What does this actually mean? – part one

This post is part one of what I imagine will become an ongoing series of posts where I take a sideways glance at some of the current buzz concepts in UK social enterprise. Here, in a generally interesting article on the potential for the growth of social enterprise in Scotland, Scotland on Sunday readers are informed that: “SEs are simply businesses with social and environmental principles at the heart of what they do. As a business they need to make a profit, then these profits are reinvested or used for grants or charitable work. They are a growing market opportunity just waiting to be tapped.”

For the moment, I’m accepting at face value the stuff about profits – the question about what % of social enterprises actually ever genuinely make a profit can be considered another day, and I accept that lots of conventional businesses never make a profit either – and taking this statement at face value.  There’s nothing unusual about it. It’s a fairly regular statement from within the social enterprise lobby. But what does it actually mean? How specifically is trading with social and environmental principles a ‘growing market opportunity’? Who wants to buy social enterprise? Councils? The NHS? The public? All of them do buy stuff from social enterprises that produce high quality goods and services but are they buying from social enterprises because they’re social enterprises?

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