Editorial: Social enterprise needs a profile

More shining stars will boost public understanding, says Tristan Donovan

Tristan Donovan, deputy editor, Third Sector
Tristan Donovan, deputy editor, Third Sector

Stop a person on the street at random to ask them what a social enterprise is and the most likely response will be a shrug and a blank stare.

As this week's feature and the new poll by the Scottish Social Enterprise Coalition suggest, social enterprise is a concept few people have heard of and even fewer understand.

In many ways this is not surprising. The social enterprise movement is still relatively young and the term itself is even younger.

It is also a bottom-up movement that involves thousands of individuals who might be working in isolation and doing very different things, rather than a top-down concept dreamed up by a single organisation or individual.

This has many advantages, but getting a consistent message across isn't one of them.

It will therefore take some time before people get their heads around the idea and coalesce around a particular term for it - which may well be something other than social enterprise, of course.

Reaching that stage will require more social businesses to achieve the kind of profile that the likes of The Big Issue, the Fairtrade Foundation and Jamie Oliver's Fifteen restaurants have already achieved.

The more high-profile successes the movement racks up, the more likely it is that people will start to become aware that these organisations represent something wider - something that is not charity or business in the traditional sense.

So it is right that many of the organisations that have made it their mission to encourage the growth of the movement are focusing on raising awareness among people who might form or invest in social enterprises.

Only if more social businesses become national names can the movement really begin to prick the public consciousness.

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