70% of the public have heard of social enterprise

Results in a Yougov poll undertaken for Charity Finance magazine reveal that 70% have some idea what a social enterprise is.

I’m not sure whether this article represents Charity Finance parent company, Civil Society Media’s most effective piece of analysis of data. Not least because it leads on an inaccurate quotation of the headlines figures on page 1 of the survey report  that they themselves  commissioned – it’s 30% of people who don’t know what a social enterprise, while 33% do recognise the definition:  “It’s a business that is more interested in meeting social or environmental goals, than in making lots of money for owners or shareholders” which the survey commissioners regard as being the most accurate.

Equally strange is the closing point that:  “However, 29 per cent of respondents said they would not trust a social enterprise to run any public services. Dr Michael Wagstaff, head of public sector consulting at YouGov, said this shows that the latent demand for products provided by social enterprises does not automatically translate into delivery of public services.

Readers will judge for themselves but, for me, if the percentage of people who are not actively unreceptive to the idea of social enterprises running public services (71%), marginally exceeds the percentage (70%) who had any view at all of what social enterprise was before taking part in the survey, it seems like social enterprise is actually fairly well placed to take an increasing role in public service delivery with the broad-based support of the general public.

When it comes to knowing what a social enterprise is, aside from the 33% who agreed with the above definition and the 30% who had no idea, a further 21% said a social enterprise was ” just another name for a for-profit business trying to run ethically” and 9% said “It’s a not-for-profit organisation”, with 7% going for other options including references to Fairtrade and charity.

Further questions revealed equally positive results. The question: “Assuming that they were providing something that you wanted or needed… How much more or less likely would you be to use or buy from a business that called itself a social enterprise rather than one that didn’t?” yielded the response that a majority (59%) would be more likely to buy from social enterprises (broken down as 44% who would be more likely to buy from a social enterprise if they knew it was the provider, 15% who said they already try to buy from social enterprises where possible).

The question:  “Which, if any, of the following would make you more likely to use or buy from a business that called itself a social enterprise?” prompted the seemingly obvious but nonetheless important response from 62% of those surveyed: “If they had a product or service I really wanted or needed” while 42% (it was possible to tick more than one box) went for “If I was sure they were really a social enterprise, and it wasn’t just a marketing ploy“.

Overall, it’s a mixed bag of stats but, in a broad sense, this survey seems like good news for those of us in social enterprise who value social enterprise as an idea but understand that it’s an idea that won’t (and shouldn’t) sell our products and services on its own.

The underlying point is that a majority of the public are either already supportive of social enterprise or open to the idea of social enterprise. What they want, understandably, is for social enterprises to provide them with products and services that they want and need and – if a social enterprise uses the label as an additional reason for buying its products, for the term to mean something beyond being a marketing ploy. That makes sense to me.




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9 responses to “70% of the public have heard of social enterprise

  1. Interesting insight David. The media’s use of the data in this case reflects a more general ‘apple pie and motherhood’ take that much of the (English) media have on social enterprise It is portrayed as A Good Thing by journalists who have little real knowledge or understanding around social enterprise.
    It often gets lumped into the multitude banner of ‘the third sector’ – for which much achievement is claimed, with little evidence that is robust and verifiable and with which to substantiate the claims.
    There seems to be a recurrent underlying theme from much of an under-informed media that ‘anything is better than the UK public sector’. Those of us committed to social enterprise need to beware that the sector is known for what it achieves and delivers – rather than being exploited for the political agendas of others.
    on Twitter @EdwardHarkins


  2. Beanbags admin


    I think parts of media do often go with the ‘motherhood and apple pie’ angle on social enterprise. In this case Civil Society is apparently attempting to take the opposite tack and run a ‘don’t believe the hype, no one’s heard of social enterprise’ story but the angle doesn’t really reflect the information that their survey has actually generated – which is that 70% of people have an idea about what social enterprise is and the vast majority are of those ideas are plausible ones.

    I think you’re right about bashing of the public sector, though. I think there is an important role for social enterprises in delivering public services but I’m equally keen to see more socially enterprising services – responsive to the needs of people rather than unnecessary bureaucracy – delivered within the public sector.


  3. I’ve often found journalism to be partisan in its coverage of social enterprise, where one often finds an inclination toward brand promotion which to me, goes against the spirit of developing a social economy.

    From the public sector, there’s understandably some suspicion but we can also find those in the public sector who have a vested interest in keeping social enterprise from the table. One may find for example local government insider created social enterprise while at the same time having no policy to engage social enterprise in their supply chain.. Such has been the experience with my local council:


    It’s been said more than once of social enterprise, that it’s warm and cosy until it starts getting radical enough to threaten vested interests. The ‘motherhood and apple pie’ brigade don’t really want to go there.


  4. Where to start with this? It’s from YouGov, who I think were the least accurate pollsters before the last election, so I didn’t have high hopes. It has what looks like Yet Another Definition of Social Enterprise (YADSE) to go along with all the others we have. I’m pretty sure that the question “Which, if any, of the following public services would you trust a social enterprise to run?” will have misled people into picking at most one answer, unless there was further direction that isn’t being shown – which brings me to a key point: without a full report including methodology, that survey is pretty much worthless fluff, useless to civil society. Read the news summary from its commissioners, take a pat on the back (even if it’s a bit of a stretch), then forget about it.

    Even my old headline advice on surveys for non-specialists ends with: “Publish as much as you can, so others can check, reproduce or extend your findings.” This survey is uncheckable, unreproducible and not a suitable basis for further research. I’m really disappointed that Civil Society Media hasn’t done better when commissioning a survey. I expected better from them. If they’d like to hire a graduate statistician to give them a bit of help with numbers, they know where to find me…


  5. Beanbags admin

    Yougov do provide general guidance on their methodology here: http://labs.yougov.co.uk/publicopinion/methodology/


    • Yeah, I saw that. It’s borderline and, as you correctly say, it general, so you can’t verify or reproduce the results from it.

      I’m probably just being a grumpy statistician.


  6. On the matter of definitions and I have no intention of starting another debate on this subject, others may be interested in a response from European Commissioner Michel Barnier to Sir Graham Watson MEP.


    Last year, I’d asked Sir Graham for his support when the European Social Business Consultation came up with a framework which was not only a replica of the operational P-CED model but also had a remarkable likeness to something we’d offered them in 2008:


    One of those I’d approached back then was Ed Davey MP who’d been speaking about the economic and social crisis in Ukraine in Westminster Hall around that time.

    It’s this inclination for the public sector and politicians to take ownership of social enterprise which I find so appalling. The European Commissioner, in denial is suggesting later collaboration which we know never happens. How keen would they be if there wasn’t 93 million Euros at stake.


  7. Beanbags admin

    Well, I’m not sure it’s a problem that politicians and the public sector have an interest in social enterprise. For me, the important thing is that the social enterprise movement has an identity that’s separate from that.


  8. David It’s the quality of that identity which concerns me most of all. Putting aside the issues I’ve raised about an HIV epidemic and the neglect of vulnerable children there’s the matter of inclusion. If there’s such a thing as a social enterprise movement who represents its participants? .

    The Social Enterprise Coalition maybe? Here’s the response from the SEC to me as a newly joined member when I introduce the work I describe above in 2006:

    “At present, your area of work lies beyond the focus of our work, however, we know of some people who may be more aligned with what you are going. Please see details below:”

    (No need to paste the list of the usual suspects)


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