Private matters

An interesting contribution to the ongoing debate about where the social enterprise ‘sector’ ends from former Speaking Up Chief Executive and Social Enterprise Ambassador, Craig Dearden-Phillips.

The issue for Dearden-Phillips is that the likely income from he’d get from a new social enterprise, even if highly successful, does not justify the risks that he would have to take in getting the venture off the ground but it is his perception of the way that his move will be viewed by others in the movement that is most worrying: “In my own eyes, I remain somewhere on the sliding-scale between pure-white and red-claw, but so far we can’t accommodate this in our language – I’m either social or not. End-of. So great is our fear of assimilation that we have drawn the bridge high, meaning all those not like us are viewed as the same.”

This perception is a problem for the social enterprise movement. I object to narrow definitions of social enterprise from several different directions. I don’t think it’s useful to arbitrarily decide that entrepreneurs who set up businesses with a conventional limited-by-shares structure are necessarily not social enterpreneurs. Nor do I think it’s useful to suggest that there’s a similar arbitrary level of trading income that a not-for-profit organisation needs to achieve before it can be considered a social enterprise.

For me, the social enterprise movement should be about promoting socially responsible ways of doing business and innovative, enterprising ways of delivering social change. Both means and ends are important but neither are fundamentally determined by company structures or funding sources.

On a purely practical basis, if social enterprises are going to deliver in sectors where they need lots of start-up investment and that investment isn’t going to come from the government or grants, they need to be set up in a way that enables investors to make a decent return.

The social enterprise test for me is the extent to which these companies achieve positive social change and the way that they behave towards their customers, their staff and the wider community in doing so.

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “Private matters

  1. I’m with you all the way on this David. Social entrepreneurship is more about attitude, compassion and common sense than legal structure.

    I think Craig should feel free to define his next social enterprise however he chooses. I also think he should not feel at all guilty about getting a realistic return for the investment and risk he’ll take.

    Which has the biggest social impact, a real entrepreneur who makes money, builds a successful, sustainable venture that changes lives using most of its profits – or a lone idealist determined to avoid personal gain, shopping at Tesco and any other perfectly normal activity that might be interpreted as ‘not what social entrepreneurs do’?

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  2. what a lovely site david – really enjoyed it and you write rather well!

    Thanks david and robert for your understanding regarding the CLS thing. I feel less like I am leaving the fold having read your contributions

    Robert I think we are both in the East so we should meet – I am in Bury…

    C

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