With the launch of the new ‘Better Business‘ Guardian Professional Network discussing ‘Why successful businesses of the future will have clear social purpose at their heart‘ alongside Starbucks VP Ben Packard recently talking about social entrepreneurship it appears that the social enterprise movement over the last decade (since the 2002 DTI report ‘Strategy For Success‘) has now achieved its mission in getting social purpose mainstream.

More so it appears that the term ‘social enterprise’ – at least in the UK – is now problematic. There was recently an interesting discussion on a blog post by Rodney Schwartz, CEO of Clearly So, about how Salesforce has hijacked the term; however as can be seen in our previous posts we believe it is charities themselves who have hijacked the term from its cooperative and self-help roots. We commented:

It seems increasingly pointless to try to police the term social enterprise and actually it can be argued that the term – as something separate – has lost its meaning (or more positively has achieved its mission) as corporates such as Starbucks now talk about the importance of ‘purpose’ and ‘creating shared value. Indeed the Guardian Social Enterprise Network reported that the Belu water chief at the Social Enterprise Exchange stated that the company – touted as one of the best #socent in the UK – had not used the term for two years and to ask whether defining as a social enterprise actually limits thinking and growth.

We have been thinking the same recently especially as the UK social enterprise ‘sector’ redefines itself into smaller and smaller subsections with the new Senscot Voluntary Code of Conduct where no profit distribution to owners is allowed. So much for encouraging social entrepreneurship in the youth of Scotland by promoting that you don’t have to choose between ‘earning a living, pursuing your passions or devoting yourself to the causes that inspire you’ – from Start Something That Matters by Blake Mycoskie, founder of TOMS shoes and the one for one model that has nothing to do with legal structures, asset locks and profit distribution limits. Geof Cox has written a strong blog post about the inherent contradictions here in how the most successful enterprises raise equity and pay dividends.

It’s ironic that the UK social enterprise ‘sector’ is encouraging a silo mentality that pits it against the private sector – with rhetoric such as ‘anti-greed’ – at the exact point that mainstream business is now fully engaging with social purpose and social impact. And social enterprise is seen as offering a CSR solution rather than enabling mainstream businesses to move into the social purpose space.

We recently started defining ourselves as a ‘social venture intermediary’ in order to align ourselves with the language being used by progressive social entrepreneurs such as within the Social Edge community where the executive director Victor D’Allant was reported by Zoe Williams of the Guardian at the recent Skoll World Forum in Oxford saying “it’s all about social entrepreneurship versus charity. Nobody wants to do charity anymore. Charity doesn’t work”. Interestingly it also appears that Unltd and NESTA (with their Social Venture Intermediaries Fund) now favour the term social venture.

The Starbucks VP asked, “If the future domain of the corporate sector is creating shared value then what’s the role of the NGO?” We ask: If the future of the corporate sector is social purpose then what is the role of social enterprise?


Published by Richard Patey

Internet marketer, author, publisher, snowboarder and editor of this blog.