The question arose 3 years ago in 2009 when Oxford Social Enterprise Forum met to discuss A New Form of Capitalism at the Said Business School. It was I understand, sponsored by Unltd who our work had already been introduced to.
Naturally it was well populated by social enterprise celebrities.
For my now deceased colleague Terry who’d begun his efforts in social enterprise with a paper on an alternative to traditional capitalism it offered some irony.
“If an undergraduate is discovered to have delivered a thesis based on the work of another, it usually means expulsion. How does Oxford University expel itself?” he asked me.
Terry and I had introduced this alternative to capitalism to the UK in 2004, with a business which invested all surplus revenue into social objectives. It was at this time we’d described why capitalism is an insufficient economic model. By 2009, our strategy paper known as a ‘Marshall Plan’ for Ukraine had been published in the public domain for nearly two years and re-published on an EU web portal for the European Citizens Consultation. Just before the Oxford forum, Terry had been delivering his presentation on Economics in Transition to students at the Economics for Ecology conferences at Sumy State University.
How could a centre of academic excellence deny the existence of learning, irrespective of Sumy’s relatively low status, in comparison?
A further irony had been the sponsorship of Skoll and Unltd, on whose forums this work had been introduced in several conversations.
Call me a cynic, but I suspect we’ll see much the same next month in California in a conference to discuss the Next Generation of Social Enterprise. Regardless of cost Terry won’t be attending for obvious reasons.
Is there something about social enterprise which attracts the kind of people one can trust no further than you might be able to throw them? Until I became involved in 2003/4 I’ve never met so many fundamentally dishonest people in all my years of conventional business.
In the UK it may have a lot to do with public funding. Those clinging to the teat of the public purse who hadn’t entirely welcomed the intrusion.
Take the example of Jonathan Bland former CEO of the Social Enterprise Coalition who now considers himself champion of social business in Europe. When joining the coalition in 2006 having paid our subscription, we were told that our international work on self sustaining social enterprise was beyond the SEC’s current focus. Soon he’d created Social Enterprise International. Notably, he never published my introduction on his blog. The conclusion of the EU Social Business Consultation was so like the operational model we described earlier, that even EU Commissioner Michel Barnier was obliged to acknowledge the many similarities.
In 2004, in our business plan we’d said Traditional capitalism is an insufficient economic model allowing monetary outcomes as the bottom line with little regard to social needs. Bottom line must be taken one step further by at least some companies, past profit, to people. How profits are used is equally as important as creation of profits. Where profits can be brought to bear by willing individuals and companies to social benefit, so much the better. Moreover, this activity must be recognized and supported at government policy level as a badly needed, essential, and entirely legitimate enterprise activity.”
5 years later Geof Mulgan of the Young Foundation would be talking our walk, asking
“Instead of sending bailout money to doomed old industries, why not use stimulus funds to bootstrap some new, socially responsible companies — and make the world a little bit better?”
It didn’t happen did it?