“Don Draper: It’s your job. I give you money, you give me ideas.
Peggy Olson: And you never say thank you.
Don Draper: That’s what the money is for!“
While this (bit of a) scene from popular TV drama, Mad Men, may (possibly) be an example of management approaches to staff development in the US advertising industry in the 1960s, attititudes in the UK business world today are quite different. So different, in fact, that corporate giants and other household names are currently falling over themselves and each other to give their employees opportunities to engage with social enterprise.
On Thursday, I attended Social Enterprise London‘s Meet the Corporates event. It was well attended (in fact, standing room only) and included a presentation from Claire Bench, who is managing the Deloitte Social Innovation Pioneers Programme. The Deloitte programme will see the company: “showcase up to 50 socially innovative businesses from across the UK and provide them with a package of support to help them mainstream, go to scale and become investment-ready.“
When asked why the company had launched the initiative, Bench explained that part of the reason was that it was ‘a huge skills development opportunity for our people’ that provided an exciting contrast with their day-to-day work.
Also getting in on the act are popular ice cream makers Ben & Jerry’s, whose Join Our Core competition launched last week. The company are wisely ignoring calls to launch a new flavour called ‘Social Enterprise Definition’ (a confusing mix of broadly similar flavours producing a bitter aftertaste) and instead offering aspiring social entrepreneurs the chance to win cash prizes and the chance to be featured on a Ben & Jerry’s tub.
Elsewhere in the corporate world, 2011 saw professional services experts, PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PwC), affirm their long-standing interest in social enterprise when they opened The Fire Station – home to the social enterprise restaurant, Brigade, and the new base for Social Enterprise UK and the School for Social Entrepreneurs (SSE). SSE themselves have just formed a new partnership with the part-nationalised Lloyds Banking Group, and fellow bankers Santander have launched their own Social Enterprise Development Awards.
Aside from these initiatives – and I’m sure there’s several others – there’s no shortage of corporate-sponsored and delivered workshops for social enterpreneurs, along with corporate mentoring facilitate by organisations including Business in the Community.
Beyond the staff development angle, it’s not yet clear what all this means for social enterprise or, for that matter, for the corporate sector. In the short term, at least for those social enterprises based in London – I’d be interested to hear how well publicised these initiatives are elsewhere in the country (most of them are available outside London) – it seems that the gap left by state-backed support for social enterprise is being partially* filled by corporate support.
One possible consequence of this shift is that it will fundamentally change the types of social enterprises that emerge and grow over the next ten years as opposed to the last ten. While the broadly liberal approach to what it means be a social enterprise (or social business) from many in the corporate world is one issue here, it’s less important that the fact that growing numbers of new social entrepreneurs will start out – or begin to grow their businesses significantly – guided by input from corporate employees.
We may have a situation where the ability to win a corporate-sponsored social enterprise competition will become as important to social entrepreneurs (if not more so) than the ability to convince someone working for the local council to support their idea. It’s certainly possible that this development will lead to more exposure and support for social enterprises driven by charismatic individuals whose personal stories make good copy (and many of whom also deliver positive social change). It’s equally possible that a consequence will be growing numbers of social enterprises that actually break even or better by selling goods or services.
Either, neither or both could happen but, either way, the UK social enterprise movement is moving – at least to an extent – in a new direction.
*Readers in the social enterprise support world please note the word ‘partially’.