Monday, May 18, 2009

how private business shames social enterprise

Recently I blogged about the debate that's raging in social enterprise land about what the purpose of social enterprise is, and how the various forms that can be adopted serve to confuse the issue unless you see them for what they are - various options to allow you to manifest your vision within a specific set of values that define what social enterprise 'is'.

A recent blog on the Guardian by Jonathan Bland, chief exec of the Social Enterprise Coalition about how social enterprise can show private business how to 'get in right' got me wondering how far this issue of models can be taken - let me give you an example:

if I was to describe to you an established global food business with a multi-million pound turnover; that seeks to source all its products from various sustainable, local, organic and fair-trade suppliers; that specifically seeks to set up new branches in areas of non-affluence (ie where the rich people aren't); that charges customers a price that is affordable to just about everyone; that has created its own charitable trust as well as actively supporting various other charitable causes; that offers all of its employees structured accredited training programmes; that seeks to educate its customers about its various practices and its impacts; and has also just committed to recruiting at least 1/3 of its next years intake of staff from people who have been long-term unemployed, and all without any taking ant form of grant or public subsidy, would that sound like an ideal social enterprise to you?

Sadly its not - its McDonalds, that big international company that all us ethical eco-warrior types fought against in the 80s and 90s, but is now shaming some social enterprises and charitable groups by its ethical practices being of a far greater standard than can be typically found in our sector, and still turning a handsome profit in the process.

And this causes problems for the ethical consumer: McDonalds is not a social enterprise in that it still exists primarily to make as much cash as possible for its investors, but in doing so its realised that it can also create a whole heap of good stuff for people and planet along the way.

Its not a social enterprise as we currently define them and yet its practices shame some of the wider third sector...

I'm lovin it, but I'm not sure that I should...

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

do we really need another 5,000 charities?

I came across a sobering statistic recently - in 2008, there were 5,000 new charities created. That's roughly 1 new charity every 3 hours (allowing for weekends, Bank Holidays and tea breaks).

And it got me thinking about other statistics and 'headlines' in the third sector - about the difficulty existing groups have in attracting approriate trustees, about the increasing competition for dimishing grants, and about the growing bureaucractic overhead of mandatory reporting requirements that charities must comply with.
Surely, given all that, do we really need so many more additional charities when it must be better to combine forces, to collaborate more, and even dare I say, look to merge activies where they could be seen to make savings and so offer greater support and impact to the communities that charities are created to benefit.
Could it be then that the founders of charities aren't always as altrusitic as we might believe - perhaps more people than we'd care to admit like to feel that only they can solve particular issues in their own special way, and that to do so they need to control all aspects of their own projects, because they think that no-one else sees the world in quite the same way they do - "vanity, vanity, all is vanity...";
Or maybe its more to do with the legislation - after all, charities have to be very specific about what they do, who they do it to, where they do it to them (much more so than companies), and so as communities change, are existing charities unable to continue to meet these changing and evolving needs and so new charities are needing to be created to continue the work that charity legislation would otherwise prevent them from doing?
Or maybe... or maybe there's some really obvious and rational explanation that someone can share with me and others using the comments button below.

either way, I think most people would be shocked at this statistic...
(for comparison, in the same period there were 814 new Community Interest Companies)