There’s nothing that excites social entrepreneurs more than discussing the meaning of social enterprise. And there’s nothing that excites the social enterprise lobby more than the idea that everything would be all right if only the general public knew what social enterprise is. Neither of these situations are either bad or surprising in themselves but I can’t help thinking that ‘brand wars‘ is shaping up to be one of the most pointless policy debates in the world, ever.
A committee has been set-up to discuss whether the social enterprise trade mark developed by Rise should be rolled out nationally as it is or split into three tiered trademarks: a top tier of organisations who meet a series of strict conditions as to what a social enterprise is; a middle tier of organisations who think meeting a series of strict conditions on what a social enterprise is is a nice idea but not nice enough for them to do it themselves; and a third tier of people who don’t have a business but drink Cafedirect and never take foreign holiday without planting five trees in the back garden first.
Already, some people are up in arms. In the linked article, social enterprise developer, Geof Cox, wants to know why ‘they’ want to ‘straight-jacket us’. They don’t, Geof. They want a hook for some publicity campaigns and some funding applications to enable them to do more publicity campaigns – if you don’t want to sign-up to whatever the official version of social enterprise ends up being they’re not going to make you and it’s unlikely to have any major effect on anything you’re doing.
Back in the real world, the debate doesn’t really matter either way to anyone whose actually doing social enterprise. If the conditions for being an official social enterprise turn out to be in line with what our organisation already does and wants to do already then it’ll make sense to sign-up and get some useful publicity. If they don’t, then we’re not going to be changing our approach to satisfy the whims of the social enterprise lobby, who are mostly very lovely people but are neither our paying clients nor our stakeholders.
My instinct is that, unlike Fair Trade or being a Social Firm, the notion of social enterprise is far too subjective and disparately delivered to be usefully trademarked. The brand debate is an interesting intellectual exercise but it certainly shouldn’t be allowed to become a distraction from the ongoing challenges of keeping on paying the bills while doing something socially useful. But it’s going to run and run and run.