Lucy Findlay’s blog is moving

My blog is moving, you can see the new location here:

The current blogs will be deleted in due course, so don’t forget to bookmark the new location, or you can get updates about the blog by signing up to the Social Enterprise Mark newsletter:

The Social Enterprise Mark Guest Blog is also moving to:



Is TTIP a licence for unfettered corporate greed?

This blog was originally published on the 2degrees network – read it here.

Have you heard about the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP)? Many people haven’t and it’s worrying.

It is a treaty being negotiated behind closed doors between the US and the EU, not to remove trade tariffs, but to remove regulatory ‘barriers’ which restrict the amount of profits that can be made by international corporations. These barriers include many social and environmental standards such as the use of toxic chemicals, labour rights, food and drug safety laws etc. It also forces public services to open up to private competition and worst of all, it allows corporations to sue governments for loss of profit brought about through policy decisions.

This effectively hands over a huge amount of power to corporations and puts governments on the back foot. A similar investment treaty that Australia signed with Hong Kong 1993 has led to cigarette company Philip Morris suing the federal government when they enforced legislation on plain cigarette packaging.

The tighter EU environmental regulations are also threatened, specifically the EU’s REACH regulation on chemicals, introduced in 2007 in order to protect human health and the environment from hazardous chemicals. The EU currently works on a precautionary basis whereby there is a need to prove that a chemical is safe before it can be used. Contrastingly, in the US it has to be proved that the chemical is unsafe with obvious potential conflicts. It works in the same way in terms of food safety.

We need to wake up to this threat and quickly. It is going largely undiscussed in the media but it has huge implications for us all, especially those that hold social and environmental values at our core.

The clock is ticking. The European Day of Action is on 11th October.

Spread the word!

38 Degrees have put together a resource pack including posters and a petition that can be signed to persuade Vince Cable that we do not want TTIP to go ahead – 200,000 signatures are the target and this has nearly been reached.

Profiteering from the sick and dying

Lucy’s latest blog explores profiteering from delivery of NHS contracts. This blog was first published on the 2degrees network, see

At the beginning of the summer there was an announcement that Staffordshire Clinical Commissioning Group plan to contract out their cancer and end of life care to the tune of £1.2bn. By my estimation, given the profit margins of at least 10%, this is at least £120m profit taken out of care services, for shareholders (and could be as much as £240m). I suspect there will be a lot of interest from the private sector as an opportunity to get into this potentially lucrative market.

Almost in tandem with this announcement there was a Daily Mail article which reported survey results showing most people do not care who delivers NHS services as long as it’s free. On the face of this, it is discouraging news for social enterprises. However, if you were to turn this around, given the latest health and care scandals, I’m sure that trust would be the number one priority. Social enterprises with their local knowledge, approachability and transparency are very well placed to engender this. They are not some faceless corporate just after a fast buck, because their number one reason for being set up is to deliver that service to fit their social mission.

I am really encouraged that the Labour Party is now talking about ring-fencing a number of public sector contracts for social enterprise delivery, although this does miss the point that there is an inherent difference in the way that a social enterprise delivers – because of its primary social motivation. I am due to meet with Chi Onwurah and I will be making this point. At least there is recognition that social enterprises do offer a good alternative.

My prediction is that in years to come, we will all be questioning the values (or lack of them) that were used to make public spending decisions.

There must be wider recognition that social enterprises not only often take a lower profit margin, but they are also reinvesting and devising a service that is aimed at the people they serve – a win-win! Just looking at the price and not what’s going on behind the scenes is not good enough. We need commissioners and politicians to understand this fundamental point.

My interview with Consult & Coach for a Cause

I was recently interviewed by the Conscious Capitalism blog about social enterprise, the changing face of today’s economy and how the Social Enterprise Mark is important. You can read the original interview here:


How would you define a social enterprise?

A social enterprise is a business that puts the society and the environment at its heart rather than the financial interests of individuals.  It operates as a business but in a way that puts others interests first.

What is the role of social enterprise in today’s economy?

Social enterprise can do virtually anything.  It is an ethical alternative business model.  We see increasing numbers of social enterprise working in health and education because of the opportunities that government policies are opening up.  However social enterprises can also fill in the gaps and provide innovative solutions for those people that are marginalized by society eg employment and training, provision of important services that the private sector would not provide due to the lower profit margin.

Why is, in your opinion, accreditation important for social enterprises?

Without accreditation/certification there is no consistency over what is called a social enterprise.  Although the UK is seen as a leading country in this area but each person has their own idea about what social enterprise means.  The Social Enterprise Mark reclaimed those words for the social enterprise sector.  We consulted with existing custom and practice to develop the criteria.  We want to be seen as different.  You can only differentiate if you are clear about the boundaries of why you are, and challenge others that claim to represent social enterprises when they are not.  It also provides an external verification of the credentials – so it’s not ‘we are a social enterprise because we say we are’.

