- Geof Cox's Blog
- The dark side of the social enterprise boom...
- What would a social enterprise economy look like?
- Social Enterprise Law in South Eastern Europe
- Where does social enterprise fit in postcapitalism?
- Can social enterprise save public services?
- Greece, France - making enterprise more social...
- Small is the new big!
- Social impact is no longer an option for big brands
- What on earth is Social Enterprise UK doing?
- Asset Based Strategy Matrix
- Copyright infringement is NOT theft
- Impact2 Social Enterprise Conference
- Not So Grim Up North
- CASE's 30th Birthday
- Guardian Blog
- The Senscot Bulletin
- The Performance of Socially Responsible Investment
- Social Investment – or the Emperor's New Clothes
- Such a definitions mess that NOBODY can now clear it up?
- Social Enterprise Mark... or Social Enterprise Brand?
- Why social enterprise needs its own approach to intellectual property rights
- Does the social enterprise movement lack leadership?
- Business models based on greed and exploitation
- Not many jokes...
- NHS Social Enterprise Spin-outs - the real story
- Will tendering ever work for social enterprise?
- Learning from the Open Source Movement
- The Guardian & Social Enterprise
- The focus on a few kinds of social enterprise is blinding us to a bigger picture
- What do social enterprise and chocolate have in common?
- From Albania Again
- Guardian Social Enterprise Summit
- A conflict common to many co-operatives...
- Social Enterprise in Albania
- 2010 social enterprise visit to Russia - 1
- Day 2 in Rybinsk: -18°c
- Post 3 from Russia - Back to Moscow
- A typical question...
- Sounding like David Cameron...
- Do structures stymie social enterprise?
- 'Right to Request' tender collapses
- The number of 'social enterprises' just doesn't add up
- Social Firms Conference
- What is it, exactly, we’re doing with Social Firms?
- Social Firms UK Annual Conference
- Social Firms and the CIC Consultation
- What is social enterprise?
- Social Enterprise in Russia – Week 1 - Moscow, Schekino and Kaluga
- Social Enterprise in Russia – Week 2 - Rybinsk
- Social Enterprise in Russia – Week 2 - Vyshniy Volochek & Ostashkov
- Social Enterprise in Russia – Week 3 - Moscow & Aleksin
- Ostashkov Conference, October 2008
- Selected old blog entries
- Public Service Transformation
- Organisational structures - and restructuring
- Doing social enterprise
- Knowledge should be free
- Associates and trusted partners
- Джеф Кокс, информация на русском языке
Small is the new big!
I've written before about some of the problems with the idea, uncritically accepted in some parts of the UK social enterprise movement, of social enterprise 'scaling up'. My gut feeling is that although conventional business forms of growth might be appropriate in some circumstances, by and large we need to look precisely in the other direction: how to keep social enterprise small and locally, or community-based (while at the same time taking advantage of some economies of scale - for example through online 'collaborative communities').
It is refreshing to see conventional business moving decisively towards micro-enterprise too. "The major business trend of the last few years is the regeneration of the cottage industry economic model." (Simon Wicks, Enterprise Nation)
This is certainly true at the cutting edge of farming. I've just read Vandana Shiva's article Small is the New Big in The Ecologist magazine, about how, measured correctly, small organic farming is much more productive than big agriculture. In a project involving 1,000 farmers in South Nyanza, Kenya, who are cultivating two hectares each on average, crop yields have risen by 2–4 tonnes per hectare since converting to organic farming. In another case, the incomes of some 30,000 smallholders in Thika, Kenya rose by 50% within three years of converting.
Some will find it surprising that the UK government now includes self-employed people who work primarily for social purposes as 'social enterprise', but we are experiencing a much larger change, linked with the growth in social enterprise, away from big business and towards micro-enterprise - 95% of UK businesses are now 'micro' (under 10 employees) and most of those (about ¾ of all businesses) have no employees at all; moreover, the number of self-employed people is rising rapidly and the number of large businesses is falling rapidly. (UK Government Department for Business, Innovation & Skills 2012 Annual Business Population Estimates).
This trend does not date from the 2008 financial crisis, but can in fact be mapped across developed economies with the spread of the internet. It is of course true that some of the growth in self-employment is down to the recession – people turning to it as a last resort, who will return to the conventional job market when times change again; however, the trends we are looking at here have been clear over a 20 year period now. Moreover, they have been accurately theorised and predicted. As early as 2002, Yochai Benkler used Coase's transactional costs analysis - the widely accepted explanation of why firms arise in a market economy - to predict that the way in which the internet changes business costs would lead to networked micro-enterprises out-competing large firms.
The most powerful examples to date here are new business models based around online 'collaborative communities', such as 'crowd sourcing' - many of which link naturally with social enterprise because of its culture of empowerment and commitment to community and environment.
“The linked development of online networking and renewed belief in community, along with environmental concerns and questioning of an economy based on buying and selling, are moving us away from the top-heavy, command-and-control forms of consumerism and towards decentralised ideas based on openness, sharing and peer-to-peer collaboration.” (What's Mine is Yours - How Collaborative Consumption is Changing the Way We Live, Rachel Botsman & Roo Rogers, Collins, 2011)