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: http://consciouscapitalismblog.me/interview-with-lucy-findlay-managing-director-of-social-enterprise-mark/
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 http://www.socialenterprisemark.org.uk/and 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!