Social Enterprise Mark... or Social Enterprise Brand?

There has been a sudden re-eruption of controversy around the idea of a Social Enterprise Mark, first as a result of Dr Rory Ridley-Duff's research into the problems of applying the SEC/RISE mark to democratic businesses, then what amounts to the launch of an entirely new Social Enterprise Brand by Richard Patey and others.

I've just joined Richard Patey's Social Enterprise Brand Linked-in Group principally because I am interested in the 'collaborative community' development methodology proposed by the new brand, which seems to promise something much more rooted in the real values of social enterprise - which should encompass an entirely new participative and community-owned brand-paradigm.

However, I find myself on the sidelines of most of the discussion here and elsewhere, saddened by the overwhelmingly obvious fact of the matter: that all this mark stuff is causing division - inward-looking, energy-sapping, destructive division.

I suspect the whole idea of a 'Social Enterprise Mark' is wrong-headed - whatever the precise criteria - because social enterprise is more of a 'movement' than a definable 'sector' - analogous to something like 'the environmental movement' - broad and inclusive and welcoming fellow-travelers - aiming to influence all business/life practice - rather than a more specific instance like 'certified organic' that might be successfully 'marked'.  I must admit though that I am intrigued by the possibility that a collaborative 'brand' might encompass such a dynamic movement in the way that a conventional 'mark' cannot.

A recent UnLtd survey found that if they had access to the right support about 1 in 3 people would like to be social entrepreneurs; a startling figure, but tellingly close to Dr Rebecca Harding’s research on the numbers of social entrepreneurs, which also suggested that about a third of all new entrepreneurs would like to be social entrepreneurs, and that there are already over 230,000 ‘hidden social enterprises’ in the UK.

The Third Sector Research Centre work on measuring the scale of UK social enterprise is helpful in addressing the political construction of the ‘social enterprise’ concept - in fact if you ignore the various conflicting definitions and diligently add up all the different measures, what emerges is a social enterprise movement of at least a third of a million people and organisations actively using business models and methods to achieve a social mission.

Don't we need to reach out to this enormous constituency - help those 1 in 3 new entrepreneurs - make the case for the exciting new way of organising human affairs that social enterprise really is - rather than focusing on how many criteria we can fit on the head of a pin?

Forthcoming SENSCOT Conference/AGM

The subject I've been asked to address at the forthcoming SENSCOT Conference/AGM - Is social enterprise really changing the world – or being changed by it? - is very relevant to this issue - and evidence of the continuing controversy!