Recently I was interviewed about the possible barriers that women social enterprise leaders face in order to scale up their businesses, and it got me thinking: What do we mean by growing? Who are we growing for and why do we need to grow?
It seems to me that society sees business growth through a very narrow lens – usually increase in turnover, staff and financial profitability, and, in the case of mainstream businesses, increase in shareholder value. But if we are talking social benefit are the same set of assumptions true?
The current economic crisis has highlighted a few trends that might be challenging the above assumption that economies of scale are always desirable. This trend has been stark in retail and food (with the exception of online), where large faceless chains are now facing financial difficulties and smaller local shops that offer something different and a personalised service are the ones that are more likely to survive.
The government doesn’t want to get it either. They carry on outsourcing to the same old massive companies to achieve a mediocre service. Social enterprises are encouraged to ‘scale up’ and ape these bland corporate mediocre monoliths. But we have seen the price of this. Look at the failures of these giants in primary healthcare that are now being propped up by the ideology that local can’t deliver.
The excuse is that it is just too complicated to deal with lots of little suppliers who cannot scale up to meet government demand. There are cases where small businesses can come together in consortia, but this is often very complicated to arrange, especially in reaction to opportunities with very little advance warning.
We need to challenge our assumptions about delivering better and more responsive goods and services into a different paradigm that reflects the new world, where the central challenges are tackling climate change and global social inequality.
I was recently made aware of the Government’s Strategic Suppliers list, which work directly with Crown Representatives in government departments. This direct relationship with government highlights the access that many big corporates have to government, which provides a direct channel of communication not open to other smaller suppliers.
So, how do we resolve all this? The Social Value Act provides some openings, but this approach is broad brush and generic. The whole system of social procurement needs to be turned on its head. We need to challenge our assumptions about delivering better and more responsive goods and services into a different paradigm that reflects the new world, where the central challenges are tackling climate change and global social inequality.
The Build Back Better agenda will not be achieved if we build back faster making the same fundamental and outdated mistakes leading to, yet again, the house collapsing in a few years’ time.
Social value is a central tenet for its delivery of a local and sustainable solutions, where the supply chain can be externally verified. The primary motivation should be to make society a better place and lower our carbon footprint.
We need a diversity of business approach that grows sustainably, not a uniform mono-culture which tries to tweak around the edges. The Build Back Better agenda will not be achieved if we build back faster making the same fundamental and outdated mistakes leading to, yet again, the house collapsing in a few years’ time.
the Growth Obsession