Does the social enterprise movement lack leadership?


A new survey commissioned by UnLtd has found that if they had access to the right support about 1 in 3 people would like to be social entrepreneurs.

This is yet another confirmation of Dr Rebecca Harding's research on the numbers social entrepreneurs.  Her figures suggested some time ago that there are over 230,000 'hidden social enterprises' in the UK, and that over a third of all new entrepreneurs would like to be social entrepreneurs.

It is also another confirmation of the staggering scale of the opportunity we have - and this to me is the area where we really lack leadership (not, as Liam Black recently thought, in defending existing social enterprises).

Our focus on a few kinds of social enterprise - those that happen to fit an official definition, or can be used to forward a government agenda - is blinding us to a much bigger picture.

I've also previously mentioned in my blogs here and in the Guardian Online the Third Sector Research Centre papers on measuring the scale of UK social enterprise (September 2010) and on the construction of the 'social enterprise' concept (forthcoming).  These should have exploded once and for all the myth that there are only 62,000 social enterprises in the UK - yet I still hear this discredited figure trotted out by people who are supposed to be promoting social enterprise!

Nobody knows how many 'social enterprises' there really are because surveys have been shaped around competing definitions of 'social enterprise', so the numbers they come up with are, in fact, politically constructed.  My own view, looking at the analysis, and including Rebecca Harding's 'hidden social enterprises', is that there are probably at least a third of a million people and organisations out there using business models and methods to achieve their social mission.

We need to reach out to them, and to all new entrepreneurs, by seeing ourselves as - and becoming - a dynamic and welcoming and flexible and outward-looking movement, rather than a defensive, static, walled-in 'sector'.


Does the SE movement lack leadership

Hi Geof,

I think the question to ask, is not does it lack leadership per-se, but, rather, does it need leadership.  This is a difficult question to answer.  The Co-operative movement has people  / organisations who  act as flag bearers but is it really led by anyone, or, indeed any one organisation?  Leadership has advantages, but, it also has disadvantages.  One of the disadvantages is that sometimes it can suppress new thinking, new ideas, and restrict creativity especially where the leadership is undemocratic.  Equally, one of the advantages is that leadership can help to provide direction and develop critical mass as opposed to fragmentation.

On balance, I think the SE movement does need leadership if it is to achieve critical mass and "compete" with conventional business.  Conventional business has its voice represented by organisations like the Chamber of Commerce, the Institute of Directors, the CBI and others.  Perhaps what the SE movement needs is some form of "Union" - not the type that seeks confrontation, but the type that seeks representation and thereby the legitimacy to talk to government and others on behalf of the SE movement.  But trying to get social enterprises to sign up to such a union may be asking a lot although the FairShare Association may indeed offer the possibility and is a great idea of yours and the other founding members.

Does it need leadership?

David - your question 'does it need leadership?' is a really good one and has sparked a lot of discussion here! - including another supplememntary question: is it possible? - maybe social enterprise is just too diverse a movement to have a leader, and should see itself more like the 'occupy' or 'anti-globalisation' movements that consciously refuse leaders.

Practically, social

Practically, social enterprises will only be successful by focusing on people, building the right skills and bringing in talent from other sectors.  Only few businesses with real social and environmental purpose have managed to grow.  If only we can increase this number, then we can lead the people to a positive outlook. - Jeffrey Nimer

Does the Social Enterprise Movement Lack Leadership

I think that you make a very relevant and timely observation Geof.

In early 90's in "The Art of Japanese Management," Richard Pascale got to the heart of why Western management and leadership are so bad. Remember there is a big difference between management and leadership. Whereby the Japanese workforce internalise their company way of being. They are not just doing most of the time, meeting someone else's superficial numbers and targets. Many successful Western companies learnt the lessons of Pascale's work. Most spectacularly BA under Lord King.

Social Enterprises have the advantage, of mostly starting on a thrift basis and also internalising their way of business. They have smelt the poverty, experienced the frustration of 'management by fear' in conventional business and seen the subsequent waste of human potential. Social Entrepreneurs are people who have a burning desire in their hearts to create prosperity through the realisation of a communities potential. However unless there is a leadership paradigm born very soon. Many of the 230,000 will become the 62,000 and less. Most fires being extinguished through the preference for the comfort of conventional business and the mediocre education system.

We really need leadership that can unite all of the small individual fires. So that they can unite to become a torrent, that begins to harness the new potential of the internet. And begins to create opportunity and prosperity on a global scale.