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Monday, 25 October 2010

Why drive a Golf when you can have a nice Trabant for the same price?

I'm beginning to wonder if the phrase 'social enterprise' needs to slip gently beneath the surface of our economy. The principle of social enterprise is sound, to create businesses that pay equal regard to people, planet and profit, but in practice

I think we're beginning to see that 'brand' devalued. In my view, too many folk are trying to win work for their social enterprise not because of what they do, but what they are.

It must have been the same in East Germany, when people were encouraged to save up to buy a Trabant knowing that just over the border, people were driving the VW Golf. Protectionism protected the Trabant from competition and so the need for innovation and engineering excellence was less important. Those currently calling for our current stock of social enterprises to be subsidised could be said to be heading down that same path.

In some ways, that's already happening. I've visited charity shops that are so dire and dirty that only the most intrepid bargain hunter dares to enter. I've also visited several Oxfam bookshops. These are also charity shops, but with a professional look and feel. You don't have to endure embarrassment and discomfort to shop in a store that employs vulnerable people and raises money for a good cause.

I can see a time emerging where what you are doesn't matter, because it's what you do that people will value. If what you do benefits vulnerable people in a sustainable and sensible way, then that's good. But surely encouraging all enterprises to do that is how we're going to create a more equal future, not just those structured as social enterprises.

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