The focus of Santander’s Breakthrough programme is on those fast-growth small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) with the potential to become the market-leading businesses of tomorrow. However, it shouldn’t be forgotten that all SMEs, fast-growth or otherwise, exist in the context of a wider community. SMEs benefit the areas in which they operate by creating jobs, training staff and creating wealth that will feed into the local economy. Their policies on employment can have a long-term impact on the social cohesion and skills available within their communities. Equally important, business activity has a significant impact on the environment.

Sustainable growth

Working in partnership with Business in the Community (BITC), Santander’s Breakthrough programme is sponsoring a number of initiatives aimed at encouraging and helping SMEs to adopt practices that will help them grow sustainably.

The concept of sustainability is simple: it’s all about addressing the requirements of the present while ensuring that what you do today will be good for your business and the wider community in the future. It’s a concept that embraces the company’s relationship with the environment, the local community and trading partners. Although it’s in everyone’s interests to work sustainably, putting such principles into practice isn’t always easy, particularly during periods when SMEs are primarily focused on growth.

Our partnership with BITC aims to highlight best practice while also offering support to SMEs on sustainability issues. With this in mind, we are sponsoring a corporate responsibility benchmarking tool specifically developed to help SMEs. Santander is also sponsoring the Responsible Small Company Award at BITC’s annual awards ceremony.

We are also supporting BITC by funding Enterprise Inquiries around the country to encourage large businesses to look at ways they can champion small businesses in their community. This might be through better payment terms, Meet the Buyer workshops or mentoring to name but a few. The results of the Enterprise Inquiries will be shared with BITC’s large business membership to encourage them to support SMEs and contribute to the growth of the economy.

Encouraging the leaders of tomorrow

To help nurture the business leaders of tomorrow, we are working with Young Enterprise, the UK’s largest business and enterprise education charity, to encourage students to set up their own companies as part of their higher education experience. Under the Young Enterprise Start-up programme, students run real, profit-making businesses. The aim is to give some of our brightest young minds an insight into the realities of self-employment, business creation and risk-taking. The best student start-up companies from the UK will have an opportunity to compete with participants from elsewhere in Europe for the title of European Company of the Year.

Supporting social enterprise

Social enterprises play an increasingly important role in Britain’s commercial life. There’s no definitive model for a social enterprise business. Some have been set up to serve local communities by supplying products or services that would otherwise be unavailable or too expensive. Others deliver services on behalf of Government agencies. The unifying factor is that the social enterprise is run on commercial lines, with the profits ploughed back into the community or the business, rather than going back to shareholders.

Santander’s flagship community investment initiative will distribute over £3 million to the social enterprise sector over the next three years via development awards of either £50,000, £30,000 or £15,000 (depending on turnover). The Social Enterprise Development Award (SEDA) is aimed at established social enterprises needing funding to grow and develop their business. In addition to the cash prize, awarded ventures will have access to a variety of other support, including mentoring, networking and business courses.