A4e and social purpose business

In the Guardian’ Social Enterprise hub, Jonty Oliff-Cooper requests a debate on the real issues of business for social purpose, I offer my perspective as a practitioner:

I’ll focus on business for social value creation which is I believe, the debate Jonty asked for.

The spectrum of social value creation in business ranges from being consequential to making it the DNA of the business.  As has been argued there are no laws to dictate how much it invests by means of profit or action  toward a social purpose. There is also business which creates a negative social value. It is called organized crime and  there are laws to dictate how much  of that taskes place. Ideally none, though according to Misha Glenny,  author of McMafia, it amounts to around 15% of GDP globally.  .

The first formal model of business for social value creation was described in 1996,  sourced the Tomsk Regional Initiative  in 1999,  and was introduced to the UK in 2004. It focused its attention on the anti-social form of business.

In the paper which defined  this approach as an alternative  to traditional capitalism, it was acknowledged that business for social value creation had existed informally for some considerable time. The key ethical issue was the creation of money as debt and what it did to some human beings.  In the core argument, it reasoned that ‘dismissing other people and consciously leaving them to die, is probably not the way to go.’

Dismissal began in 2004 however, when both government and the social enterprise movement began turning a deaf ear. As SE UK now takes a stance on the definition of social enterprise the SEC took a stance on business for social value creation, saying it was outside their current focus.  They accepted the membership subscription and then dismissed our work on stimulating local UK economics “bottom up” through application of  business for social value creation. .

In 2009, the Oxford Social Enterprise forum met to discuss whether a new form of capitalism was possible  Notably it excluded the pioneer who a few weeks earlier had been presenting his paper on Economics in Transition to the International Economics for Ecology conference at Sumy State University.. Earlier, working with Kharkiv National University  he’d created our strategy plan for a national social enterprise initiative as part of  a large scale social value creation proposal, with the primary focus on children who had already been dismissed and consciously left to die. The root cause being poverty brought about by the influence of anti-social business. By 2009 one impact has been the increase of 40% in domestic adoptions following introduction of our recommendations.  .

Soon we’d see the arrival of the corporate sector with initiatives run by Deloitte, On Purpose and Wavelength among others. They were quick to dismiss our efforts to participate or acknowledge our intellectual property, passing off the concepts of business for social value creation as if their own.

It was in 2010, when Erste Bank introduced an ideas contest for social business that I introduced them to the work we’d been doing to leverage social enterprise in Ukraine. We exchanged emails and the conversation stopped. A year later, we’d see our social enterprise propoaal rebranded with them as partners to USAID and the British Council who had themselves dismissed our cause.  Our founder was left to die without funds for treating a chronic illness.     . .

Business or indeed organizations which are funded by the public cannot be considered ‘social’ by any stretch of the imagination if they borrow from the work of others to build their own reputations. Taking away someone’s means of earning a living is tantamount to taking away their life and the lives of those they advocate for.

If social value creation is a matter of pushing each other out of the way, as is the practice in anti-social business, then it will soon become indistinguishable from it. Those who fall between the cracks which traditional capitalism fails to reach, will benefit from neither. .

We’d met online 13 years ago in a discussion of   Dickens ‘Ignorance and Want’ allegory. Here’s a final word from the grave, in the Jacob Marley style:

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’


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