Describe the process of being accredited by the Social Enterprise Mark.

It is very simple in the UK. You go onto our webpage fill out the online form using your governing documents and accounts.  Our criteria are also found here.  We also have a customer helpline if people have problems.  If the company does not qualify we will advise them on what they need to do.  Once we have all the information this is then assessed by our assessor and if necessary it goes to our Certification Panel for approval which can take up to a month. Each year our Markholders have to declare any changes that might have been made which could include changes that mean qualification is questioned. In some cases we have to remove the Mark.  In the case of international applications we are still trialing our approach: for example, in Middle East C3 – Consult and Coach for a Cause is helping us explore the market and test the framework!

What has been the biggest challenge for you working with the Social Enterprise Mark?

Starting something from scratch, when everyone else thought it was too difficult and the struggle to get recognized and get others to buy into your vision…to name but a few.

Where do you see social enterprise sector in ten years? 

I think that social enterprise will be a much more common business model (certainly in the UK).  Many new graduates are interested in making a difference to society rather than just loads of money.  Life is becoming very different and more people have ethical motivations and want to carry that through their working life rather than just doing something as a volunteer or when they retire.

And finally, what was your personal motivation behind going into the social enterprise field and what advice would you give to social entrepreneurs at the beginning of their career?   

My personal motivation is provided when others see and buy into the Social Enterprise Mark’s vision about being an alternative.  There is potentially no limit for social enterprise if we were more creative in our thinking.  Many children understand more than adults who just see business in very limited terms.

I would advise other new social entrepreneurs to give it time.  It always takes much longer than you think.  Also be really clear about what it is that you are doing and why and articulate what you are selling in one simple sentence.  I’ve lost count of the social enterprises that can’t clearly articulate what they do.  Most of all – make sure that there is a market for your product and there is a business case to develop it!

Smoke, mirrors and social value

I’ve lost track of when the term social value was coined as a phrase, but maybe it’s the first time that you’ve heard it? I suspect it metamorphosed from a number of other terms such as social impact and best value, but what does it really mean? For me it’s about considering not only at the price of a product or service but the other added social and environmental benefits that might come from purchasing that service or product. For instance in buying the Big Issue you know that you are not only getting a good read but that you are mainly performing a business transaction with someone who is homeless, giving them ‘a hand up not a hand out’, so not only financially, but giving self-esteem, structure and focus to an otherwise chaotic life in the process. The Social Enterprise Mark is designed to be the short-cut for buyers to help them make these sorts of decisions which are often hard to put a figure on.

The term Social Value has become more widespread recently, because of the Public Services (Social Value) Act 2013 that was passed a year ago. It requires all public agencies to consider social value at the pre-commissioning stage of commissioning public services. However we need to look at its origins to understand why we are where we are. It was originally known as the Social Enterprise Act and was designed to require more public sector commissioners to consider buying from social enterprises because of the added social value that it could give, pound for pound.

However, as predicted in my blog Social Value Lite, 2 years ago, corporates and private businesses are now lining up to demonstrate their social value. It’s the ‘new sustainability’ or ‘new CSR’ and is a term that seems interchangeable. Whilst I do not think that social enterprise has a USP around social value, it is its central purpose.

For this reason, we as certified social enterprises, do object to being preached at regarding how to achieve social value by an increasing number of banks and businesses, which are themselves famous for anti-social business behaviour! You can’t see social value in isolation, it needs to be the sum of the parts. Social value and impact was supposed to be a way that social enterprises and others in the social sector could differentiate their business approach and now we seem to have come full circle. Professor Adrian Henriques, expert in CSR, talks about this conundrum in his blog Social Value Just a Placebo.

Social enterprises need to get much cleverer at voicing why they are socially different. If we are not careful the substantial resources of the corporates will completely marginalise us in this debate. We are already seeing a pipeline of slick ‘social value’ reports and other promotional tools which leave social enterprises standing. We need to wise up about motivations, to be less coy and sycophantic toward ‘real business’ and be proud of our place within the private sector, not begging for crumbs. I know that life is hard at the moment, but we lose this one at our peril.

Walking the talk?


When you buy an item of wooden furniture, do you check it’s made from certified sustainable timber? Do you seek assurance from your plumber that he’s qualified to repair your leaky tap? Accreditation in one form or another forms a major part of our daily lives. As these two examples show, they can also serve quite different purposes.

In one, you want to eat at your new dining room table with a clear conscience knowing you’ve not destroyed the planet in the process. In the latter, you want to avoid a flood in your bathroom by employing someone who knows how to fix things. What links both examples is third party endorsement that the product or service you need has been independently validated by a trusted source as a legitimate match.

