The Apprentice is back. And, for the first time, the contestants include a self-styled social entrepreneur, youth training expert, Melody Hossaini. I have to admit that, having seen the impact of the twins appearance on Big Brother on the reputation of social work, I didn’t share Dan Martin’s about the likely effect of Ms Hossaini’s interaction with the peer formerly known as sirralan for the reputation of social enterprise.
My expectations hardly improved when the InspirEngage boss was quoted in pre-show publicity warning skeptics: “Don’t tell me the sky’s the limit when there are footprints on the Moon” and boasting of being trained by Al Gore and Desmond Tutu. At the point that Hossaini took on the project manager’s role in task one, I was actively dreading the possibility that the girls team might end-up marketing ‘the Al Gore vegetable kebab’ or the ‘Archbishop’s fruit sorbet’.
Luckily, Hossaini was a good project manager and her team won – the defeated (and soon to be fired) boys project manager was left justifying his dismal performance with the bizarre statement “not only am I the youngest in the team, I’m also the shortest” – an attitude that would surely have been dispelled by some training from Archbishop Tutu.
What does this tell us about the position of social enterprise in our national culture? Nothing whatsoever beyond the fact that there’s a social entrepreneur who has the right skills to be a credible candidate in a reality TV show loosely based on business.
As the retention rates for winners of previous series show, The Apprentice, it’s original incarnation wasn’t a very good method of finding new employees. I imagine if Lord Sugar was keen to find the right person to manage a bit of a property business or technology company, he wouldn’t automatically plump for the person most skilled at working with a bunch of rival non-specialists to perform a series of unrelated tasks for a-day-and-a-half each on the basis of no repeat business from customers or suppliers.
While it’s an entertaining twist, it’s too soon to say whether this year’s ‘start a business with me’ format will increase the balance of relevance between the end result and the process of getting there.
The challenge for us in the social enterprise movement is to see the positives in business TV shows like The Apprentice – they get people interested in business; albeit in a crude way, they illustrate some of the practical challenges involved in developing products and selling stuff – while making it clear that the route into the business world is not closed to thoughtful, unassuming people who possess a bit of self-awareness and don’t particularly enjoy talking bollocks. And also that knowing why you want to succeed in business is just as important as the 110% you’re prepared to put into doing so.