I was busy in London on the first day of Voice! 2010 but managed a day trip to Cardiff for day two and enjoyed it a lot. Missing day one, though, meant I missed the big event of the conference – the launch of the Social Enterprise Mark.
It would be euphemistic to describe the reaction of the wider social enterprise movement to the Mark’s launch as ‘mixed’.
SEL boss, Allison Ogden-Newton is not in a position to say ‘this is crap’ but the fact that she does feel able to say: “… let’s keep the movement growing, counting people interested in delivering positive social impact through business as ‘in’ and not ‘out’ shall we?” suggests something less than a fulsome endorsement for the Mark from one of the lobby’s most prominent figures.
Commentators with no official role have been less circumspect. Rob Greenland, views the Mark’s specifications as a victory for those ‘ideologically driven by a dislike of profit distribution’ rather than ‘social change’.
Dan Martin at Social Enterprise Focus asks the pertinent question ‘Does your social enterprise qualify for the Social Enterprise Mark?’ Worryingly, in the comments, top social entrepreneur Amanda Jones of Red Button Design answers “no”.
My own position is that while I broadly accept suggestions that the Mark may lead to some benefits for some organisations, I question whether it’s the most effective use of the public money being invested in getting it up and running.
I’ve got a two pronged main objection:
1. I don’t accept that not being able to say definitely what ‘a social enterprise’ is one of the more important problems currently facing the movement.
2. If that it is an important problem, the Mark is not an effective solution to it.
The Mark is not significantly relevant to the issue of councils (and other public bodies) awarding major contracts because councils awarding major contracts – in fact, any contract worth over £25,000 – have to do investigations into company structures and track records which go miles beyond the info the Mark provides.
The Mark is not obviously relevant to consumer sales to the public because it doesn’t tell the customer anything about the social impact of the specific product they are or aren’t buying (as the Fairtrade mark does).
The Mark doesn’t promote a specific way of doing business (as a Co-Operative Mark would). I’m not really clear what it tells people or organisations that is of any use to them.
The final word in this review of the current debate, though, has to go to Senscot, the Scottish Social Entrepreneurs network. Despite the fact that those with an ideological preoccupation with % percentage profit distribution won the debate around the Mark’s provisions – probably at the expense of long-term credibility and viability of the entire project – this particular wing of that faction has hilariously refused to accept victory. The likely social benefits to be derived from the bold position are unclear but it is quite funny.
Update: Post updated due to the discovery (see comments) that reports of The Phone Co-Op’s rejection had been greatly exaggerated.