen has been working on a new project funded by a Data-driven Innovation Grant examining how Breadshare, an Edinburgh-based social enterprise, is responding to the challenges of the Covid-19 outbreak.
Is Social Enterprise More Resilient During Covid-19?

Project Background

Founded in July 2011, Breadshare is a multi-award winning social enterprise (a hybrid form of traditional business and charity) whose mission is to make 'Real Bread for Everyone'. Covid-19 has posed significant challenges to Breadshare, including the loss of wholesale customers, reduction of physical visits to stores by retail customers, cancellations of face-to-face bread-making workshops, and so on. In response, it is trying to survive by opening an online store for home delivery, offering virtual bread-making workshops, and collaborating with other local businesses and community hubs to support each other.

Breadshare is not alone in this battle. As one of 6,000 Scottish social enterprises, and as one of many Edinburgh-based food businesses, it tries to answer the same vital 'to be or not to be' question as others: How can we survive this pandemic?

The importance of social enterprises has been emphasised in Scotland's Social Enterprise Strategy 2016–2026; that they are "central to achieving our shared vision of a fair society and inclusive economy". In the meantime, Scotland Food and Drink's Ambition 2030: Industry Strategy for Growth stated that by 2030: "Farming, fishing, food, and drink is Scotland's most valuable industry, recognised at home and abroad as a model of collaboration and a world leader in responsible, profitable growth."

Our Studies

Against this background, this research project aims to investigate how to help Breadshare's survival by transforming its business model from purely offline to a hybrid of online and offline models. This has been based on the evaluation of the effectiveness of the new measures taken by Breadshare during Covid-19, analysis of customers' motivation and behaviour changes, and other data on industry development and government policies.

Our research strategy is qualitative, with primary data gathered inductively through semi-structured interviews, sales records, delivery maps, archival data, and so on. We have also referenced secondary data, including industry and government reports, academic journal articles, and publicly available data such as economic and wellbeing data in certain postcodes. Because we were able to gather data from a variety of perspectives, this allowed us to gain a comprehensive understanding of the transitions Breadshare have gone through and provided a means for robust trangulation of our emerging interpretations.

Preliminary Findings

Our work to date has uncovered several interesting topics meriting further exploration. One of the most prominent findings is the often-underestimated role of serendipity. The importance of the entrepreneurial ecosystem has been verified by many scholars, and we have found that in the face of crisis, and compared with a planned ecosystem, accidental ecosystems (emerging from serendipitous encounters) could bring about more innovation. It can also hasten the pace of business model transformation through the reconfiguration of existing capabilities and leveraging new resources.

Also, being a social enterprise gives Breadshare more advantages than disadvantages. Although the range of choices may be limited as they have to prioritise social value over commercial profits to avoid mission drift (such as free delivery without a minimum order), Breadshare enjoys more resilience thanks to stronger internal alignment (committed staff, a higher level of trust), more support from various stakeholders (voluntary researchers, business partners), and a more closely bonded local community.

Although this is a single case study, we believe other Scottish social enterprises and Edinburgh-based local businesses can learn from this example as the challenges they are facing at the moment are very common. Therefore, by studying Breadshare, we are not only generating impact by feeding wellbeing, cultural, and social needs, but also helping to build a more resilient local food system and prosperous community.