SOCIAL ENTERPRISE NEWS
Regeneration, profit and the way forward
Morethanprofitman has regenerated. Like Doctor Who he (and he’s still a he, it can’t be disguised) takes on a new persona from time to time for reasons known only to the cosmos. In essence he’s the same entity, though there may be new teeth (David Tennant) or new kidneys (Peter Capaldi), the Scottish accent is there – and the purpose is the same. The name is a bit of a challenge but we’ll stick with it. The Doctor is always The Doctor (never The Dr) and Morethanprofitman is always more than profit man, simply because it’s right. It’s a mouthful though. MTPM will do for here.
So, the new incarnation of MTPM starts with his own name. It’s about profit. The role of profit has become the new big thing in town. The definition of social enterprise was – and hopefully will always be – a matter for debate, because the definition will evolve just as the sector evolves – and matures. The role of profit likewise. At first the very idea was dirty. Then it became ok to say its name – so long as it was for a good purpose and was only uttered between good friends late at night. This was when MTPM first emerged blinking from the social enterprise Tardis. Making profit was good. It’s all about profit. Of course it is. It’s business, right? If it’s not about profit, what is it? Certainly not business. Liam Black – not everyone’s favourite but always one to make us think – used to get people to stand up at conferences and say out loud: “profit, profit, profit”. Very uncomfortable for some, then and now. Even worse than those ice-breakers where you’re asked to turn to the next person in the auditorium and shake hands and make some sort of pretence of being personable. What a relief when it’s over.
MTPM has been around a bit and remembers social enterprise emerging as a distinct sector. The argument then assumed it was a variant of the voluntary/third sector and, if so, how was it distinct? There were a few voices who counter-argued that no, the profit thing meant that it was in fact a variant of the private sector, replacing the profit objective with a combined profit/social objective. It didn’t really matter – we knew it when we saw it – the big job was getting the sector up and running and healthy – and recognised. Which it now very much is. John Swinney knows. Nicola knows. Now we’re moving on.
The debate de nos jours is about whether the whole of the profit should be retained and recycled, or whether it’s ok for some of it to be passed on to the proprietors of the business, whether they be private individuals or investors. MTPM is not sure whether the ultras are arguing that this is NEVER ok, or whether there’s a negotiable limit. It’s all reminiscent of the discussions about the National Lottery before it actually kicked in, involving the hapless Virginia Bottomley (wonder whatever happened to her? MTPM used to get real pleasure out of grinding his teeth whenever she came on the radio doing her masters’ bidding so disingenuously). Then it was argued that it was immoral for a private company to skim off millions out of making the Lottery profitable so that it generated what it needed to fund the good causes.
A decade or two on, that argument has died down and we see all around us in our sector the proceeds. Is it still immoral in hindsight? Would a government department have generated so much? Would a non profit-making trust have done so? These are imponderables, but the same argument is now being played out in the social enterprise sector.
It divides us, does profit. Nice to have, hard to win, but what to do with it? It can’t be ignored. It’s how business works, the very lifeblood, whether you’re a social enterprise or a multinational. The lines are forming. A strategy is being worked on for the first time in almost a decade. It’s exciting. We are each of us going to have to decide where we stand. We don’t need to agree but we do need to discuss. The sector evolves. Evolution is forever. When it stops, what follows is nothing, as The Doctor will tell you.
NOTE: This independent opinion piece blog does not necessarily reflect the views or beliefs of Social Enterprise Scotland.
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