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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 2019
1) What social differences and changes have you aimed to create (or supported)?
We provide clear standards for the social enterprise sector through our portfolio of externally assessed accreditation services, which define what it means to be a genuine social enterprise.
Over the last ten years, we have worked to assure the social enterprise business model remains ethical, credible and commercial through our unique independent accreditation services. By providing a pathway to good practice and excellence, we support social enterprises to be commercially sustainable and create impact.
We are recognised as a pioneer in the growing international trend for credible and robust social enterprise standards and are seeing growing international interest in our accreditation model. As well as welcoming applications from social enterprises across the world, we work globally to champion credible standards for social enterprise. We offer international consultancy services, to advise global counterparts looking to set up equivalent social enterprise accreditation schemes within their own countries, and also work in partnership with international organisations to promote and strengthen the social enterprise business model across the world.
We are passionate about the social enterprise business model as a powerful force for change, and our primary motivation is helping genuine social enterprises to be recognised as a legitimate and different way of doing business to change society for the better. This mission feeds into everything we do. The focus is always on the importance of accreditation as the means to ensuring authenticity and verification of social impact and added social value. Social enterprises that seek accreditation are standing up to a level of scrutiny that helps distinguish them from other forms of business who assert social credentials, which demonstrates a genuine commitment to social purpose and bestows credibility to their claims.
In an era where there is increasing scepticism of corporate claims around the ‘triple bottom line’, we see our future in making alliances with those that agree with the sentiment of a need for accreditation, as well as responding to the needs of genuine social enterprises around the world, helping them to become the new model for doing business that truly makes a difference to people’s lives.
2) What actions have you taken to address the above social aims?
We have developed a comprehensive pathway for social enterprises of all sizes to reach recognised standards of good practice and excellence. Our broadening portfolio of robust, externally assessed, independent standards enable social enterprises to demonstrate their credibility as commercially sustainable businesses that are creating real social impact.
We have introduced a new entry level accreditation to enable new and aspiring social enterprises to demonstrate their commitment to social enterprise principles, and to support them to develop their business in order to qualify for full social enterprise accreditation. The Aspiring Social Enterprise accreditation provides tailored support to achieve sector-agreed standards of good practice and excellence in social enterprise, represented by the Social Enterprise Mark and Social Enterprise Gold Mark.
We have also introduced a new lower fee tier, to make the Social Enterprise Mark more accessible to smaller organisations who may find the cost a barrier. We recognise that this standard of social enterprise good practice should be open to all who wish to prove their social enterprise credentials by submitting to the scrutiny of external assessment. Social enterprises with a turnover of under £100k now pay just £250+VAT for the Social Enterprise Mark annual licence fee. We hope this move will encourage more smaller social enterprises to become accredited and demonstrate how they are meeting a clear set of standards.
We are currently developing two new specialist accreditations in partnership with the Supported Business Steering Group, following discussions with the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP). The Social Enterprise Disability Employment Mark and the Local Authority Disability builds on the Government’s Disability Confident scheme, the Social Enterprise Mark and Gold Mark accreditations, as well as customs and practices of the Supported Business community as exemplar employers and businesses. These accreditations aim to provide assurance to commissioners/funding bodies on the specialist supportive environment available to your employees, and therefore support these businesses to demonstrate good practice as an exemplar employer in promoting equality and diversity.
We have continued to build upon our international reputation as the global champion of credible standards for social enterprise. The Social Enterprise Mark now has a presence in 10 different countries, including South Africa, Singapore, and UAE. This year we have signed our first franchise agreement, which will introduce the Social Enterprise Mark to the USA. This will enable social enterprises within the USA to gain international recognition that they are operating as a genuine social enterprise, with a core motivation of creating social impact. We are also in the early stages of setting up an alliance with other international social enterprise certification bodies, which share our sentiment for the importance of independent accreditation.
