Posted by: bevmeldrum | September 27, 2008

Listening to … Mike Bull

The Social verses Business Debate: A different debate for different organisations

Doug Foster and I (Mike Bull) will be presenting at the workshop on the social verses business debate. The session might go in any number of ways and I’m sure that each conversation with the groups will be completely different. In a nutshell this sums up to debate – difference. At a time when the social enterprise movement is gathering speed across many sectors, in many parts of the world and in many different ways we somehow still strive to understand the phenomena from a single mindset – a single type, one definition, one way on ‘talking social enterprise’.
To bring difference back around to the debate, there are those social enterprises that this debate has no substance, and there are those that wrestle with the debate daily.

The differences in social enterprise are worth exploring:

Typology 1 – I imagine these to be the SEs that have a financial relationship with their end user – i.e. they sell the users buy – from my experience (on the surface of these types) there is little or no wrestle with the social verses business debate, yet looking deeper reveals that mission drift is an easy trap to fall into.

Typology 2 – I imagine these to be the SEs that are contracted to services for end users, so no direct payment from the user but a process by where the organisation is enabled to work with the end user via the financial contract with a third party – from my experience there appears to be tensions here around the goal differences between the enterprises and funders.

Typology X – I imagine these to be SEs that are using the social enterprise model as a framework to enable their core focus, the social, to function. They resist analogies to businesses per se – here I have seen the greatest disparity to blended value and people are very uncomfortable with the business concept.

Typology Y – I imagine these to be SEs who embrace the business model to be financially successful, rational and pragmatic that they ARE just like any other business, but do something different with their profits than the private sector – from my experience the tensions are explained away as manageable parts of the whole. A pragmatic response to a pragmatic, separated approach.

Typology A – New start SE businesses.

Typology B – transition SEs from charity and community organisations.

A and B types can vary dramatically in their ideological and philosophical constitution,

Typology i – the lone social entrepreneur as social enterprise.

Typology ii – co-op-preneurs as social enterprise.

Typology iii – social enterprise that wouldn’t really call themselves entrepreneurial at all.

i, ii and iii types also vary dramatically in their ideological and philosophical constitution.

Accepting these broadly different types, in theory, there a multitude of different types of social enterprise – of course practice is another thing – and I imagine there to be many shades of grey in-between, so many, many, more different types.

So what does this tell us? Maybe it tells us there are different types of social verses business debates? Maybe it tells us difference matters? Maybe it tells us goals matter? Maybe it tells us nothing? Maybe it is a starting point for debate and one which can be discussed as we lead up to the seminar? Let’s hope so! Look forward to London 9th October.

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Responses

  1. Personally, I find the idea of ‘typologies’ quite helpful – particularly when trying the describe to students how social enterprises work. However we do need to be careful that we don’t get too carried away.

    With my practitioner hat on my focus is on making our social enterprise work – that’s the priority. I don’t really care how I do that. Once we’ve decided and it’s working then I will look at typologies and then see where we fit.

    I particularly like Sutia Kim Alter’s model in the Social Entrepreneurship book that Alex Nicholls edited – mainly because it uses pictures to describe the relationships within a social enterprise between their trading activity, their beneficiaries and customers (not always the same group of people).

    It is good because there are no limits to it – you can come up with all sorts of models. It’s been particularly useful in introducing students to different types of social enterprises.

  2. Anyone working to support this more-than-profit model will always be brought back to the complexity that you highlight Mike. Social enterprise constitutes a huge range of activity and attendant identities, from the sublime to the ridiculous. I suspect, or perhaps hope, it will always defy definition in spite of the problems that this slippery nature brings with it.

    As a supporter of social enterprise development in Brighton and Hove, we know that we need a flexible approach that can meet the wide variety of needs that these complex, exciting, confusing, vibrant, bolshy beasts will require of us. This we achieve through building a network of different organisations, which are energised to meet those needs – while also achieving something to their own purpose. Private businesses, social enterprises, public sector teams, voluntary and community organisations, business support organisations – all have something to offer and something to receive. As the broker, the Business Community Partnership makes introductions, supports relationships, provides training and ensures that everyone has a jolly good time at events.

