‘The social enterprise brand must not become diluted by “nearly social enterprises”’

That was what participants at iSE’s Big Society Symposium said back in October of last year.  You can read the post and download the  report of that event here.

Well, how right they were. Third Sector online has just furnished an excellent example of exactly the kind of muddled and opportunistic thinking that is going to get social enterprise a bad name.  Southwark and Westminster councils claim that they are going to spin-off their communications departments as a “single social enterprise company”.  Read the story here.

Come on, this wouldn’t even be a “nearly social enterprise”. What would its social mission be, exactly (apart from communicating council objectives more cheaply)?

UPDATE: There are some interesting comments below on this post — take a look.

  1. Paul Slatter Reply

    I have sympathy with the view. Both private business and statutory bodies have to some extent sought to ‘cash in’ on the social enterprise label. But it made me think of a seminar Chamberlain Forum organised in Birmingham in the run up to the Quirk Report on Asset Transfer. One of the participants representing a community-led group that had acquired assets the hard way – through years of fundraising and trading – said she would rather she could transfer them to the Council. Her point was that councils ought to be social enterprise.s And if they don’t act like it, we should be campaigning, chivvying and voting to get them back on track until they get back to their co-operative, municipalist roots. In the short term, that might sound naive. But, she was sort of right, wasn’t she?

  2. Ben Parkinson Reply

    You wouldn’t expect people who have been running traditional enterprises and Council departments to fully understand the concept of “social mission” or “passion to create change”, as in the former passion will reduce profitability and in the latter will find itself a non-conformist to one or other of countless Council polies.

    “Socially-tinged” organisations will surely dilute the dynamic concept of social enterprise. It’s too late, we let it happen. However, being precious about our passion may not achieve anything now and I would rather build bridges with enterprise and help them evolve their enterprises, not through CSR, but by social audit and providing “social enterprise advisors” to facilitate the strengthening of a social awareness in industry strategists.

    Bringing up youth to be socially mission-led, like in my own Butterfly Project, might also give us some chance to find leaders without Thatcher’s negative selfish influence.

  3. Chris Newis Reply

    It isn’t for the Social Enterprise Coalition to say what is and what is not a social enterprise. This spin out is hardly different to the work that was being done by the Department of Health under Labour and it is very much the Coaltion trying to get in on a debate that has been raging since May last year and has all but passed them by until now. I have written extensively on how I think these spin outs should be handled, since the Sandwell debacle, last March.

    I also think that ideas of “diluting” the brand are slightly dubious and very much reflect the way that worker co-operatives were treated as “not puka” by the co-operative movement in the 80’s. We should be welcoming public sector workers iin to our sector. “Dilution” as my old friend Nigel Kershaw would back me up is a derogatory term that should not find it’s way into discussions about social enterprise at the risk of creating second class citizens.

  4. Dave Lane Reply

    Perhaps another reason to promtoe the social enterprise mark as a way of proving that you meet ‘social’ enterprise criteria?

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