Big business should take a lead from social enterprises. This is what Lucy Findlay, Managing Director of Social Enterprise Mark CIC tells Your Public Value today. Lucy Findlay is the founding Managing Director of Social Enterprise Mark CIC; the social enterprise accreditation authority, which ensures the social enterprise business model remains ethical, credible and commercial through accreditation.

Lucy has played a leading role in UK social enterprise pretty much since the phrase was first coined and over the years has advised many ministers and departments, including taking Ed Miliband round in a bus in Cornwall for the day whilst the rest of the country was snowed in and helping persuade David Cameron to award the first national Social Enterprise Mark.

Launched in 2010, the Social Enterprise Mark challenges the status quo as the only international accreditation for genuine social enterprises.  Launched in 2014, the Social Enterprise Gold Mark provides a mark of excellence for social enterprises. Invited by Your Public Value to share her views here’s what she writes today:

“I have written on many occasions about important lessons that big business could learn from social enterprises, particularly with regard to delivering public sector services. As we continue to see high profile private sector/corporate service delivery debacles, which put shareholder interests before people and communities; Carillion, Virgin Care, G4S to name just a few recent examples (not mentioning the banking sector!), I can’t help thinking that we should surely have reached a turning point by now?

There is another way, which offers a credible alternative to this corporate approach; social enterprise offers a flexible business approach to tackling key social issues, without the over-riding pressure to make profits for shareholders and investors. Frustratingly though, the response usually seems to be ‘how can we get social enterprises to scale up to meet the needs of commissioners and become more like corporates?’ By focusing purely on growth, the risk is that services become routinely standardised and therefore lack the flexibility to tailor services to the needs of the public. How many times have you been stuck on the end of a phone to a call centre only to speak to someone who has a standard response and can’t understand your individual issue and provide a satisfactory solution?

Thankfully, consumers seem to be cottoning on quicker than the powers that be; the recent 2017 Ethical Consumer Markets Report showed that almost ¼ of respondents reported buying goods/services specifically because of a company’s ethical reputation, a 28% increase on the previous year. Hopefully this trend will force the hand of the public and corporate sector – to compete and survive, they will need to prove they are creating a positive impact on society and the world around us.

Although it may be considered naïve to think that we may see a day when social enterprise becomes the business model of choice, I would like to think that at the very least we may see an era where big businesses take inspiration from the example set by social enterprise, to consider public value as a key criterion when making decisions, rather than the other way around. I’ve lost count of the times when we have been required to listen to corporates tell us how to do things.

Key lessons can be learned, much of it concerning change in the corporate mentality – profit is of course important for survival, but this shouldn’t come at the expense of everything else. There needs to be an end to ‘lip service’ and meaningless CSR claims. Corporations need to view society and the environment as truly active stakeholders and therefore should consider public interests as a high priority when designing and delivering services.”

Your Public Value invites experts to share their views on the future of ethical business, business integrity, public value, and on business approaches to implement the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Please add your comment to Lucy Findlay’s blog or contact us to share your thoughts on our blog page.

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