When I began working for Kibble I knew that I would be faced with having to expand my knowledge quickly, I just wasn’t sure what I would need to learn. Sure, I already knew a fair amount about podcasting and social media, and I knew what Kibble did. Or at least, I thought I did.
I had never heard the term social enterprise before. Before I began at Kibble I had no idea that it was a social enterprise: Kibble is not grant funded, it operates on a fee-for-service model and the integrated services it provides, including residential care, fostering and employability are public services. Our first programme was to be based on social enterprise, and this meant that I had to learn as much as possible about it to create content which is relevant to the needs of the sector. Like many people, I want to be challenged by the work I do and so, while coming into my post as podcast developer may have had a steep learning curve, I was more than happy to learn about social enterprise.
In parallel, I began working on some outlines for podcasts based on child and youth care, fostering, The Experience and sharing stories and knowledge between employees, topics which we will most certainly be returning to at a later time.
My experience of learning about the concept of social enterprise seems to have many things in common with what people have told me in interviews so far. In my view it seems that social enterprise is a much more ethical way of doing business. For too long we have lived under the auspices of corporations who maximise profit for the aim of filling the shareholders’ coffers and keeping their boards happy. Some companies even do this through exploitation of their workforce.
We are quick to stand and cry out in anger when a business does something unethical, yet we remain happy to use our expensive smart phones, wear designer clothes or drink a can of branded cola. This is not a damning indictment of who we are as individuals, but more a reflection of how, in our society, we are penned in by the lack of choice we have with regards to who we give money to in exchange for goods and services. In the eyes of many people we either give the cash to the bad or the worse.
It has always seemed odd to me, and no doubt to many others, that there is not an alternative way of doing business. Surely there are individuals who are passionate about business and about doing good in the world with their profit? Surely there is a way we can make money and help people at the same time? Surely there is a way to do ethical business?
When one follows that train of thought for long enough, one might suggest that: well people give money to charity and that’s doing good, right? But often it doesn’t feel like enough. There’s business and then there’s charity. These two things are mutually exclusive in the eyes of most people.
These thoughts existed in my head long before I joined Kibble and long before I knew what a social enterprise was. Like many others I thought that it was only the public sector that was meant to care about the interests and lives of people. That anything in the private sector was driven purely by profit, often at the expense of the individual. That charities existed in order to offset the social and environmental damage that careless businesses have wrought on the world.
Yet it seemed logical to me that surely there were business people and entrepreneurs out there who had a social conscience. Humans don’t like to see people suffer; business doesn’t have to be focused on building an empire on the backs of the workers.
It turns out that there is another way.
Once I sat down at my desk on my first day of work, I Googled Social Enterprise. I wanted to know what it is. I wanted something to work with.
I’m still searching.
In the time since that ill-fated Google search I have read countless articles and books. I now think I know what social enterprise is. Yet I only know this by asking people what their businesses do and they all do very similar things – they pour any profits they make into social causes. They use their money to help those in need, not to help themselves.
As our Social Enterprise Conversations podcasts grow, we will talk to many different people and have a whole bunch of different content which will discuss social enterprise, the definition of it, the purpose and the importance of it. I dare say we’ll have a debate or two on our hands.
In this blog I do not wish to define what a social enterprise is, or what businesses must do to be considered a social enterprise.
What I want to tell you is that I came from a world where social enterprise is not even in the people’s vocabulary. Where people have an inkling that the things social enterprises do is the way that all business should be, but that they don’t know how to articulate that desire. They know businesses should do social good, that profit can affect the lives of normal people and not turn average people into multi-millionaires overnight.
So far I have spoken to many people for this podcast, and almost all of them have, at some point, had the same realisation – I would like to run a business, but it has to be a business where we can make money and then use that money to help other people, whilst offering services that benefit those most in need.
Each person has said the same thing – “I now know that what I wanted to do was run a social enterprise, I just didn’t know what a social enterprise was”.
The term wasn’t even in their vocabulary.
This has to change. We need to bring social enterprise to the mainstream. When people start businesses they need to know that being a social enterprise as opposed to a PLC or a LTD is an option.
They need an introduction to social enterprise. Let’s give it to them.
Over to you!
What was your introduction to social enterprise? Let us know in the comments below!
— Mark Fraser | KPN (@Mark_KPN) September 8, 2015