As we celebrate the 8th anniversary of the launch of the Social Enterprise Mark, I am proud of our progress, and how we have remained true to our original aim of identifying and certifying genuine social enterprises, and more latterly emphasising the upholding of standards to support this aim.
Since 2010, Social Enterprise Mark CIC (and formerly RISE, the umbrella body that supported social enterprises in the south west of England), has acted as an arbiter of robust social enterprise standards, working to ensure the social enterprise business model remains ethical, credible and commercial, through independent accreditation.
It would perhaps have been easier at times not to have ‘stuck to our guns’, but we have learnt many valuable lessons along the way. Plus, I do pride myself on the fact that my USP is not following the crowd! We have continually adapted our products to the changing marketplace, responding to customer’s needs, market opportunities and changes to the economy.
For example, we developed and launched the Social Enterprise Gold Mark in 2014, as the first (and only) standard of social enterprise excellence. This was in response to people questioning how you can identify excellence and good practice in social enterprise. The Gold Mark is not just an accreditation; it scores businesses in different areas of governance, ethical business practice, financial transparency, and social and environmental impact, and also provides an action plan going forwards to ensure continual development.
As we continue to see high profile private sector/corporate service delivery debacles putting shareholder interests before people and communities, e.g. Carillion, Virgin Care, G4S, Capita etc etc (not to mention the banking sector!), I can’t help thinking that we should surely be at a turning point by now?
The debate nationally still seems to be – ‘how can we get social enterprises to scale up to meet the needs of commissioners?’ Surely this is the wrong question. Bigger and bigger often leads to standardisation, mediocrity and a lack of flexibility to the local circumstances. Plus, there is another way and it does not have to copy the corporate world! Social enterprise offers a flexible, credible, business approach to the problems and issues that society has, without hands tied behind its back with pressure from shareholders and investors. Maybe one day the penny will drop?
It does appear to be dropping with consumers; the 2017 Ethical Consumer Markets Report showed that almost ¼ of respondents reported buying goods/services specifically because of a company’s ethical reputation, a 28% increase on the previous year. The tide is turning and hopefully the public and corporate sector will sit up and take note and we will see a new paradigm where businesses can’t just tick a box anymore – they actually have to prove that they are making a positive impact on society and the world around us. Maybe then we will welcome an age where social enterprise is lauded as the true business model of choice, proving that it is not just a ‘lip service’ CSR department.
In anticipation of this, we believe it is crucial to get ourselves prepared with clear standards, which differentiate and protect the integrity of genuine social enterprises, and to help consumers identify businesses that are committed to truly trading for the good of people and planet.
That is why, as we embark on our 9th year as the social enterprise accreditation authority, I am confident that we are moving in the right direction and that the big times are still to come!