    Within the complexity though there is one guideline that can remain very simple, for all these organisations

    Better business + authentic values = greater impact

    Rather than getting too focussed on what an organisation is or isn’t, if we can help it to improve its business success (wherever that business is taking place) and to be clear on and communicate its values well, it will have a greater, positive impact on the double or triple bottom line of Brighton and Hove.

    We have tried to sustain this simplicity, within the flexibility of the network approach, at the heart of the Brighton and Hove Social Enterprise Strategy. Hopefully this is one way that we can continue to have the debate, while offering all of those who consider themselves to be involved in the broad spectrum currently called social enterprise, the support they need to thrive.

    If you are interested you can see the Brighton and Hove Social Enterprise Strategy at
    Anyone working to support this more-than-profit model will always be brought back to the complexity that you highlight Mike. Social enterprise constitutes a huge range of activity and attendant identities, from the sublime to the ridiculous. I suspect, or perhaps hope, it will always defy definition in spite of the problems that this slippery nature brings with it.

    As a supporter of social enterprise development in Brighton and Hove, we know that we need a flexible approach that can meet the wide variety of needs that these complex, exciting, confusing, vibrant, bolshy beasts will require of us. This we achieve through building a network of different organisations, which are energised to meet those needs – while also achieving something to their own purpose. Private businesses, social enterprises, public sector teams, voluntary and community organisations, business support organisations – all have something to offer and something to receive. As the broker, the Business Community Partnership makes introductions, supports relationships, provides training and ensures that everyone has a jolly good time at events.

    Within the complexity though there is one guideline that can remain very simple, for all these organisations

    Better business + authentic values = greater impact

    Rather than getting too focussed on what an organisation is or isn’t, if we can help it to improve its business success (wherever that business is taking place) and to be clear on and communicate its values well, it will have a greater, positive impact on the double or triple bottom line of Brighton and Hove.

    We have tried to sustain this simplicity, within the flexibility of the network approach, at the heart of the Brighton and Hove Social Enterprise Strategy. Hopefully this is one way that we can continue to have the debate, while offering all of those who consider themselves to be involved in the broad spectrum currently called social enterprise, the support they need to thrive.

    If you are interested you can see the Brighton and Hove Social Enterprise Strategy at
    Anyone working to support this more-than-profit model will always be brought back to the complexity that you highlight Mike. Social enterprise constitutes a huge range of activity and attendant identities, from the sublime to the ridiculous. I suspect, or perhaps hope, it will always defy definition in spite of the problems that this slippery nature brings with it.

    As a supporter of social enterprise development in Brighton and Hove, we know that we need a flexible approach that can meet the wide variety of needs that these complex, exciting, confusing, vibrant, bolshy beasts will require of us. This we achieve through building a network of different organisations, which are energised to meet those needs – while also achieving something to their own purpose. Private businesses, social enterprises, public sector teams, voluntary and community organisations, business support organisations – all have something to offer and something to receive. As the broker, the Business Community Partnership makes introductions, supports relationships, provides training and ensures that everyone has a jolly good time at events.

    Within the complexity though there is one guideline that can remain very simple, for all these organisations

    Better business + authentic values = greater impact

    Rather than getting too focussed on what an organisation is or isn’t, if we can help it to improve its business success (wherever that business is taking place) and to be clear on and communicate its values well, it will have a greater, positive impact on the double or triple bottom line of Brighton and Hove.

    We have tried to sustain this simplicity, within the flexibility of the network approach, at the heart of the Brighton and Hove Social Enterprise Strategy. Hopefully this is one way that we can continue to have the debate, while offering all of those who consider themselves to be involved in the broad spectrum currently called social enterprise, the support they need to thrive.

    If you are interested you can see the Brighton and Hove Social Enterprise Strategy at http://www.bhbcp.org.uk/news/document-61-15.php

  3. My comment seems to have become triplets! Brighton and Hove Social Enterprise Strategy can be seen at http://www.bhbcp.org.uk/news/document-61-15.php Best Thea


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