Two events I attended last week have pushed me beyond my fear of ridicule to finally ask a question that has been burning in my brain for much of this year: in a social enterprise-friendly world, what should the relationship with large corporates / businesses-as-usual be?
I was thinking about this when I attended Social Enterprise UK’s awards ceremony on Monday night. I was kindly invited by Santander, my first placement and a sponsor of one of the awards. Other sponsors of the awards were BP and Pricewaterhouse Coopers and I certainly saw some attendees from Deloitte. Clearly these corporations see value in associating with the social enterprise sphere but it’s comparatively early days and I’m not convinced that all parties have defined exactly what that value is and how the relationship should be shaped to be most advantageous to both sides.
On Tuesday I attended a debate at Hult Business School where social entrepeneurship masters students were asked to make the case for business plus philanthropy, charity, or social enterprise as the best vehicle for having positive social impact. The evening was set up as a debate and as such required some rubbishing of the alternative position but again I came away thinking – what’s the ideal configuration? In fact fellow Associate Andy Daly pitted himself against Bob Thust of Deloitte last Friday at Shine to debate much the same question.
This is not so much a question of David’s strategy when faced with Goliath but raises much bigger questions about the kind of society we want. Big thinkers are calling for an entirely new economic order. Does this mean no big corporates and only social enterprises? Or is the future that of a spectrum of business from good to evil? Is CSR (the effectiveness of which is a whole other debate) in a huge corporation more effective than social enterprise. If so, should we just hope for great corporate leaders, good CSR and use social enterprises to fill the more niche / local problems? Are social intrapreneurs the key to it all? Or are we simply seeking recognition of and success for social enterprises, enough to make it easier to get money, easier to access markets and easier to recruit talent?
And more aggressively, how do we get to the vision of the future, whatever it may be? Should the big corporations of the future be social enterprises and if so should the corporations we’ve got be ‘converted’ or do we need to start from scratch and push out the existing ones? If the latter is the way forward, how capable are we for arming ourselves for a potential battle and how destructive might it be?
All opinions welcome…