Enterprise Mark helps lift the social sector

Four months after its official launch at the Voice 2010 social enterprise conference, the Social Enterprise Mark is spreading across the UK.

To date, more than 160 social enterprises have been licensed to use the Mark with its strapline of ‘Trading for People and Planet’, which aims to clearly distinguish social enterprises from other forms of business.

Co-operatives who have so far signed up to use the Mark include the Phone Co-op, Radstock Co-operative Society and the recycling co-operative Paperchain.

The administering of the Mark is managed by the Social Enterprise Mark Company, a social enterprise itself set up as a community interest company, limited by shares. The company was set up as a joint venture by the Social Enterprise Coalition and the South West social enterprise development agency, Rise, which had previously piloted the Mark in its region.

The company’s managing director is Lucy Findlay and she is pleased with the Mark’s progress. “We’ve had interest from all over the UK and also from across a wide spread of sectors. We are finding that in some sectors if one company takes a lead others are keen to follow. This has happened in the recycling, community transport and leisure sectors.”

She believes the best advert for the Mark is the businesses who receive it: “If you think about all the different individuals and organisations these social enterprises come into contact with every day, the opportunities for promotion are there. We want our Mark holders to spread the word,” says Ms Findlay who is also working to ensure the new government is fully aware of the Mark.

With 62,000 social enterprises in the UK contributing £24 billion to the UK economy and employing around 800,000 people, the potential for rolling out the Mark is massive. 

There is a standard registration fee for the Mark of £99 per year with annual renewals required. The same fee applies to all interested social enterprises, regardless of size. After three years a Mark holder is required to make another full application.

To qualify to use the Mark an organisation needs to be able to demonstrate that it has social and/or environmental aims, has its own constitution and governing body, spends at least 50 per cent of profits on socially beneficial purposes and earns at least 50 per cent of its income from trading.

It also needs to prove that its social/environmental aims are being achieved and if the company were to cease trading that any remaining assets would be distributed for social/environmental purposes.

Ms Findlay says the Mark offers social enterprises a number of benefits: “It certainly helps a social enterprise to differentiate itself from its competitors — it shows that an organisation’s concern for people and planet is at its very essence, not just a sideline, or part of its CSR agenda.

“Customers also feel proud to be buying from a social enterprise as they can see the difference they make. 

“The Mark has also proved helpful for social enterprises in their funding and tendering bids. We carried out some research with bid commissioners which showed 88 per cent of commissioners would prefer a bidder who has an identifiable public service ethos — the Mark provides firms with that competitive advantage.”

Firms who have been awarded the Mark are using it in different ways, from displaying it on vehicles to using it on marketing materials and websites.

The 100th recipient of the Mark was the Angel Healthy Living Centre in Salford. Established more than ten years ago, the Angel was one of the first independent social enterprises created under the NHS ‘Right to Request’ scheme. It is led by users of the service, local people and staff, while delivering services to some of Salford’s poorest communities.

The centre’s project director is Scott Darraugh: “We are thrilled to have been awarded the Social Enterprise Mark as it clearly differentiates us from commercial businesses and communicates our commitment to social goals. We are a community business for the 21st century combining business acumen with a social conscience and the Social Enterprise Mark immediately identifies us as such.”

Ms Findlay accepts that for some people the term ‘social enterprise’ has always been a bit too vague. She hopes the Mark will help to more clearly define the sector: “The Mark provides an element of consistency and clarity,” she says, “and offers a rigour for social enterprises to aim for.”

Ms Findlay hopes that as the number of organisations in receipt of the Mark increases, so too will the feeling of community and networking opportunities.

The Social Enterprise Mark was in part inspired by, and has learned many lessons from the success of the Fairtrade Mark. And just as the success of that Mark led to the introduction of Fairtrade Towns, Ms Findlay is not ruling out the possibility of Social Enterprise Towns, with Blackpool already discussing this possibility, which should help with the rise of the sector across Britain.

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