Leon Seraphin cooks chicken at the Brigade restaurant in London, which trains and employs homeless people, September 7, 2017. Thomson Reuters Foundation/Zoe Tabary

JOHANNESBURG - Leon Seraphin left school aged 14, was unemployed for years and spent several months in prison for a botched robbery.

In 2004, an employment charity offered him an apprenticeship at an east London restaurant, which he said taught him not just how to cook but “how to keep a job: getting up in the morning, being on time”. Seraphin went on to become a chef himself, including a stint with leading chef Raymond Blanc.

“I even cooked for the Queen: smoked salmon, lamb, and bread and butter pudding,” he said proudly. He now works at Brigade, a London restaurant which trains and employs homeless people. Seraphin is one of nearly one million people who work in about 80000 social enterprises in Britain, according to Social Enterprise UK, the British body for social enterprise.

A social entrepreneur is typically someone who uses commercial strategies to tackle social and environmental problems, combining social good and financial gain. Businesses designed to bring about social development have mushroomed in the UK and globally over the past decade.

Russell Gill, head of membership at British supermarket Co-op, a consumer co-operative, said “there is no sector that can’t benefit from having a social purpose.” “Businesses need to recognise the surge in customers wanting to tackle social community issues,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation at a gathering of social entrepreneurs in London last week.

British start-up Elvis & Kresse makes luxury items like handbags and wallets using decommissioned fire hoses from London’s Fire Brigade. Kresse Wesling and her husband Elvis started their business “with £40 (R680) in (their) pocket, making belts in their bedroom” after realising that London fire services were throwing away 10 tons of fire hoses a year. -