The Mawson Chronicles (part 2)

Recently, I mentioned in a post the article in the Guardian which featured an excerpt from Andrew Mawson’s new book, The Social Entrepreneur. He critiqued New Labour pretty strongly, and this prompted a response the following week in the same paper’s Society pages, both from the current Minister for the Third Sector, Phil Hope (see here) and in a response from Lynsey Hanley, who is the recent author of a book on Estates.

The minister largely rebutted the critique of government, and detailed some of their activities in the field of social enterprise, saying they were constructive rather than destructive. Hanley’s response trained its sights more on social entrepreneurship itself, and had a sideswipe at the Bromley-By-Bow-Centre on the way. The crux of her argument is in the following two paragraphs:

"It will take an avalanche of involvement, commitment and money to
convince people living in places like Bromley-by-Bow that their lives
will change. No matter how many new enterprises "the social
entrepreneur" gets off the ground, such an approach is piecemeal. A
landscape gardening business, for instance, is not going to become a
major local employer; neither is a dance studio or a hairdresser’s.

not expected in wider society that everyone should want to set up their
own pottery business, so why should it be used as a model for
transforming poor people’s lives? The idea of social entrepreneurship,
while appearing to generate a third way between the state and the
market, is no better than a charity-sector version of Dragons’ Den if
it is presented to entire communities as "the only way" to do things."

It’s an interesting debate, and I found myself agreeing both with parts of what Mawson wrote and with Hanley’s response. I think both found themselves at extremes in order to make their point, with Mawson giving off a slightly top-down arrogance (this is the way to do it, government doesn’t understand) and Hanley throwing out the baby with the bathwater (social entrepreneurship won’t solve much; physical regeneration is the key).

My response ended up in the Guardian letters page yesterday, so here’s what I wrote:

"Lynsey Hanley is undoubtedly right to point out that social
entrepreneurship is not the right approach for all regeneration, nor a
panacea for all community problems (Comment, January 16), but she risks
throwing out the baby with the bath water. Social entrepreneurship
should not be construed as something "exclusive", or something imposed.
Indeed, it should provide an opportunity for people from all
backgrounds in all areas to contribute to a wider change.

experience demonstrates that, in tandem with interventions from
government and physical regeneration agencies, social entrepreneurship
can help transform communities through job creation, increasing skills
and confidence, and meeting unmet needs. Not a cure-all, agreed, but
more than a spangly sticking plaster."

So there you go. Hope to review Lord Mawson’s book at some point, when things settle down a bit here (aka never).


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