One of the (many!) benefits of working at the School for Social Entrepreneurs (SSE) is that we don’t have to spend too much of our time involved in the definition debates about “what is a social enterprise?” Social entrepreneurs start with a mission, a goal or social objective, and choose whichever activities, income streams, governance, business model and legal structure are best suited to achieving that initial aim. The challenge then becomes one of gaining legitimacy + credibility, through concentrating on financial sustainability, quality of delivery, measuring social impact, involving stakeholders, and communicating all of that transparently. As Aleksandr Orlov would say, “Simples”.
Where the mark becomes of relevance is for SSE students and Fellows who have chosen a social enterprise model or structure, which is an increasing number: from Bikeworks to Catch 22 magazine to Patient Opinion (and countless others at an earlier stage). And the mark could potentially be useful in helping a social entrepreneur and their social enterprise establish that crucial credibility and legitimacy, given that the criteria cover social impact, trading (relating to financial sustainability), governance etc, and that the mark is all about communication.
As a ‘learning-by-doing’ organization, ultimately the success of the mark will be judged not this week, or possibly even this year but in 5 or 10 years time. While the CIC structure has itself been a useful ‘identifier’ for the public sector (as I pointed out previously here), a mark that has recognition and value across sectors and markets would have real value. That recognition and value will only come through practice and usage, and whether it is perceived to be worth it on both sides (by practitioners, such as SSE students, starting up and by the markets they operate in).
So for all the rumours (is it a halo, is it a swoosh?….does the Guardian qualify for the mark? will Peter Holbrook be fired from a cannon across the stage at Voice 10 to launch it?) and the intense, inward-facing debates that have surrounded the mark to date, and for all the unanswered questions that remain (how will it be marketed, priced, assured, sustained?), the much more important times are ahead. Because now it’s about delivery, not debate; practice, not planning; marking territory, not marking time.