Tag Archives: corporate social responsibility

More on meeting the corporates

Following on from the previous post, there was an interesting discussion on Twitter on Thursday between two tweeters whose views I respect a lot: Journalist, Claudia Cahalane (EthicalJourno) and social enterpreneur, Liam Black (LiamABlack).

What struck me about this discussion is that although it was clearly a robust exchange, I found myself partially agreeing with both tweeters.

The conversation went as follows:

“EthicalJourno – Should Deloitte, PwC, Santander, Lloyds and E&Y (missed any?) just be more socially enterprising themselves, rather give CSR money to socent
LiamABlack – ask us a hard one!
EthicalJourno – do #socent s really need biz support from people who make their money in often dubious ways?
LiamABlack – ffs can we move beyond these pathetic stereotypes please?”

Claudia is right for at least two reasons:

One is because however wealthy we are (or aren’t), we – both as individuals and organisations are all agents within the economic and social system. It matters who we give money to and who we take money from. I don’t think ‘making money in dubious ways’ necessarily affects the practical value of any support a company or its employees might give but it’s a two-way endorsement. Not only is the company (to some extent) endorsing the social enterprise but the social enterprise is also (to some extent) endorsing the company.

I’m personally pragmatic about this. Our team has received – very helpful – mentoring through Business in the Community from an employee of Capita and also from an employee of PwC through the School for Social Entrepreneurs. That doesn’t mean that Social Spider necessarily supports public sector administration being outsourced to companies like Capita, or necessarily believes that the public sector is improved by the commissioning consultancy services from PwC and their colleagues – or that we actively support anything else they do – but I think it does signify that we don’t believe those companies to be specifically evil.

The point is not that our small social enterprise taking a principled decision not to receive pro-bono support from a large company would make any difference whatsoever to that company. It’s what it says about us a social enterprise. And what it says about is that – for better or worse – we are part of the current economic system and operate within it.

The second reason Claudia is right is in suggesting that any social impact delivered by corporate engagement with social enterprise is dwarfed by the social impact of their day-to-day operations. For example, UK unemployment now stands at 2.67 million, up from 813,000 in 2007.  A bank – I am not specifically referring to any bank that is currently running a social enterprise support programme – could clearly have a far more positive social impact by not pursuing approaches that are likely to result in economic collapse, than by putting £1 million (or even several £billion) into a scheme to support people made unemployed as result of that economic collapse to start social enterprises.

I don’t see that as argument for or against corporate support for social enterprise – hopefully banks and others can both support social enterprise and do business in a socially responsible way – but it’s a salutory reminder of its relative insignificance.

Where Liam is right, though, is that we do need to move beyond the stereotype – still popular with a minority in the social enterprise and voluntary sectors – that developing and selling goods and services to make a profit is fundamentally an attribute of the dark side. It isn’t.

Social enterprises in the UK do not currently carry the major burden of meeting people’s everyday needs or scaling-up social progress. They are not likely to in the near future. Within a market economy, mainstream businesses are vehicles for improving people’s social circumstances or making them worse (many make a contribution to both simultaneously). So while it’s important for us as social entrepreneurs to ask questions, the most important questions are about what needs to happen and how we can work with others to help to make that happen.


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