But in our world, where doing good is your raison d’etre , how do your buyers know you’re walking the talk?  Since the pilot Social Enterprise Mark in 2007 and the full launch in 2010, we have learned an incredible amount, not least from the labelling world.  Learning from experiences in Fairtrade and the food world has really helped us focus on what’s actually important – that’s the certification process and remaining true to it.  We have not been diverted by other marks or badges.  In many ways the social enterprise world has created great confusion with a plethora of similar sounding terms leaving people baffled, unsure and talking at cross purposes (particularly if you are trying to set one up!).

We created the Social Enterprise Mark to reduce confusion – it is the short-cut to recognising genuine social enterprises. The Mark acts to simplify and bring people together through their shared social values and common business approach.

We arrived at the criteria by working and consulting the social enterprise world and we have consistently applied the Mark with the support of our Certification Panel, who take their job extremely seriously and were specially selected for their expertise.  The Panel are key to maintaining our integrity – they are separate and help guide us through complex applications and compliance issue.  They apply their considerable knowledge and learning from the past 5 years, which is stored in our Certification Manual, the tool for consistency in new applications and renewals. To quote one of our Mark holders, Plymouth University’s pro-vice chancellor Julian Beer “As the social enterprise sector expands and opportunities for fake social enterprises increase, the Social Enterprise Mark is crucial in recognising genuine social enterprises. Only by meeting robust criteria, overseen by the independent Certification Panel, do social enterprises attain certification.”

I would like to make clear that, where an organisation has failed to meet these standards and criteria, we have removed their licence (we are not a membership organisation).  Where businesses do not qualify we tell them and offer guidance in how they can change how they operate. Some do and others don’t. That’s fine by us. By putting a marker in the sand we’re giving people a choice and clear position on which to make decisions, whether as a prospective Mark holder or a buyer of goods or services.

This is fundamental to our existence and it’s for this reason we do not believe in self-assessment.  Of course offering such clarity does cost money.  There are plenty of good businesses out there doing good work, but they are not social enterprises and will never get the Social Enterprise Mark.  This point is key because shareholder profit motives leads to behaviours associated with this structure, ie making money for shareholders takes precedence over ethical issues if you have to make a return to investors (look at the concern about the ownership of the Co-operative Bank).

Dr Mark Reynolds of Integrated Care 24 explains it well:
“Operating as a certified social enterprise means the ethos of the organisation is confirmed as “for patients, not for profit” with any surplus being applied to service development, and so to public benefit, rather than to private profit.  The Mark helps us prove our social enterprise values and purpose in delivering the best possible care, within very tight resources, to our patients.”

Health is just one of those sectors undergoing massive change at the minute and where the term social enterprise can mean many different things. Having one Mark helps to make it easier and more credible when you need to stand up and be counted.

We’ve just published our Annual Review which shows our certified social enterprises contribute £5.4 billion to the economy.  These certified social enterprises use the Mark to differentiate themselves from their competitors. Hence the Mark is revered as the only authority for independent validation of a company’s social enterprise credentials, which explains our high levels of customer loyalty.

Our Mark holders are using their Social Enterprise Mark to foster change, embedding the Mark at the very heart of their organisations. It is being used by newly formed health social enterprises to enable culture change internally and externally to instil trust and confidence with patients, staff and communities.

For the education sector, it’s a similar story: the Mark helps to create a culture and ethos of social enterprise in students and staff, as well as supporting the development of social enterprise in the local community.

We have exciting growth plans for the future, building on our work which demonstrates the best of social enterprise, not just talking, but walking the social enterprise talk.

social enterprise mark

How many ‘lords a leaping’?

'Lords a leaping'

Source: Wikipedia, The Twelve Days of Christmas song

I hadn’t noticed before, but there are any number of ‘lords a leaping’ in the well-known Christmas song, the Twelve days of Christmas – anything from 10 to 12, in fact! (Source: Wikipedia, Twelve Days of Christmas)

I wonder how many lords are ‘a leaping’ today, following the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement yesterday?  I’m sure there are not that many social enterprises ‘a leaping’, that’s for sure!

As you may know, I was a member of the working group that consulted on the Social Investment Tax Relief (SITR) that was highlighted in the Autumn Statement yesterday.  The outcome is disappointing at best.

Despite pointing out a clear solution to HM Treasury, in the form of the Social Enterprise Mark criteria to identify social enterprises, the Treasury have limited the impact of SITR to a small set of legal structures, where few organisations will benefit.

I’m clearly concerned that around 30% of Mark holders are potentially excluded from being eligible.  However, if this is the chosen method of applying social investment, we have yet to see if it will really address the resource needs of Mark holders anyway.

The Government  will publish its response to the consultation alongside draft legislation next week and I’ll be attending the next HM Treasury consultation in January, but I don’t expect to see a u-turn.

I doubt you’ll see ‘1 Lucy leaping’, thats for certain!