Social enterprise: stand up and deliver, says Guardian

Today’s Guardian includes a four-page supplement called Good Business — a social enterprise special, “paid for by the Social Investment Business, all editorial content commissioned by the Guardian, to a brief agreed with the Social Investment Business” (as the Guardian so carefully puts it).

Unfortunately, the articles that make up the supplement don’t all seem to be available on the Guardian website, but some of them are. A longish piece in which key players in the sector answer the question, “social enterprise: what next?” is here, on the Guardian blog.

The front-page article by Patrick Butler appears not to be available, which is a shame, because it contains some interesting snippets. It draws heavily on the recently launched Social Enterprise Coalition manifesto, SEC’s main campaigning tool for the forthcoming election, but in the piece Butler uses an interesting formulation.

He describes social enterprises as “for profit organisations set up to benefit the community”.

I thought that was fascinating, because in such a carefully choreographed supplement — in which one can guess that pretty much every word has been examined by a team from the Social Investment Business — the description is clearly not accidental.

Is it a helpful one?

  1. Sarah Crawley Reply

    I find these comments astonishing. There
    seems to be a continued watering down
    of the social enterprise model in an attempt
    to make the concept accessible!
    What do others think?
    I am just off to a social firms uk board
    meeting where we will be having the same

  2. Simon Lee Reply

    I think that the use of such a description can be misleading to the public, though recognise that this goes back to the heart of the previous Call Britannia debate on this blog: can a social enterprise be such if it makes a profit provided that it also gives benefit to the community in some form?

    Perhaps the trouble is around the use of the words “for profit” which could be read as meaning “private profit”, or even confusing social enterprise with CSR.

    Though clearly harder to fit into a newspaper article, perhaps “not principally for private profit…” might have been a clearer way of putting things…

  3. Charles Rapson Reply

    I wonder if it is such a problem. I dont think many people really understand what a social enterprise is. I certainly didn’t until a few short years ago. Making social enterprise more accessible and improving public awareness and understanding is, to my mind, a good thing. Someone said there is no such thing as bad publicity (Mmmm). However, the fact that it is getting such coverage could be good.

    Sometimes there is a danger we will gaze at our own navels too much about the semantics and end up adding confusion. The only way to survive and succeed is to focus on delivering as much value as possible to ones customers and winning business based on customer satisfaction.

    Barely 6 months ago we started a video production service. We have just taken an order for our 8th video in that period. No advertising just word of mouth and very high scores on our customer feedback surveys. For profit, not for profit, social enterprise, social firm, etc – personally I dont sweat about the name too much. Focus on delivering excellence and invest back into the business/community and job done.

    • Alun Severn Reply

      Charles — I like your style! And to a large extent I agree: the sector is al too prone to navel-gazing… But on the other hand, I do feel that language (and concepts) are significant in that they determine how and what kind of policy gets made regarding social enterprise. And public policy — perhaps wrongly — is still one of the most powerful drivers shaping the marketplace in which social enterprises operate.

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