Is social enterprise the solution to the credit crisis?


Ok, so I should expand on that a little. This was one topic of conversation that came up today at the unveiling of a big bit of research commissioned by OTS on what’s needed to get social enterprise and entrepreneurship into the mainstream. The title of the presentation was "Social Enterprise at the Crossroads?" (no, not that Crossroads, although that wouldn’t be a bad thing: a social enterprise on a soap), and it looked at different audiences, their awareness, how to reach them, who are most likely to become involved etc….

Nothing massively shocking for anyone from the sector or who works in this sphere, but was interesting to see it laid out by an independent agency in a strategic and thought-through way. My only major point of disagreement was that one of the target groups (disengaged / disenfranchised young people) were kind of discounted as a potential source of new social entrepreneurs….because they didn’t have the requisite confidence (interestingly, confidence + conviction were highlighted as central to the whole thing) and skills. But of course they can gain that confidence and learn those skills. And what they do have is, often, a greater (and more personal) understanding of the problems….which the research also highlighted (those living in an area with social problems were by far the most likely to engage in setting something up…).

That aside, there was much of interest: talk of brand identity and a unifying mark, for example, seem set to dominate the autumn and winter. I’ll take it all in, digest, and try and make sense of what was a long presentation. When split into groups (to answer questions like "what is the one thing social enterprise should do?" and "what is the one thing government should do?" etc), the banking crisis came up a few times. At the idealistic end was the thought that maybe there would be a reframing of capitalism to be more "sustainable" (in all senses: i.e. including social and environmental more) from here on in. At the more pragmatic end was the thought that there were a lot of fairly well-off Lehman Brothers traders looking to do something with their lives that might have a bit more purpose: how do we get the appeal out? Although we should remember that there are secretaries, cleaners, catering staff and lots of others at such organisations who haven’t built up a war chest of cash over the intervening years….not everyone who worked there was on 6 figures.

It does feel like this time could be an opportunity for the movement as much as a challenge. Clearly, access to finance from banks, and squeezes on forms of funding (both public and private) will have an effect….but maybe there is a chance that some social entrepreneurship will prove enticing to those looking to increase their psychological wealth in line with their financial wealth, or that a slowdown will cause a bit of a stocktake (excuse share-related pun) about what is important, and about seeing friends + family, rather than getting pleasure from buying the next product or keeping up with the archetypal Jones’s. We’ll see.

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One thought on “Is social enterprise the solution to the credit crisis?

  1. The sector is currently creating more poverty…
    It is clear that to avoid creating more poverty, social entrepreneurs will have to find ways to invest (Time, money- what’s left of it) into enhancing their soft skills: communicating, generate self-motivation, networking effectively, learning to say no, learning to collaborate, learning to let go, co-mentoring, co-coaching. I am still impressed by the large number of people reluctant to invest in learning whilst setting up in business. At the end of the day, poor management, or poor leadership, will cost them money, and deprive beneficiaries from effective services.
    The paradox is that I see lots of small and micro-enterprises still determined to pay business consultants a fortune to write a business plan whilst they haven’t done their basic thinking, another waste of money…
    Question: When are business link and like-minded national “support” agencies going to focus and invest in soft and thinking skills and provide meaningful learning journeys rather than poor advice sessions and bit-size workshops without context?
    It’s true that the current economic situation can put people to think and force them to re-address the way they manage (or not) their lives…
    Although, note that the likes of Nike and Adidas have always manage to sell stuff in the poorest favellas, even in the worse crisis…