The small number of people in the UK with a strong interest in social enterprise leadership issues have spent the last week or so struggling to contain their excitement at the news that Social Enterprise Coalition(SEC) CEO, Jonathan Bland, is heading off to Finland in October.
The print version of the new Social Enterprise magazine offers an interesting assessment of Bland’s legacy, describing him as ‘Jonathan the juggler’ for his ability to juggle the interests of a diverse range of players in the Coalition and gain significant political support for ‘the movement’. In terms of the task facing the next CEO, reporter Chrisanthi Giotis’s discussions with sector commentators predict an ongoing juggling act with the feedback being that: “The SEC leader must take this opportunity to enshrine social enterprise in a new British economy that may be emerging, they said. Yet, at the same time, they said, the new CEO will have to focus on the grass roots, build up communications between members, segment the sector to offer tailored products from SEC and boost understanding of the different models of business.”
Sandwiched in the middle of the article, with its implications under-explored, is a suggestion from former Social Enterprise Ambassador, Liam Black, that raises big questions what the SEC should actually by trying to do. Black’s line is that rather than concentrating on promoting the formation of more entities that can be defined as social enterprises, the SEC and the social enterprise movement in general should be focusing on transforming the way all companies do business.
This is a road that the SEC under Jonathan Bland has – possibly out of genuine strategic conviction – feared to tread. The SEC under Bland has done a great job popularising the social enterprise brand (particularly with politicians) and incorporating a wide range of disparate organisations – often fairly unconnected in terms of structure, practice or philosophy – under its banner but it hasn’t had anything much to say about the wider economy and how it works.
Given that social enterprises that are not the Co-Operative Group, the John Lewis Partnership or social lending institutions make up an infinitesimally small % of the UK economy – in fact if you chuck Greenwich Leisure into that list, I’d guess the rest of us struggle to match the turnover of a medium-sized inner city Borough between us – this approach seems to have a very limited scope.
If the SEC’s line really is to keep plugging away until all businesses actually become specifically structured social enterprises, it seems as sensible as a plan to achieve broad improvements in animal rights by demanding that everyone becomes vegan. Surely a more useful focus for the social enterprise movement – if it is going to be a movement rather than just a collection of tangentially linked small businesses – would be to start by looking at the economy as it is and then make practical arguments for making it better.