In most cases, if a husband filing for divorce followed up that action by asking his wife whether she’d be happy to hand over the family home to his mistress, it wouldn’t go down too well. Bearing that in mind, it’s probably not especially surprising that (according to reports on Social Enterprise) members of Rise, the soon to be disbanded social enterprise umbrella body for the south west of England, have voted against transferring the organisation’s remaining assets to controversial accreditation scheme, the Social Enterprise Mark.
It’s quite possible that some of the members may now question whether Rise should have devoted less of its energies to developing the Mark, and more to developing social enterprise in the South West – in which case, those social enterprises might now be in a position to afford to support an umbrella body.
Clearly, though, Rise’s demise points to a wider problem in terms of regional support – the government was paying for it and is now not paying for it. Explaining the decision to close the organisation, Rise Chair, Andrew North said: “It is with great sadness that the Rise board of directors has been tasked with the closure of Rise, but with the demise of the South West RDA and a lack of government support for social enterprises, there is no other alternative. We hope that the network of south-west social enterprises, which Rise has been instrumental in growing, will continue to thrive.”
While making clear – as I originally did over a year ago – that I believe (a) that the government’s claim to want an increase in social enterprise activity while failing to ensure the availability of specialist support lacks credibility and (b) that regional support organisations such as Rise provide an important service (the value of which may not be fully recognised until it’s not there), I do think there are number of important questions raised by the closure of Rise.
A report on the Civil Society website expands on the reasoning behind Rise’s decision: “Last year the government decided that all RDAs across England would close by March 2012. As a result the board of Rise has decided to dissolve, as there is no prospect of future business or direct funding. Rise’s most recent accounts show it has a healthy balance sheet with £389,744 in reserves, and a net asset value of £30,582.”
It would be interesting to hear the thoughts of social entrepreneurs in the South West on Rise choosing to disband with a reasonable amount of money in the bank. As I understand it, there are other regional social enterprise bodies that run without any full time members of staff and I would be keen to know why Rise decided that it wasn’t worth investing some of their remaining assets in trying to establish a smaller, more sustainable operation.
It would be equally interesting to hear why Rise has taken the judgment that there is no prospect of sustaining their work through selling services to members. This amplifies a wider issue at the heart of the social enterprise support industry – I am not in any way implying that Rise, its staff or board members are either primarily or uniquely culpable – based on a culture of ‘do as I say, not as I do’.
Those of us who’ve cumulatively spent several days of our lives on the receiving end of earnest lectures from social enterprise leaders on the evils of grants and state funding – and the need to be a real business that sustains itself through trading – could be forgiven for wondering whether some of those same leaders could reasonably be expected to have a few entrepreneurial tricks up their sleeve beyond bemoaning the fact that the government is no longer giving them any money (part of which would be spent going round telling people to stop asking the government for money).
Four people are losing their jobs as result of Rise’s closure and many social enterprises will now not get the support they need. Those are bad things. One good thing that could happen as a result of the challenge faced by the social enterprise support sector would be a re-evaluation of the messages that organisations supporting social enterprise are putting out. There are activities that are socially valuable that can’t be funded (entirely) through trading activities. Ironically, this apparently includes helping people to do social enterprise. That’s nothing to be ashamed of but now might be the time to ditch the bluster, admit reality and have a serious think about how we can get stuff done.