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.