If we can’t support social enterprise development in the poorest communities then what is social enterprise for?

Further to this post in which Pauline Roche’s comment reminded me about the Guardian’s Social Enterprise Network blog, I have just posted the following there in an attempt to prompt wider discussion rergarding what I think is a key issue that currently faces the sector:

. . .

I think social enterprise development in disadvantaged communities is an absolutely key issue at the present — but largely unacknowledged.

Historically, SE development in disadvantaged communities has been provided free at the point of delivery, typically by providers securing funds from third parties (Lottery, local government, the Regional Development Agencies, augmenting a Business Link contract) to pay for this. 
Virtually all of these sources of funding — and in some cases even the agencies that distributed them — have disappeared.

Consequently, support providers, of necessity, have begun the painful transition to paid-for services. They have to this in order to survive. 
But under these pressures a fault-line is opening up in the sector.

New social enterprise developments are focusing primarily on those who are able to pay for the help they need. There is money, for example, for the support of public service externalisations, and here – as with PFI and before that privatisation – there will be a gold rush as the major corporates queue up to sell their services into this new market.

The service which is disappearing fastest is community-based social enterprise development to help create social and economic opportunities in our poorest communities.

While social enterprise shouldn’t be seen as being only about disadvantage – a diverse sector needs enterprises capable of operating at all levels – to be meaningful it must have some fundamental concern with social justice. And this means being able to work where need is greatest; it means being able to support the poorest communities.

The most urgent task facing those involved in SE business support — as well as ensuring their own survival — is working together wherever possible to unlock new funding (or new ways of funding) so that services are available to the poorest communities.

A movement that allows the poorest to be disenfranchised and concerns itself primarily with providing assistance to the richest enterprises will have had its heart ripped out. It will be a business movement, not a social enterprise movement.

The discussion is here.


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