Dragons don’t understand social enterprise

CNN visited the SSE this week, to learn more about social enterprise and entrepreneurship; they met several of our current students and sat in an expert witness session with social enterprise legend Colin Crooks of Green-Works. In discussing the sector, the movement, the history, the definitions (!) et al, we got right to the real water-cooler stuff as well: namely, that the Dragon’s Den five had totally rejected a "social enterprise" on the programme the night before, because "charity and business don’t mix".

The episode in question is here, but sadly not the bit that includes the proposal in question (though you can submit a comment). A Senscot member has weighed in with his view on what happened. I confess to having missed the pitch through going to make a cup of tea, so it may have been unclear and sketchy and badly presented. But the reactions (which I did see) from the Dragons seemed to be that they simply could not grasp the idea of social purpose and business mixing. Which is bizarre, not to say near-backward: have five so-called cutting edge businesspeople not even heard of social enterprise? Not know who Jamie Oliver, John Bird and Tim Smit are? And their reaction was very strong, as well….enough to make grown social enterpreneurs weep.

Anyway, a "dragon’s den" format is now de rigeur at all third sector conferences, but what the movement really wants is an equivalent on TV (I once suggested the Social Apprentice). Perhaps it would be too cute and fuzzy for good TV (bunnies rather than dragons?), but it also seems that the whole concept would need a massive amount of explaining. The mere concept of a social as well as financial return on investment might send them running down the stairs. Sustainability, pah! etc…

Or perhaps, once they were in a different mindset, it would be different. Duncan Bannatyne found no problem about giving money away on ITV’s Fortune programme, so perhaps he just needs to find a middle ground between the two?

Peter, Duncan, Theo, Richard, Deborah: love the programme, but get with ours.

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5 thoughts on “Dragons don’t understand social enterprise

  1. Might the SSE see whether or not existing supporters in the media, such as Jon Snow, might be able to facilitate interest in developing a creative programme about social enterprise that woudl interest a wide audience?

  2. I think the answer’s probably yes Chris. But probably will require a whole coalition of partners. Certainly I know of several orgs in the sector (SSE included) who’ve been involved with things from drawing board stage that have not come to fruition.
    The challenge, I guess, is that the entertainment often comes (in some people’s opinion) from the failures / the wacky ideas / the dismantling by the dragons. Similarly, with the Apprentice (which could equally lend itself to several socially-themed tasks), it is bitchy, competitive and personalised. Not to say this sector can’t be like that, but it’s difficult to square the circle with worthy aims / mission-driven causes it seems.
    Perhaps a whole new format is needed….

  3. My recent research into the use of ICT by social enterprises in Cambodia found that they could better use both old and new ICTs to their benefit. Your post made me ask a question of how could traditional media be engaged as well. In particular I was interested by your comment ‘what the movement really wants is an equivalent on TV…the Social Apprentice’
    Cambodian TV has recently aired a program the “Youth Leadership Challenge,” modeled on The Apprentice. The Cambodian version tests young leaders each week on various techniques for constructively engaging the government and citizens on good governance issues. For more see…Using Television to Develop Youth Leadership Skills http://phnompenh.usembassy.gov/usaid_tv_show.html
    Whilst slightly different in content the show deals with social issues and engages young people to care about their community. Going one step further could be to focus on social entrepreneurship as you suggested.
    Cambodia is unique with 50% of the population under the age of 25 with unemployment an ever increasing reality. I firmly believe innovative programs that support the social entrepreneurial spirit of young people are much needed to address social development issues though business activities.
    There have been many donor supported alternative solutions for development challenges. Acknowledging the benefit of social enterprises has lead agencies such as UNDP to support the work of Digital Divide Data who provide IT outsourced services for US-based clients whilst providing employment to young disadvantaged people in Cambodia and Laos. http://www.un.org.kh/undp/ict4dtoolkit/default.htm
    Perhaps an alternate format would be to have the next “Youth Leadership Challenge” place teams in various social enterprises in the IT, handicraft, hospitality and tourism sectors and really combine the social and business agenda. That would be interesting to watch!

  4. Hi Kelly – I remember covering Digital Divide Data when I was running the Global Ideas Bank (http://www.globalideasbank.org). Interesting project/organisation.
    Obviously TV is the holy grail in media terms, and it’s interesting to learn of other examples. and we certainly agree on the need to develop and support new generations of social entrepreneurs across the globe.
    Will think on this more, as it seems to have generated some interesting responses…