Social Enterprise and the NHS

The battle lines have been drawn it seems between those who see public sector spin outs as an opportunity to grow a social economy and those who see the Trojan Horse of backdoor privatisation. The things I’ve observed in the past few years have me leaning toward the latter,

Our position is of a social enterprise in the supply chain. Our resource reservation software, for example has been deployed in several NHS trusts as well as some of our major corporations, like GE and Honeywell. The revenue from this seeds the efforts we make overseas to reform childcare where at least one in 10 carries HIV.

It was the opportunity to propagate a new way of doing business in the Information Age which was described in our founding white paper, which said:

“As Alvin Toffler predicted in Power Shift, where once violence and then wealth were dominant forms of power, information is now becoming the dominant power. Those nations with the greatest freedom of information and means of transmitting it have now become the most powerful and influential, and the strongest economically’

This could equally be said of the need in our health service, who have obviously embraced information technology. Today as patients, we see that technology can overcome distance and make test results and x-rays available to the leading consultants in any given field.

And yet in some areas, we have seen catastrophic failure where corporations embed themselves in the public sector. The primary example being a patient records system which “cost billions with delivering any benefits”

In 2010 there was an opportunity to do business differently. As distributors of a product created in Dakar, where Grameen Bank has their HQ, a records system delivered by social enterprise would stimulate the local economy in Parkstan, deliver efficiency benefits to patients and reduce costs to taxpayers. At the same time, a support infrastructure provided by a coalition of social enterprise providers would stimulae self-sustaining organisations and reduce dependency on grant funding.  In our case, providing funds to continue our efforts to help homeless children who bring an HIV epidemic to our doorstep.

Why does this joined up thinking  falls on the deaf ears in the social enterprise community and social investors alike?

It would seem that social enterprise is perfectly acceptable when displacing public services, but fears to tread where corporations rule.

I reflect on what was said when we asked, what is social enterprise?

“The corporations involved in this almost fantastical deployment of the machines and communications infrastructure that we now rely on profited for themselves and their shareholders, and certainly produced social and economic benefit around the world. Those efforts were and are so profound in influence as to transform human civilization itself. That is the Information Revolution, and it is nothing short of astonishing.

So it is safe to say that all these players in the Information Revolution — the enterprises that created it — have engendered almost immeasurable social benefit by way of connecting people of the world together and giving us opportunity to communicate with each other, begin to understand each other, and if we want, try to help each other.

It is that last phrase — “try to help each other” — which is what the phrase “social enterprise” is getting at. As Bill Gates said in 2000, “poor people don’t need computers.” and rejected a business approach to alleviating poverty. That statement served to mark the clear distinction between what traditional capitalism did and did not do. Gates’ aim at that time was to profit from people who could afford his company’s products, while those who couldn’t were largely or completely ignored. That has been the accepted limit of traditional capitalism. It has been a marvelous means of social benefit and economic advancement for many people. Nevertheless, those excluded are just left out.

The term “social enterprise” in the various but similar forms in which it is being used today — 2008 — refers to enterprises created specifically to help those people that traditional capitalism and for profit enterprise don’t address for the simple reason that poor or insufficiently affluent people haven’t enough money to be of concern or interest. Put another way, social enterprise aims specifically to help and assist people who fall through the cracks. Allowing that some people do not matter, as things are turning out, allows that other people do not matter and those cracks are widening to swallow up more and more people. Social enterprise is the first concerted effort in the Information Age to at least attempt to rectify that problem, if only because letting it get worse and worse threatens more and more of us. Growing numbers of people are coming to understand that “them” might equal “me.” Call it compassion, or call it enlightened and increasingly impassioned self-interest. Either way, we are all in this together, and we will each have to decide for ourselves what it means to ignore someone to death, or not.” 

So do we help each other or ignore each other to death?

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