The results are in. The School for Social Entrepreneurs (SSE), in partnership with Unltd, have come out on top of Social Enterprise magazine’s controversial poll on which Office for Civil Society (OCS) strategic partners should keep their funding when the current list of 42 is culled to 15. As a student at, and all round supporter of, the work of SSE I’m happy with this result although I share the concerns expressed by SSE’s Nick Temple and others about the value of this kind of poll.
While it would be positive – and correct – for the the OCS to look at this result and recognise that large numbers of students at SSE greatly value the support and inspiration they receive during their time at SSE, this doesn’t tell us anything much about the relative value of the work of NCVO – other than perhaps that fewer members of NCVO (which represents a broad spectrum of voluntary sector organisations and doesn’t have a specific focus on social enterprise) read Social Enterprise magazine.
Either way, the debate generated by the poll may have helped to prompt this blog post from Social Enterprise Coalition chief executive, Peter Holbrook. In a thoughtful and sensible assessment of the current situation he asks:
“So how do we walk the line? How do we effectively champion social enterprise, maintain our identity as an independent movement and both challenge and advise government?”
It’s difficult to disagree with this position but it hints at one of the big underlying problems with the Coalition’s current contribution to the social enterprise movement. I don’t believe that the fundamental problem with the Coalition’s lobbying relationship with government in recent years has been that they’ve been too deferential or should become less deferential.
The social enterprise movement should always be prepared to engage positively with government to deliver positive social change and, irrespective of how bad the cuts get, there’s no situation where I think it would be sensible for Peter Holbrook to go storming into the Cabinet Office berating Ministers for all the bad things they’ve done to social enterprise. It’s right for the Coalition to have a pragmatic approach to the situation facing the social enterprise movement and to make constructive suggestions for what the government can do to help.
The problem under the previous government and the previous Coalition leadership was that high level political discussions around social enterprise were fundamentally detached from the real world of most actually existing social enterprises – in terms of the size, scalability and the sectors they operate in. The discussions focused on how lovely it would be if social enterprises delivered all public services and most of the general public had an active knowledge of social enterprise, while more or less ignore most of what social enterprises were doing and the practical support they needed to do more.
Both the (Social Enterprise) Coalition and the coalition government need to consider how they can focus less on pushing social enterprise as an idea and more on enabling social enterprises and social entrepreneurs to deliver social change. Peter Holbrook is right that he has to the walk the line between challenging and engaging with government but it’s equally important that under his leadership the Coalition develops a more practical vision for what that challenging and engaging is intended to achieve.