Another ‘SEWF’ccessful Forum – Social Enterprise World Forum 2021, Halifax

Partner: Social Enterprise World Forum

What makes this project special 

If you take a look around at the social impact sector in Australia, and indeed around the world, you will notice one very exciting thing: it’s growing, fast. According to our friends at Social Change Central, there are more than 20,000 social enterprises now operating, and that’s just in Australia. 

However, there is one critical factor that will determine if the social impact sector can truly make hay while the sun shines on us: whether we can, both individually and collectively, tell a unified and compelling enough story of impact to shift policy, foster procurement pathways, leverage partnerships, and bring the community along with us.

Ensuring that events like the Social Enterprise World Forum or ‘SEWF’ have a cohesive narrative and story embedded at all levels of the event experience become therefore critical to unlocking the power and potential of purpose-driven business. Story is still the best tool we have to build movements and foster systems change.

A bird’s eye view

  • WHAT: Social Enterprise World Forum 2021 (co-hosted in Halifax, Canada)
  • WHY: Support the use of story to grow and galvanise the social enterprise movement and form a collective narrative of change
  • WHEN: 2021, Halifax (but six years in the making!)
  • WHO: SEWF Management teams globally and in Australia
  • THE RESULTS: A more unified and inspired social enterprise sector globally, and a more deeply embedded identity and path forward for the movement in Australi

The background – for those who want to dive a little deeper

SEWF has undoubtedly become one of our favourite times of the year at Digital Storytellers. In 2016, we were lucky enough to join proceedings in Hong Kong, followed by Christchurch in 2018, Edinburgh in 2018, the year after in Addis Ababa, and 2020 from our living rooms

This year, 2021, we travelled (virtually unfortunately) to Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, to connect with our fellow social entrepreneurs on topics such as climate, circular economy, engaging youth, rural economies, Indigenous-led social enterprise, gender, social procurement, COVID-19, and post-pandemic economic recovery. Never has there been a more highly-anticipated gathering of the social enterprise community, and SEWF 2021 certainly delivered.

“SEWF 2021 is not just another Zoom meeting! 2021 has been difficult for many – we’ve kept friends, family and colleagues at a distance, just when we’ve needed them most. Here at SEWF, we are extremely aware that COVID has affected people around the world differently and at times, disproportionately and we have worked on many ways to support social entrepreneurs around the globe, through this trying period”. – Helen Harvey, SEWF Event DIrector

The challenge

These days, SEWF is much more than a single annual event, with teams working hard throughout the year to engage rural social enterprises, young people, policymakers, and academics on any number of issues pertinent to social enterprise. However, the World Forum still remains the crown in the social enterprise calendar jewel. 

With the added challenge of using a digital platform to beam the Forum around the world by engaging with Digital Storytellers, SEWF management wanted to:

  • Telling the story: Using story-driven processes and virtual co-creation to weave together a story that represents the state of the social enterprise movement globally;
  • Build capacity: Sharing knowledge and skills to enable storytelling capacity-building at the world’s largest virtual gathering for social entrepreneurship;
  • Grow the community: Create compelling, inspiring and highly shareable story artefacts from the event to help grow the size and maturity of the social enterprise ecosystem, particularly in Australia, ahead of SEWF 2022 in Brisbane

READ: Why stories are key to growing the impact economy 


Being entrusted to share our craft with such an engaged and passionate audience, who have critically important stories to share is an opportunity we relish every year. Our approach to working with SEWF each year (and indeed the social enterprise sector more generally) is to look at it beyond just the individual event story and consider how we can use story to spark systems change by being a co-creator and ‘story leader’ in the space.  

 So, what did we come up with for SEWF 2021?   

  • We hosted Enterprising Stories, a fortnightly digital gathering originally piloted in the lead up to SEWF Digital in 2020 and reprised this year to bring the social enterprise sector together and build community in the lead up to SEWF 2021 

  • A couple of our most experienced storytellers – Mikey and Tash – developed a series of Masterclasses on sharing your social enterprise story to deliver to SEWF participants,

  • We (virtually) produced and delivered a quick turnaround video production to ensure the story of the event can live on well after the final virtual curtain was closed 

What emerged – the key outcomes

  • Leadership: SEWF organisers were able to use story to show leadership in uncertain times and unite the social enterprise movement globally
  • Inspiration: An upbeat, inspired, and positive movement ready to rise to the moment with a strong rallying cry
  • Localisation: rise of SEWF Community Hubs with localised activities and regional identities

“Thank you so much all for the incredible work and video output. I love it so much that I keep watching parts and it makes me tear up! Brilliant work Digital Storytellers 🙏🏽 blessings to you all!” – Mirabelle Morah

Three things we learned

  • The rapid rise of Social Enterprise continues to surprise even the most seasoned and optimistic ecosystem builders and SEWF makes the shifting size and diversity of the movement inescapable. We know that story is key to the continued growth and success of the movement, and now the SEWF audience does too.
  • The process of gathering and connecting at events like SEWF Global represents systems-change storytelling. Whether it’s online or onsite, gathering and sharing in this way is incredibly effective at galvanising movements and helping to crystallise visions for change. This year, despite the waves being as unpredictable as ever, there are still plenty of reasons for hope that we can actually solve some of the immense challenges before us, simply by leading with heart and applying the practical know-how of the market.
  • Values-led business, especially led by those with lived experience of the challenges they face, are amazing and they epitomise the remarkably powerful stories this movement has to tell. But one thing we can all do as consumers to ensure this movement goes from big to bigger, is to buy from a recognised social enterprise! It’s the surest way to create impact.

Could this work for your organisation or sector?

It’s no secret that we love stories, but we’re also very passionate about helping to grow the impact economy. Telling a more unified and compelling story for the social enterprise movement is key to the future of our world. Are you a social enterprise with a story to tell?

Get in touch to see what’s possible or join us for the next episode of Enterprising Stories – the place to be to rub virtual shoulders with some of the best and brightest social enterprises, B Corps, not-for-profit and philanthropists going around!

PS: Social Enterprise World Forum 2022 is coming to Brisbane! You can now register to join SEWF 2022 to connect with thousands of leading social entrepreneurs, access world-class content and be part of the world’s largest social enterprise conversation.

NEXT: Social Enterprise Virtual Unconference




movement building, Social Enterprise, social enterprise world forum, storytelling, virtual event, virtual production