Why social enterprise has to be more business like
posted on Saturday, June 06, 2009 02:34 PM
Having spent the last two years immersed in social enterprise and the concept of businesses with social or environmental aims as their main raison d'etre I have slowly come to the conclusion that this type of business has to become more business like and profit centred.
I'd like to suggest that we need to become more ethically profit focused and concentrate our efforts on competing with our market competitors on price, service and professionalism rather than focusing on telling the world about the particular cause we are using business to address.
Business is the tool we use to achieve our environmental or social aims and unless we sharpen and improve the tool and the way we use it many of us will ultimately fail.
Although the worthy goal for many of us is to seek to change the nature of business altogether I believe we have to work with what we currently have, fight our way to the top and make the changes from a position of power.
The difficulties of collectivising our efforts to create a better business world are evident and the lack of agreement on the definition of social enterprise encapsulates these difficulties. We may have to make changes from the top down rather than the bottom up. Not the dreaded trickle down effect but rather the Niagra falls!
This doesn't mean we shouldn't cooperate where we can but rather be realistic about cooperation and joint working and understand fully how difficult this can be to achieve.
Perhaps too many of us still see profit as a dirty word but does it have to be? Isn't it what you do with your profit that matters? There are many, many "for profit" businesses in the world that come from a completely principled standpoint where profit is concerned and succeed in business while minimising harm to people and planet. Profit and people and profit and environment can go hand in hand and I'm sure there are many examples before us that we can learn from that would not be considered social or environmental businesses. Perhaps these businesses instead of talking about it are simply getting on and doing it?! Perhaps we don't hear about these businesses very often because it's good news and we all know how the media of today is almost allergic to good news stories.
Personally I have felt compelled to move towards business as a method of achieving social change because of my experiences in the homelessness sector. I have watched good programmes that produced results go to the wall because the funding dried up. A term I learnt recently for this dynamic was "fashion funding" and I can't think of a more succinct way of describing some aspects of charitable funding.
So in order to achieve sustainable income for programmes we know produce results many of us have moved towards business but we have to be business to produce our desired results. We have to fully understand what it is and develop the ability to do it better than our competitors.
Profit to profit all
Lets make profit a good word!