I’m currently setting up what I consider to be a ‘Social Enterprise’, indeed I consider myself a social entrepreneur, this being my third such enterprise.
However as my initiatives have been aimed variously at the business community, writers and the design sector they are hardly aimed at the ‘disadvantaged’ in the generally accepted understanding of the term.
My aim has been to bring together groups of the talented to help them improve and to concentrate on doing those things that the government has ceased to do and no one else is doing.
So my question is ‘can an initiative only truly be called a social enterprise if it aimed at the disadvantaged and addresses a social ill?’
Since a social enterprise is anything that aims to benefit the society, then surely any enterprise with this aim qualifies. If you benefit the disadvantaged you are benefiting society, both directly and indirectly. I'm assuming you are addressing the social ill with respect to improving it!
Hi Peter - this chimes in with some discussion started by Charlotte Britton on the blog about the RSA Unltd roadshow - "How social should a social enterprise be?" As special funding for social entrepreneurs disappears, social enterprises are likely to operate like any other business, although with some social ethos.
The issue I then raised, is how far can RSA - as a charity - then go in supporting Fellows' businesses, since there is meant to be no personal benefit in Fellows' RSA-related activities.
... let’s assume we wouldn’t be Fellows unless we were committed to the objects of the RSA, which are pretty broad in support of both wealth creation and social change. Fellows and staff in the social entrepreneurs group have shown how to dovetail personal, business, organisational and social objectives. Let’s now spread that approach. However, instead of drawing arbitrary boundaries around enterprises – you are “social” you are not – let’s focus on helping Fellows cooperate and collaborate on their own terms, and developing some new recruitment offers to reflect that.
If there is a problem with that, because RSA is a charity with restrictions on what support it can give to Fellows, may be we need to set up an RSA subsidiary for networking and learning purposes … as a social enterprise.
I assume by personal benefit you mean financial? I think there is a real problem here in that there is an assumption an activity that generates profit for the initiator is by definition 'anti-social' when in reality many (maybe most) are not. Surely this is a matter of degree, is the reward (output) commensurate with the effort and expertise offered/provided (input)? If we are saying that only charitable activities are truly social enterprises then only the rich (those with surplus wealth) can generate them either through donation or through be able to self-fund their time. I this is true then the definition is exclusive in many ways.
And of course profit can come in many forms. Someone who self-funds an activity that is successful and it becomes known they have done this will get kudos, which could promote them and generate profit for other aspects of their work. I agree with Andrew's simple definition, anything else could undermine rather than support the RSA aims.
Hi Peter - I like this question as initially I thought the answer was simple - I now realise it isn't!
To my mind the definition of a social entrepreneur is someone whose purpose & objective(s) are social (my definition of this is simply that they are, through their organisations activities, trying to make the world a better place for all).
Our purpose as an organisation is also our product (we help people change behaviour by helping them do something different). We help all sorts of people because I don't believe that the distinction between the advantaged and the disadvantaged is as obvious as people think it is e.g. who's to say that the Partner in a magic circle law firm earning £500k p.a. but rarely seeing their family or friends is any more advantaged than a single mum on a low income but surrounded by good friends and family?
What we do do is make a distinction between people who can afford our services and those that can't by giving a free place away on a programme for every place that is purchased (the richest half of the population pay for the poorest).
I think the definition of a social ill is also quite tricky but would probably generate more consensus (although poor design e.g. poor architecture would probably get a few debates going).
On balance I think you can only be a social entrepreneur if you are looking to create a more equitable society i.e. it provides equal access to the things that make us happy e.g. a certain level of wealth, close relationships, our health etc (see Action for Happiness for a sensible list)
But I could easily be persuaded otherwise