Over the last few years we have worked with partners across the EU on the Erasmus Social Up project, which created a Design Thinking Field Guide to support social enterprises to grow and prosper through cultivating a design thinking approach. This guide is useful for many levels of social enterprises; from social entrepreneurs and start-up social enterprises to larger, established social enterprise who are looking to become more sustainable.
We have continued to facilitate a dedicated network of HEIs that hold the Social Enterprise Mark/Gold Mark, providing a forum for shared discussion on aspects relevant to the HE sector.
3) What has changed and what benefits have been realised as a result of your actions?
We conducted a stakeholder survey in 2019, which provided valuable feedback that will be used in developing our services and future strategic direction. Responses illustrate the impact of our accreditation:
- 92% said the Mark is important in helping distinguish them, by showing they submit to the scrutiny of accreditation
- 94% of respondents said the Mark provides clear and credible standards for the social enterprise sector and defines what it means to be a genuine social enterprise
- 85% of respondents said Social Enterprise Mark CIC assures the social enterprise business model remains ethical, credible and commercial
- 85% of respondents said Social Enterprise Mark provides a route to social enterprise excellence, by encouraging continual improvement in line with best practice
“External evaluation and the credibility of being found to meet international best practice standards is highly valuable. To credibly identify ourselves as a true social enterprise, rather than a "charity" is also important to us.”
“As a general indicator of credibility, there is no doubt that the mark contributes to the trust and confidence that our business/ contributing partners have in our organisation, and in their willingness to partner with us.”
94% of respondents felt the Mark provides clear and credible standards for the sector and defines what it means to be a genuine social enterprise. The large majority of respondents (91%) also felt the Mark is a positive influence on the UK social enterprise sector.
4) How do you and other people know your aims are being achieved? Or how will you know?
We are customer-focussed and have continually adapted our accreditation services to respond to evolving market and customer needs. We regularly consult with our customers and stakeholders, to ensure the services we provide continue to be fit for purpose and meet the needs of the expanding social enterprise sector.
Through consultation with our Mark holders, we became aware that existing fees for the enhanced accreditation of the Social Enterprise Gold Mark represented a considerable obstacle for some smaller social enterprises. We therefore worked to address this issue and announced a reduction in the annual licence fee for the lower fee tiers, in order to support small to medium social enterprises to continue on the pathway to social enterprise excellence.
Our fee structures have always been designed in a way that subsidises the assessment and licensing process for organisations with smaller turnovers, in order to make our accreditations accessible to all social enterprises who are genuinely committed to standing up to scrutiny and proving their credentials. To support social enterprises of all sizes to benefit from the credibility that external verification provides, we have also introduced a lower annual licence fee tier in 2019 for smaller organisations (turnover under £100k).
We believe robust good practice standards must always be evolving, to ensure they are fit for the purposes and requirements of the relevant sector(s). During 2018, we completed a public consultation to inform the development of the Social Enterprise Gold Mark, which also served as an opportunity to reflect upon the core Social Enterprise Mark accreditation, criteria and assessment process. This review helped us reflect on what constitutes social enterprise best practice and excellence, along with how this can be reasonably determined in robust and cost-effective ways, for social enterprises of differing shapes and size.
We have now redeveloped the Gold Mark Framework and assessment process to take account of the major findings from this and lessons learned from assessments over the last five years. We are continuing to develop a Social Enterprise Mark framework that will establish a pathway of good practice that all social enterprises can engage with in order to develop and improve, which the Aspiring Social Enterprise accreditation represents an entry point for.
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 many people have benefitted from your actions?
Although there are a lower total number of Mark holders this year, we have seen a continued increase in the average financial performance of those organisations that hold our accreditations. This increase in average income indicates the Mark is attracting organisations that want to demonstrate they have a sustainable business model, with increased potential to create real social impact, and who value the recognition of an independent accreditation. It is also indicative of our continuing mission to develop a pathway to social enterprise excellence, which organisations want to aspire towards and regularly be held account to, in the interests of all their stakeholders.
