For years the social enterprise movement has been locked in dispute over defnition Attempts to claim provenance and define what social enterprise is or isn’t have occupied a lot of time and mostly public money. While they’ve been arguing however, the SalesForce corporation have been making plans for this term to be their trademark by submitting it to the UK Intellectual Property Office.
Peter Holbrook of SE UK has written to Salesforce’s Director of Intellectual Property. to express his concerns that confusion over the term is unhelpful to our sector. He notes that previous attempts to express his concerns have been brushed aside.
Having one’s concerns and perhaps even oneself brushed aside, is familiar territory in the field of social enterprise where the S-word, solidarity, is rarely spoken. Perhaps the actions of Salesforce will provide the catalyst?
According to Salesforce in ‘Creating the social enterprise‘:
‘The Social Enterprise can be defined as the ‘Intentionally using social media to engage with customers and deliver an experience that builds brand loyalty for the enterprise’. There is research to show that in doing so organisations drive up revenues and profits. A 2009 study 1 found that “companies that are both deeply and widely engaged in social media surpass their peers in terms of both revenue and profit performance by a significant difference”.’
They’ve now gone a little further than ‘can be defined’.
As others have already pointed out UK government made a definition of social enterprise in 2002 which said :
‘A social enterprise is a business with primarily social objectives whose surpluses are principally reinvested for that purpose in the business or in the community, rather than being driven by the need to maximise profit for shareholders and owners’
For us, it was justification for calling People-Centered Economic Development a social enterprise, since this is what our founding white paper describes.
Allegedly, the EU have a definition tucked away too:
“‘Social enterprise’ means an enterprise whose primary objective is to achieve social impact rather than generate profit for owners and stakeholders. It operates in the market through the production of goods and services in an entrepreneurial and innovative way, and uses surpluses mainly to achieve social goals. It is managed in an accountable and transparent way, in particular by involving workers, customers and stakeholders affected by its business activity.”
Salesforce on the other hand have an unique 1/1/1 ‘integrated philanthropy model’ which invest 1% of their people, technology and, resources via a Foundation.
Compared to the DTI definition, this homeopathy might persuade some that Occupy Wall Street’ may have been the wrong target.
Consider how it was put in the P-CED paper, which was published intentionally without a copyright statement:
‘If a corporation wants to donate to its local community, it can do so, be it one percent, five percent, fifty or even seventy percent. There is no one to protest or dictate otherwise, except a board of directors and stockholders. This is not a small consideration, since most boards and stockholders would object. But, if an a priori arrangement has been made with said stockholders and directors such that this direction of profits is entirely the point, then no objection can emerge.’
“We can actually engineer, very precisely and intentionally, a social system whereby human beings are not disposable, and then go about setting forward our social machinery with this requirement built-in as a part of our “social software”, as it were. Or, we can decide not to do it. Either way, a decision is made as to the fate of those who would be dispossessed, unwanted, and in the way.”
More than a decade later, having more than once experienced his efforts being hijacked, founder Terry Hallman made a point of copyrighting what he though social enterprise was. It came in 2008 just after Bill Gates introduced the concept of creative capitalism As Terry points out, the information Age which brought us social media has given great opportunity, but social enterprise goes considerably further:
“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.”
This wasn’t any intention to lay claim or copyright ‘social enterprise’ but to convey that ‘social enterprise’ was far more than aim to profit from an ‘attention economy’. What he’d lost his life in doing was associated with how social enterprise is widely understood. Limiting that understanding to social media, would have no such association.
He did however have a claim on copyright with regard to economic development in the Tatar community of Crimea and successfully defended his work from corrupt govenment, as he describes in his notes on Ukraine:
“There was no way the project would go forward without my crew. Kulish scoffed at copyright, stating it was useless in Ukraine. I asked the US embassy to cease and desist for the time being, reminded them of copyright, and the project was halted. I fired off an op-ed piece in Kyiv Post, characterizing government officials as gatekeepers holding the welfare of citizens hostage unless said officials were paid in advance. That is the definition of corruption.”
The notes go on to describe how we were later forced into defending our copyright from a ‘reputed mob boss’ and took the precaution to publish our work on ‘Microeconomic development and social enterprise in Ukraine’ which appeared in two parts on a prominent web journal. The second part makes interesting reading for those who now advocate alternatives to capitalism. It was however, not organised crime who were to pass of his work as their own, but a consortium which included USAID , The British Council and Erste Bank who had all been approached for support with the project.
It looks as if government have now really painted themselves into a corner, on one hand should it allow a commercial organisation, Salesforce, to claim the term ‘social enterprise’ as intellectual property, while themselves being party to violating the intellectual property of a social enterprise, by their own definition.
As an advocate for the Global Development Commons concept and an alternative to capitalism, it may seem contradictory to make an issue of intellectual property. The reality is that we live in a world where there are no bounds where there’s an opportunity to profit or advance reputation , even when there’s a clear case of harm being done. For the present, to ensure that profit can be applied to social purpose we need to protect IP on behalf of the intended beneficiaries, as described in the ‘Marshall Plan’ strategy
“They cannot wait, particularly children. Impedance by anyone or any group of people constitutes precisely what the original Marshall Plan was dedicated to opposing. Those who suffer most, and those in greatest need, must be helped first — not secondarily, along the way or by the way.”
This may be of little interest to most now facing poverty in the UK. It was in 2004 however, that another work described how business could be deployed to stimulate impoverished local communities and warned of the risk of uprisings. It drew on the experience of tackling poverty in the wake of Russia’s 1998 economic and currency collapse which leveraged 6 million dollars for a community microfinance bank
Uprisings arrived as anticipated some years later and just this week, we may read in Guardian Sustainable Business that business can help tackle the root causes behind the riots. It begs the question why this wasn’t understood earlier.
I suspect that it was, we could see the influence of this ‘new form of capitalism’. It just wasn’t welcome from outside and that cost our founder his life.
In 2008, while Terry Hallman wrote his article on social enterprise and his letter to the US Senate. I responded to the call for new models of engagement to combat poverty. This has now entered mainstream thinking.
Building an empire, evil or otherwise is “not my business’ and hopefully its not yours either..