“What's in a Name? That Which We Call a Rose by Any Other Name Would Smell as Sweet.”

Posted: 17 September 2012, in Blog

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”

William Shakespeare. Romeo and Juliet (1595)

Salesforce, a US software and content management company tries to trademark (TM) the term ‘social enterprise’. The Social Enterprise movement rails against this and mounts a campaign. Lo and behold, Salesforce stop what they are doing, apologise to all and sundry and it is gin and tonics all round.

Funnily enough, at about the same time that Salesforce tried to ‘appropriate’ the term social enterprise, the Saudi Government started a campaign to block a Vatican plan to create web addresses ending in .catholic as opposed to .org etc. The Saudis argue that the Vatican ‘cannot demonstrate that it possesses a monopoly over the term ‘Catholic’.

This web suffix is one of dozens the Saudis object to and the list includes  suffixes ending in .islam, .halal, .ummah, .baby, .gay, .tattoo, .bar, .pub, and .virgin to name but a few. A good parlour game is to try and work out the cultural, sexual, alcohol, religious, moral and monopoly issues that irk the Saudis so much. A tip here is to try and compare western norms, values and commercial imperatives with a set of Saudi Wahhabist norms, values and commercial imperatives.

The Salesforce trademark attempt faltered in the face of a successful campaign but Michael Roy of Glasgow Caledonian University had already commented in the Grauniad [The Guardian] about the futility of using, monitoring, protecting and affording a TM. So why all the fuss about an external threat to the term social enterprise when the sector itself remains as confused and confusing about the term as ever.

What interests me about the anti-Salesforce campaign is that within the social enterprise movement, this campaign presented a united front on whom or what is permitted to or deserves to use the term. The story of the wee boy noticing and commenting that the emperor was wearing no clothes highlights the dangers of groupthink. Is the social enterprise sector willing to address its own groupthink around the term social enterprise?  Are our leaders claiming a monopoly for the sector that will nevertheless fail to be honoured in the real world?

Here is an excerpt from an earlier MTPM blog

“….There is no consensus about what is and isn’t a social enterprise because there is no shared frame of reference between all the players in the wider social economy. Some social entrepreneurs eschew defining social enterprise because this is too awkward and troublesome. They prefer ambiguity and complexity because inclusion is seen as more important than differentiation.

The latter is deemed to create an undesirable hierarchy of types of social enterprise and the sticking points that cause all the grief are de facto independence from the State, profit and governance. The result of this avoidance is deficient policy making, barriers to investment and stakeholder confusion.

Avoiding definition has also allowed social enterprise to be co-opted by others. We now witness public sector municipalists and private sector opportunists masquerading as social entrepreneurs.  The former are zealous mini-State status quo defenders. The latter want to make money on their investments. Neither group are social entrepreneurs but both are nifty and inventive when it comes to using Charitable, Trust and Social Enterprise business structures and models when it suits them”.

It now seems that the term social enterprise itself remains up for grabs because despite the clumsy efforts of Salesforce in attempting to TM the term for themselves, their actions mask a wider truth. The term will increasingly be used by private firms and public sector ‘externalisations’(sic) because of the cultural, normative, social, enterprising and technological messages they wish to employ. So, despite the recent victory, has the situation really changed that much? After all, what Salesforce attempted (albeit clumsily) was to appropriate and own two words that reflected their ‘social’ (technology/media) services to ‘enterprises’. Other firms won’t attempt to monopolise it, they’ll just use it.

If the term has any meaning left, sector leaders need to accept that the sector has boundaries and define and defend them. Trouble is, in our efforts to be nice to everyone, we have eschewed the exclusion of projects and charities that use the term social enterprise, but funnily enough, I’ve not witnessed a campaign against those organisations. Instead, we have allowed our boundaries to become massively porous. So, is it any wonder the State and the private sector have intruded upon what so many believe to be our holy ground? In addition, why do some sector leaders accept that public sector ‘externalisations’ (sic) can be given the Social Enterprise Mark but others are upset that private firms are masquerading as social enterprises? Confusing ain’t it.

By refusing to call a spade a spade we may win some parlour games or debates but out in the real world just watch what major public service providers (private firms and public sector ‘externalisations’(sic)) will get up to in describing the social and enterprising (and philanthropic) features of their work and missions. We ain’t the only ones who can claim double and triple bottom lines (or impacts) even if you don’t believe what others will try and tell wider society, politicians and public sector procurement officers. Oh, and by the way, we don’t have the resources or social capital to defend the sector against that.


NOTE: This opinion piece blog does not necessarily reflect the views or beliefs of Social Enterprise Scotland.