Tuesday, April 21, 2009

What's the point of social enterprise?

There seems to be a storm brewing in social enterprise land over exactly what the purpose of social enterprises are - some say they're all about creating a social good, while others think that they're more about challenging accepted ways of working and ushering in a new business model - see

Some will look at this debate and perhaps justifyably ask "why can't it be about both?" - after all, if social enterprises prove to be successful businesses, then their model(s?) will be adopted by other businesses (and there are parallels for this in the fairtrade movement - once upon a time Nestle said they'd never do fairtrade as they felt the market wasn't large enough and their customers weren't interested, and yet here they are now with their own fairtrade branded coffee...)

And then there's the question about which model? The 'headlines' of social enterprise may lead you to believe that the Community Interest Company is the only 'true' form for social enterprise, yet some CICs are finding that this form is undermining their ability to trade as they wish to (perhaps the most vocal of which is the social enterprise ambassador Tim Campbell), and many others are still fiunding that regular companies, IPSs, charities, and even PLCs, are sufficient and appropriate after having their rules 'tweaked' to reflect social enterprise values (you know, those things that define them 'cos there's no legal definition of what a social enterprise is...).

So if social enterprise isn't about being a single business model, but an 'enlightened approach', then focussing on promoting "the model" is doomed to failure before it begins as (1) there is no single model; and (2) if social enterprises aren't being encouraged and supported to be the successes that they can be, then there will be no showcase or evidence to argue with the private business world about the strength and validity of the model...

...so - are we now any clearer about what the purpose of social enterprise is, or just as confused as ever now that some of the sectors' leading luminaries are at loggerheads over what its actually all about?

Or perhaps we should leave the philosophical stuff to those fortunate enough to be paid to do such things and get on with changing our bit of the world for the better in the faith that others will catch on by seeing our success...

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