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Social Enterprise Mark CIC is the accreditation body responsible for assessing applications for the Social Enterprise Mark and Social Enterprise Gold Mark. We ensure the social enterprise business model remains ethical, credible and commercial through accreditation.
We are not a membership body and approval is not automatic: around 30% of organisations applying or interested in the Social Enterprise Mark are assessed as ineligible. Existing Mark holders’ eligibility is also reassessed on an annual basis, to ensure they still meet the criteria.
This robust accreditation process enables organisations that are awarded the Social Enterprise Mark/Gold Mark to stand out from the crowd, as proven social enterprises which are independently guaranteed to be trading for people and planet.
Make it easy for your customers to see you deliver social value – get assessed for the Social Enterprise Mark and prove your social enterprise credentials.
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Social Impact Statements
The Social Enterprise Mark criteria includes a requirement that the applicant can demonstrate that social and/or environmental objectives are being achieved.
In support of this, new applicants and renewing Mark holders are asked to respond to a set of social impact questions, which are designed to help them think about the social impact they create, and to articulate this clearly and succinctly.
Updated September 2021
1) What social differences and changes have you aimed to create (or supported)?
Now in our second decade of providing social enterprise accreditation, we work to recognise and build the capabilities of social enterprises as competitive, sustainable businesses, dedicated to maximising social impact.
We have over ten years’ experience of social enterprise accreditation and providing credible standards to support genuine social enterprises to prove their credentials. Our evolving portfolio of externally assessed accreditations provides a supportive pathway to enable social enterprises of all sizes and at all stages to work towards recognised standards of good practice and excellence.
We operate as a social enterprise ourselves and the majority of any profits are reinvested into developing and improving our accreditation services, as well as championing the social enterprise business model on a local, national and global scale.
We are driven by a core set of values. In all we do, we strive to be:
- Champions for the social enterprise sector
- Fair, clear & robust
- Innovative & responsive
We act as advocates for our social enterprise community and the wider social enterprise community and strive to broaden the reach, awareness/understanding and adoption of the social enterprise business model.
Looking forwards, we will continue to be vocal proponents of the social enterprise business model, and how these businesses will play a vital role in creating an economy that works for everyone in the recovery from the Covid pandemic.
2) What actions have you taken to address the above social aims?
We continue to act as a global champion of credible standards for social enterprise, and advocate for greater recognition of the vital role social enterprises play in creating a fairer economy. We act as a voice for the social enterprise sector and have played an active role in national campaigning for more tailored government support to ensure social enterprises can survive the Covid crisis and contribute to the development of a stronger, fairer and more resilient economy.
For example, as part of a coalition of social enterprise sector bodies, we have taken a lead on work to address the issues social enterprises have encountered when trying to access government emergency finance from mainstream banks. Although this was specific to government financial support during the Covid crisis, it forms part of a wider long-standing issue where the social enterprise business model is not well understood by mainstream finance providers, which can make it difficult for these businesses to secure finance.
Instead of rowing back at the start of the Covid outbreak, we focused on creating more international partnerships to promote and strengthen the social enterprise business model at a global level. This included the launch of strategic partnerships with countries that want to use accreditation to help build a better future, including the establishment of capacity building programmes in the Middle East and Ireland. These developments provide a template for further sustainable international development to support the growing global movement for more resilient and equitable economic systems.
Throughout the Covid pandemic, we have been keen to support our social enterprise community in any way we can. Following a relaxation in assessment requirements last year, we also agreed a temporary relaxation of the Social Enterprise Mark assessment criterion around trading income, in recognition of a likely drop in trading income for many social enterprises during the crisis. We remain responsive to the challenges facing the sector and will continue to consider adjustments to our processes, while continuing to deliver meaningful accreditation services.
We have also continued to develop our accreditation pathway, which supports social enterprises of all shapes and sizes to prove their credentials as commercially sustainable businesses that are creating real social impact through their operations.
Following the launch of our Aspiring Social Enterprise accreditation in 2019, which supports new start-ups to demonstrate their commitment to social enterprise principles from the start, we are developing an additional ‘tier’ of accreditation between the Social Enterprise Mark and Social Enterprise Gold Mark. This new accreditation will encourage established social enterprises to strive towards standards of best practice, which will provide a pathway to the Social Enterprise Gold Mark, should they want to work towards this, but also provide a means of recognising their higher levels of achievement. We are currently conducting a pilot with a small number of existing Mark holders, to test the concept and ensure that it is fit for purpose.
We have also developed our Social Enterprise Gold Mark standard of excellence, by distinguishing two different levels of accreditation – Social Enterprise Excellence and Social Enterprise Outstanding Practice. Organisations that demonstrate the highest levels of excellence by clearly showing robust best practice across all the Gold Mark criteria may now be awarded the distinction of Social Enterprise Outstanding Practice.
On International Women’s Day 2021, we convened a new women’s leadership network, to address the gap in support for women leaders in the social enterprise space. This supportive network brings together women leaders from across the world to benefit from much needed peer support and shared learning.
3) What has changed and what benefits have been realised as a result of your actions?
Our national lobbying work led the British Business Bank to explicitly state that certain social enterprises are eligible for recovery loan schemes, which should hopefully improve access to emergency finance to support them to recover from the effects of Covid-19.
Three organisations are currently being taken through a pilot assessment for a new tier of accreditation, which recognises best practice in social enterprise. All of these will receive tailored feedback to enable them to develop their businesses in line with standards of best practice.
