There is a medieval legend that religious scholars spent time and effort debating how many angels could fit on the head of a pin. Whether it is true or not, it has become a saying that illustrates the futile nature of some debates.
It’s an analogy I would draw when the circular debates start on the definition of the term social enterprise – it takes a lot of time and energy for no particular useful purpose. I’m afraid that these types of discussions do not unify but serve a wider divisive purpose which marginalises and ensures that social enterprise will remain ‘an extra’ rather than having a ‘starring role’ in the future of the business world.
Pin dancers seem to have disproportionately loud and occasionally abusive voices and they marginalise the majority who choose not to engage in futility, rudeness and negativity but rather continue spending their time making a difference to others’ lives. I know which one I would opt for any day.
There is a time for criticism, but I would always qualify that with the requirement to be constructive and explore ways forward. I held a discussion at an academic conference last week about the Social Enterprise Mark and the vexatious issue of definition came up. For me, these debates will carry on and we will listen and work with partners to try to address legitimate concerns – we have always said that the criteria are not set in stone. I would also point out that we have consulted extensively in the development of the criteria over the years – but we can’t please everyone. In addition, there will always be work that is underway, that we are not ready to talk about publicly; as I hinted at the conference, we are currently in discussions with trades unions and co-operative representatives.
Most importantly, engaging in the public domain about these debates means we are in danger of losing the plot and turning off potential converts to social enterprise in general. The aim of the Mark was never to provide a ‘catch all’ or an exclusive club, but to enable the sector to come together, to promote itself more effectively to the outside world, in a way that is simple and uncomplicated. By using a consistent message with a unique selling proposition, the term social enterprise can be understood by many more people. Already, there are almost 450 Mark holders integrating the Mark into their marketing strategies and in turn reaching thousands of their own stakeholders – all learning what’s different about social enterprise.
Anyone who has constructive suggestions about further criteria development, wanting to work in a co-operative and collaborative way, please get in touch: firstname.lastname@example.org