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Seebohm Hill - Connecting social entrepreneurs and social investors to deliver innovative ways of meeting social need

Seebohm Rowntree

Benjamin Seebohm Rowntree (1871-1954) was the second son of Joseph Rowntree, the Quaker philanthropist and chocolatier.

seebohmAs an industrialist, director and chairman of the family cocoa and chocolate business Seebohm introduced employment practices which are now commonplace but in their day broke new ground – an 8 hour day, pension scheme for employees, free medical and dental care on site. He believed that the existence of companies which paid low wages was bad for the “nation’s economy and humanity”.

Starting in 1899, Seebohm Rowntree carried out a comprehensive survey into the living conditions of the poor in York during which investigators visited every working class home. The results of this study were published in 1901 in his book “Poverty, A Study of Town Life” which soon became a classic sociological text that significantly influenced research methods in the social sciences. The application of scientific methods, which had not previously been applied to the study of poverty, led Seebohm to develop the concept of the poverty line – the minimum weekly sum of money required for a subsistence level of existence – and the poverty cycle.

Two further studies of poverty in York followed in 1936 and 1951. Seebohm also wrote on rural living conditions, the need for family allowances, a national minimum wage and the relationship between the needs of the employer and the employee. He believed that welfare and industrial efficiency were equally important and understood the distinction between improving efficiency through cost reduction and enhancing growth potential via investment: “the expenditure necessary to establish good working conditions will not in the long run increase the cost of production. It will raise the industrial organisation to a higher potential; a greater cost will appear on one side of the account, a greater output on the other.” Seebohm Hill, The Human Factor In Business.

Seebohm’s rigorous research methods and extensive collection of data enabled him to demonstrate the causal link between poverty and the low wages paid to working men, and the insecurity of their employment. As a result, he was able to challenge the general assumption that poverty was merely the result of drink and fecklessness.

Seebohm Hill will seek to emulate Seebohm Rowntree in the collection of relevant data, and analysis of it, in order to accurately assess the funding and support needs of social enterprises, as well as the social and financial return requirements of social investors. Thorough mapping of the resources, skills and capabilities which exist within a local business community, combined with a commitment to improve the effectiveness with which they are applied for mutual benefit of enterprises and funders will enable us to achieve our aims of helping social enterprises to operate successfully and sustainably and social investors to earn reasonable social and financial returns on the capital they provide.