I was recently challenged to enter what to me seems a pointless debate. The instigator was seeking agreement that charities are not businesses and thus cannot be considered social enterprises. His motivation for starting the debate was sound; he feels I believe that too often social enterprise is seen as a kind of ‘enterprise lite’, and considered by many charitable rather than commercial.
He has a point. I’ve long been suggesting that tomorrow’s successful social enterprises are likely to be grown from corporate rootstock. Too many grafted onto existing charities fill struggle to achieve their potential.
Of course there are many exceptions, including a number of go-ahead charities I am working with to develop trading income. But for the most part, I see the corporate landscape having the depth of resource and intellectual nutrients necessary to cultivate a strong crop of what we might today call social enterprises.
It’s time we separated governance and structure from activity and focus. Yes, of course all organisations need to remain compliant with the legal parameters that define their existence. But to categorise them and suggest that some are ‘businesses’ and some not is not helping further the cause.
Talking to Nick Donohue recently, one of the people setting up the Big Society Bank and you realise that Government have got this one right. Loans from the bank will be available to organisations with a robust plan and a commitment to invest their profits in delivering social good. They have no hang ups about structure and nor should we!