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.