Social Enterprise. The clue is in the name.
Much has been written about the potential of social enterprise, but I share the concerns of many that, whilst social enterprise continues to be manoeuvred as a political plaything, the treasury loses sight of the real treasure that these ventures could yield.
As a global economy fighting for survival we need to unleash as many, and as varied, contributors as we can, and it’s clear to me that when it comes to social enterprise the clue’s in the name – a social enterprise is a venture that contributes to society, yes, but it’s also a business, so it also has a place to play in contributing to the economy. As such we should be doing everything we can to release its real potential.
The size of the prize
According to Social Enterprise: Market Trends’, May 2013, Cabinet Office, the social enterprise sector in the UK alone is estimated to employ more than 2 million people, and 15% of all SME (Small Medium Enterprise) employers are believed to be social enterprises (that’s 179,500 social enterprises that are employing people).
When we add the social enterprises that operate as sole traders, the total number increases to 688,200, and their combined annual turnover is a staggering £162.8 billion with annual Gross Value Added (GVA) estimated at £54.9 billion.
We need, collectively, to recognise that the social enterprise sector already makes a difference. The United Nations estimate that the livelihood of millions of people is secured by ‘mutual businesses’, through tackling a wide range of social and environmental issues; creating business solutions to achieve public good; and through their contributions to the economy at a macro, as well as a micro, level.
However it is clear that much more can be done. By engendering entrepreneurialism in the social enterprise sector, and encouraging more entrepreneurs to create businesses with a social or environmental purpose, the sector will grow. Without that push, it has the potential to diminish, through being side-lined and ultimately starved of resources.
Let’s not confuse social purpose with social behaviour
So what will really make a difference? Having a social purpose does not need to mean a social enterprise needs to behave any differently to any well led business in the private sector that has non-social aims (although it’s estimated that a third of all businesses in development actually aspire to be social enterprises!). Like any successful venture, social enterprises need clear aims as well as clear values, and they need the right people on board together with support (but not necessarily interference from) its stakeholders.
So let’s stop talking about ‘Governance’, and encourage the sector to focus on Leadership. Let’s stop leading the discussion through Government Policy and provide the resources to respond to market opportunity. And let’s stop preferring ‘collective ownership’ and ask social entrepreneurs to stand up and be counted, to truly drive change, take risks and make real, sustainable profits that will really change lives. Only then will we release the real potential of social enterprise.
Great commentary Dinah! I appreciate that you see the entrepreneur identity of social enterprise and the fact that it can make an impact without the collective ownership identity… thank you for sharing!
Thank you for your feedback Dori, that’s appreciated. Perhaps a step further, I wonder if social enterprise can ever make an impact ‘with’ the collective ownership identity. Peoples’ individuality and entrepreneurialism can so easily be supressed – we need to encourage people with a passion and an idea to improve society to drive it forward, in the same way as we would (and do) for all other types of enterprise, rather than holding them back with the glue of ‘Governance’.
Well said Dinah – now is absolutely the right time for social enterprise to concentrate on leadership, as do business support services.
Thank you Anne. Yes I agree business support services properly geared to providing support to social enterprises is key – I will be providing some ideas in a future post – if you subscribe to ‘Insights into Enterprise and Entrepreneurship’ here http://consult-ice.us6.list-manage1.com/subscribe?u=32cb45f9014f318817eea2dc3&id=b2fd15842d you will receive it once it’s published. Best wishes Dinah
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