The average turnover of Mark Holders increased by almost 10% (from >£1.2M to >£1.3m) between 2017/18 and 2018/19*. Over 2/3 of Mark holders reported an increase in turnover in this time period. Although Mark holders say it is difficult to qualify if having the Mark directly affects sales, or to provide specific examples, there is a general feeling that it does have some impact.
* 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 2017/18 and 2018/19.
6) What examples can you provide of a typical service user experience, that helps illustrate the benefits they have experienced as a result of your actions?
Sample feedback from Mark holders:
“The Social Enterprise Mark is phenomenally important to us all because it represents our team’s commitment to the social purpose of our organisation. And we find it very helpful – as well as ensuring our social enterprise credentials are recognised externally, the standard guides us in our expenditure decision.”
“The Social Enterprise Mark a statement of quality in general, it’s about what we do… It has helped us to work through our outcomes, through the process of re-accreditation. We had to think it through as a board and team and we clarified our overall policy and strategy.”
“The process of applying was really straightforward. I was really impressed with the wealth of information and quality of materials provided. We believe the Social Enterprise Mark is going to make a significant difference to proving our social impact and status as a social enterprise.”
7) What additional social benefits have you been able to deliver within your core services that distinguish you from other “for shareholder profit” providers?
We continue to embed social enterprise within our supply chain - we use social enterprises for goods and services wherever possible. In 2018/19 our total expenditure with social enterprises (and charities) was £13,375, which was over 20% higher than in the previous year.
We share a number of resources openly on our website, to support those interested in social enterprise. Social enterprises are also able to access our guidance on articulating their social impact – this was developed as part of our assessment process and we decided to make this publicly available, to support new and established social enterprises to communicate how they are creating social impact.
To support social enterprises of all sizes to benefit from the credibility that external verification provides, we have introduced a lower annual licence fee tier in 2019 for smaller organisations (turnover under £100k). This will be applied to both new applicants and existing Mark holders – for existing Mark holders, this represents a financial investment of over £1,000. We have also reduced the annual licence fee for the Social Enterprise Gold Mark lower fee tiers, in order to support small to medium social enterprises to continue on the pathway to social enterprise excellence.
We offer a subsidised rate for Social Enterprise Mark/Gold Mark holders attending our annual conference, to enable them to access valuable networking and peer learning opportunities, which can support the development and growth of their social enterprise. This is also a further opportunity for us to share expertise and advice/resources. In 2018, we also offered a number of bursary places for smaller social enterprises local to the conference venue.
8) What other social benefits have you contributed that go beyond your core delivery activities (ones that are completely unrelated to your main services)?
For our annual team away day, we take part in a volunteering activity. In 2018, we volunteered with local charity Grow Stonehouse; a community gardening project in Stonehouse, Plymouth, which helps local residents to find ways to meet, socialise and spend time outdoors in shared green spaces.
In 2019, we volunteered at Mount Edgcumbe country park, where we conducted a beach clean/litter pick, removing litter from one of the park’s beaches, which if left on the beach could have posed a risk to marine life.
We make an annual contribution to the local food bank by way of a collection of food donations, which are used for Christmas food parcels for disadvantaged people in the local community.
This year, our Managing Director has been involved in mentoring a final-year university student, providing support and guidance in their next steps after graduation. Her time has been given free of charge.
9) What social and environmental benefits have you created from internal operational policies and actions?
We are 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 are also committed to making our employment and recruitment practices more inclusive, to enable us to recruit and support disabled and otherwise disadvantaged people. We have joined the Disability Confident scheme at the Committed level, which involves signing up to the below commitments:
- inclusive and accessible recruitment
- communicating vacancies
- offering an interview to disabled people
- providing reasonable adjustments
- supporting existing employees
We encourage employees to consider the environmental impact of their activities and have a policy to use public transport for business travel, as far as possible.