VitalSpark: Coalition Blog

Posted: 29 July 2010, in Blog

The etymological development of the terms social enterprise and social entrepreneur and their variable meanings to different people have always been a source of irritation to many social enterprise folk – and some were not too polite about that. Accurate language and definitions were extraneous apparently.

Now, with the Public Sector using quasi social enterprise structures and language to organise and describe their activities the brown stuff is hitting the fan. Good, conflict can be useful.

The UK Coalition Health Secy has said that Foundation Trusts will help form the largest social enterprise sector in the world. Lansley goes on to say that the Social Enterprise Coalition’s definition of social enterprise is too narrow and that his vision is of structures that will have some of the characteristics of social enterprise.

The stushie led by Peter Holbrook seems to be about de jure and de facto notions of autonomy, control and independence from the State.

This sort of tripe uttered by Lansley has its roots in Blairism and all the linguistic and philosophical disingenuity that New Labour indulged in circa 1997 – remember when Blair announced that Police Officers and Teachers would be the new social entrepreneurs of the 21st Century? It was enough to give you the dry boak.

Social entrepreneurs and social enterprise stakeholders need to take command of the discourse about them by working with academics to oppose this political/policy wonk guff.  Read some of the stuff in the Social Enterprise Journal – you may be surprised by what academics are saying about you. Let us start a Facebook page saying why Lansley is wrong. Going viral will test our credibility – never a bad thing.

However, we ourselves are useless at calling a spade a spade. We have a Guardian mentality about being “inclusive”, indulge in idealised and heroic models and language, and possess a Grauniad attitude to accuracy. It is not pedantic to say that one off grant funded projects and rebranded state organisations are not social enterprises. We should ditch the term surplus, call profit what it is – profit and assert that social enterprises are independent and required to trade!

Read John Pearce’s book Social Enterprise in Anytown as his Three Systems Model is well worth a look.

Finally, it is up to us to challenge the politicians, civil servants, media and the policy wonks every time they get it wrong about us. Here is a suggestion. Every time you hear social enterprise described as e.g. “not for profit”, boo or start a slow hand clap – that will get their attention. Then tell them why they are wrong and repeat as required.