In our 2021 stakeholder survey, 93% of respondents said our accreditation helps them reflect on elements of best practice that are central to being a genuine social enterprise and supports them to engage with and communicate this to stakeholders. Almost 80% of respondents also feel we play an important role as an advocate and representative for the social enterprise sector. Over 90% agreed that we provide a route to standards of excellence in social enterprise, by encouraging and supporting continual improvement in line with best practice.
“We use the accreditation to demonstrate our commitment to and the legitimacy of our social value claims.”
“You are leading the way to advocate on behalf of the sector for the recognition and support it requires and deserves.”
“In my opinion you are in practice the high standards you work to instil in the SE Sector, a true representation in practice of what you preach.”
We were proud to be recognised as one of the top 100 UK social enterprises for the third year in a row, being listed on the 2021 SE100 Index.
4) Please describe how your income and/or any profits generated from previous years has been maximised in delivering social outputs and adding social value
We continue to share free resources on our website, to support those interested in social enterprise. This includes a resource pack, which contains guidance on setting up a social enterprise.
Our team frequently speak at sector events, and our time is usually given free of charge. A number of staff also sit on the Boards of other organisations, which are voluntary positions that usually require the use of company time. This time is given on a pro-bono basis as part of our own social impact.
We are committed to supporting the social economy and strive to procure goods and services from social enterprises wherever possible. In 2021/21 our total expenditure with social enterprises (and other social sector organisations) was over £10,000, which was around 30% less than the previous reporting year, but this was due to our overall expenditure being down in 2020/21 due to the effects of Covid-19.
The below questions are not mandatory, but Mark holders are encouraged to answer them where possible, to provide a fuller account of their social outcomes and the social value they create.
5) How do you and other people know your aims are being achieved? Or how will you know?
We regularly consult our customers and key stakeholders, especially in the development of our services.
For example, we conduct a comprehensive survey of our stakeholders every 2 years, to ensure our services continue to address the evolving needs of the growing social enterprise sector. Our 2021 survey provided valuable feedback, which is now being used to inform our strategic direction and the future development of our accreditation services. It also provided useful insights into the changing environment and the impact of Covid-19 on the sector.
We publish a summary report of the findings from the stakeholder survey, which highlights the key findings from the survey and illustrates the impact we have on the social enterprise sector.
Over the last year, we have been developing an additional ‘tier’ of accreditation between the Social Enterprise Mark and Social Enterprise Gold Mark, to support established social enterprise to strive towards achieving standards of excellence. Anecdotal evidence showed that the increase in both assessment requirements and licence fee are potential barriers to some social enterprises progressing to the Social Enterprise Gold Mark – the development of this new tier is a direct response to this feedback. We are currently in the process of conducting a pilot with a small group of existing Mark holders, to test the concept and ensure that it is fit for purpose before rolling out more widely.
6) How many people have benefitted from your actions and what measures of benefit can you report?
In 2020/21 our network of accredited social enterprise grew by 12%, and since the start of 2020, it has grown by almost 20%.
At the end of 2020/21 there was a total of 143 Mark holders carried over into 2020/21, compared to 129 the previous year. The current total number of Mark holders (as at September 2021) is 156, which demonstrates a continued increase in the number of organisations seeking to prove their social enterprise credentials.
The average turnover of Mark holders increased by over 30% (from >£2.0M to <£2.8m) between 2019/20 and 2020/21*. Around 2/3 of Mark holders reported an increase in turnover in this time period.
Although Mark holders say it is difficult to quantify if having our accreditation directly affects sales, or to provide specific examples, our 2021 stakeholder survey showed that there is a general feeling that it does have an indirect impact on sales.
“Whilst we don't know of any direct sales/income or partnerships we do believe that we are a better organisation for having been through the process.”
* The calculation of the median average turnover (which shows the middle point of all listed turnover figures) is based on the reported turnovers of Mark holders that held accreditation in both 2019/20 and 2020/21 reporting period, which represents over 60% of total Mark holders at the start of 2020/21.
7) What examples can you provide of a typical service user experience, that help illustrate the benefits they have experienced as a result of your actions?
Our 2021 stakeholder survey showed generally high levels of customer satisfaction, with 9/10 respondents saying they would recommend our accreditation to other social enterprises.
Sample of feedback received:
“The fact that you have multiple tiers of accreditation and guidance on what they mean/how to progress makes it very clear and there is a feeling of robustness. My experience with you did, and does continue to, give me a feeling of transparency - being honest with areas to improve and helping me understand which tier is best for me. The application felt rigorous but not hard work - the right balance of effort vs reward.”
“We received support in how we translate meaning of social value both internally and externally, which made us think more carefully of how we evidence our contribution.”
“I love that you engage with smaller organisations and work in partnership with us. It helps us broaden our knowledge and gives more opportunities to our members.”
8) What social and environmental benefits have you created arising from internal operational policies and other actions?
We continue to be accredited as a Living Wage Employer, which means we are committed to paying all employees the real Living Wage (as set by the Living Wage Foundation), which reflects the real cost of living, rewarding a hard day’s work with a fair day’s pay.
We operate a flexible working policy and all staff are given the option to work remotely, therefore reducing the need to commute to a place of work. Where travel is necessary, we encourage staff to consider the environmental impact of their activities and have a policy to use public transport where possible.
Staff are actively encouraged to take up trustee/director positions and a number of the team sit on the Boards of other organisations, including Plymouth Social Enterprise Network, Big Issue Investment Trust and the Solent University Business Advisory Board.
We also have staff representation on our own Board to ensure the team has a voice in strategic decisions. This position is rotated on a two-year tenure.