Time and again, there’s a rallying call that talks of social enterprise as a ‘movement’. And that’s fine, but surely the way that a movement is created, sustained and ultimately succeeds, is through it being made up of numerous small initiatives – all of which are concerned primarily with impacting on their immediate community.
But… it seems increasingly that the social enterprise policy and priority being set is for ‘scaling up’: making existing enterprises bigger. But surely such a ‘scaling up’ risks the enterprise losing touch and becoming a faceless giant such as Tesco or McDonalds – they both started out very small, rooted in their immediate communities, but as they’ve grown, they’ve become increasingly distant and unresponsive to local communities. And as they’ve grown, they also appear to have increasingly struggled to retain credibility and trust from their customers on ethical issues…(see Tescopoly and McLibel)
Surely we need more, not less, local small initiatives, each of which recognise their role and contribution to this wider movement, but retain their unique identity and distinctiveness in their communities. And that should be the priority for growing our movement, not force growing a handful of individual enterprises.
And where questions of scale are raised on economic terms (generating economies of scale, the ability to reach larger numbers of people), we should be looking to better collaborate between ourselves – and perhaps even look to our history for models of how this can be done: the co-operative movement grew from a vast number of small, individual, local co-operative societies who created a shared supply chain (the Co-operative Wholesale Society) to balance this tension between scale, movement and local impact.
So – if we’re a movement, we should be focusing on seeing more small social enterprises emerging, not trying to find who can be grown to become the next Tesco…