A few things have happened in the world of social enterprise since the last post. Edited highlights from closest to home are that my organisation has joined the Social Enterprise Coalition and, during September, I was up in Leeds for the day and got to meet up with Rob Greenland, who turns to not only to be an astute observer of social enterprise but also a lovely bloke.
More significantly in a wider sense, the Social Enterprise Coalition have appointed their new Chief Executive, the middle tier of the three-tier social enterprise trademark has been unceremoniously junked and there’s a continued gnashing of teeth at the idea that most people have no idea what social enterprise is.
Maybe I’m missing something but I’m not completely clear on the social (or, in fact, commercial) benefits that would be generated by a large percentage of the public having a conceptual understanding of the term ‘social enterprise’. Most people I know do understand and (to a lesser or greater extent) aspire to the idea of doing work that has a wider social value than simply paying their bills at the end of the month.
Beyond that social enterprises (or clearly specified types of social enterprise like co-operatives) need to sell themselves on the merits of the goods and services they provide. For my organisation, being a social enterprise is an important part of our story as a company but the label ‘social enterprise’ in itself doesn’t tell customers anything useful about our products. I see how with the Fairtrade mark or a Co-operative mark if the was one, the philosophy can part of the product. Social enterprise is too broad and too contested a term to be meaningful in that way.
That doesn’t mean I think that the social enterprise lobby is not needed but it does mean that I reckon it should – as the best bits of it already do – focus more on supporting a wide range of businesses and people to achieve positive social goals and focus less on the promotion of ‘social enterprise’ as a quasi-political concept. In ten years time I’d like to see lots more businesses and other organisations getting socially useful stuff done. If that happens then I really couldn’t care less whether or not there’s a percentage increase in people who know what ‘social enterprise’ means.