- 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
What is social enterprise?
Why is it that the most intense discussion at every social enterprise event is still around defining social enterprise? Even though everyone purports to be tired of the subject and sees the need to move on?
At the recent Inspiring Rural Communities - the National Rural Social Enterprise Conference I attended the workshop on Developing a UK Social Enterprise Research Programme and witnessed again the core problem with this definition issue:
social enterprise is an activity - a verb - not a thing, so it eludes any attempt to to pin it down to any particular kind of structure or business form
Interestingly, the workshop facilitator's proposed working definition was in fact verbal - doing business not primarily for profit - but when I pointed this out in the workshop the immediate response from somebody was 'but by that definition Tescos could be a social enterprise' - back again immediately to the illusion that social enterprise is something you are not something you do!
Personally I doubt if Tesco does do much business that is not primarily for profit - but if they do I'm very happy to welcome them to social enterprise - not as 'a social enterprise' but to doing social enterprise just as many freelancers, charities, etc that in fact do social enterprise never see themselves as 'social enterprises'.
How many times have I been called in to charities that want to 'develop a social enterprise' - or even 'become a social enterprise' only to find that in fact they already generate most of their income from contracting? How quickly the social enterprise fog clears when I tell them they are already doing it!
Another objection raised in the workshop was from Business Link - we need to define social enterprises as particular businesses in order to direct support. Here we have the real problem: there is a drive from various organisations - not least 'representative' social enterprise bodies, and of course the government - to define a 'sector' for their own purposes. The problem is that such a 'sector' really doesn't exist! I well remember how the use of the term 'social enterprise' was first adopted in the UK - taken from American/International usage where it is still a verb - in an attempt to cohere the disparate sectors of co-ops, community businesses, social firms, etc. It was only ever a presentational convenience - now we have swallowed our own propaganda and mistaken it for the real world.
This is dangerous not only because of the genuine confusion it wreaks for those looking at social enterprise - it also leads us to misunderstand where we are going. One of the questions posed by the workshop was whether the current databases of Social Enterprise Coalition members would give a reasonable sample of 'social enterprise'. Of course not! - if this means the databases of co-ops, social firms, development trusts, etc. Most social enterprise in this country is in fact carried on by people and charities - and indeed businesses - that do not define themselves as 'social enterprises' at all. There are big forces driving both the voluntary sector and the private sector onto the middle ground of values based business. Moreover, the really big growth opportunities for social enterprise now lie especially with young people who want to live ethically and above all sustainably, and have a lifestyle business or portfolio that reflects this; new technology and the true costs of transport etc will actually increasingly facilitate them rather than the old business models.
Some of us remember co-ops being the flavour of the month in the 1980s, and community business in the 90s - and some of us always argued that these were really about aims and values not particular structures. The 'noughties' has been the decade of social enterprise - wouldn't it be nice not to drive this down the same old blind alley?