there’s a lot of talk and examples recently of how big business is starting to explore ways in which it can support and encourage the next generation of social enterprise and social entrepreneurs – either through direct sponsorship, or, as in the case of Coca Cola, using under-utilised capacity within its supply and delivery chains to reach those people that others just can’t reach…
and that’s great – right? Governments and NGOs don’t have the resources alone to address the needs of our world, so it’s great to see resources and cash being mobilised out of private hands into the public good.
but… I’m struck by a historical parallel and a philosophical question in all of this. What’s in it for them, and why are they promoting models of business (social enterprise) that are at odds with their own ownership and profit distribution structures?
Go back a little while in history and we see the British Empire setting up co-ops in all the countries it ‘managed’, telling everyone that these were the way to go in terms of economic prosperity for all, sustained wealth, etc, etc – but why then did the British Empire not do more in Britain to promote and support co-ops for its own citizens?
Tellingly, although credited with succeeding in shifting cultural attitudes to the co-op enterprise model, these ‘Empire co-ops’ have largely struggled to realise their potential. And its only now, several generations on, that bodies like the Co-operative College are having the opportunity to be able to revisit these nations and seek to fan the flame of what remains of the co-op legacy…
Without a clearer lead from national and international social enterprise bodies, I’m concerned that we’ll see big private corporate firms start to rush in, create loads of social enterprises that will ultimately collapse (or be stifled in what they could really achieve) – so perhaps the most pressing question is for those private firms like Coca Cola: why are you promoting models of enterprise that are opposite to your own? If you really think that they’re so great, why aren’t you changing the way you’re structured as well?
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