So we are all Social Enterprises Now? LOL!

May 20th 2011

I read in this week’s Third Sector magazine that Kevin Carey chair of the RNIB told the  Charity Finance Directors Group that the charity sector tended to be “ conservative, comfortable and self-satisfied”.  I laughed out loud or LOL as my daughter would say. I remembered the first Charity CEO gathering I attended and I was bowled over by exactly that feeling.  I had got used to the gatherings of social entrepreneurs, a more loud-mouthed, challenging group but comparing the experience was like Pop versus Funky-House. This was confirmed by our charming Head of Finance who came back from a Finance Directors Conference incredulous at the lack of urgency and innovation that permeated the experience.

Stepping out of the Charity wardrobe into the Narnia land of social enterprise is not easy and will take more than just re-branding a charity as a social enterprise. The clue in the term is enterprise and that means having a viable business to trade in order to run a viable social business which makes a profit. The profit has got to be used not just to improve the internal business and give more to existing customers but to reach into the heart of the community and do something more, new and innovative so the impact ripples way beyond your front door.

Last week I presented at a number of conferences.  The benefit of going to conferences is to hear new things, think about what you do and whether it could be better, bump into colleagues you haven’t seen for an age and get all the gossip and meet new people and form new relationships. Two pieces of information shared last week worried me; the fall in nursery places alongside the slow return of child poverty. Is there a link? Yes, because we know that decent, affordable childcare has been one very good way of getting families out of poverty.   The recent Ofsted report says that there are 1,715 fewer providers with a net loss of places to the tune of 53,666. This could be significant once we drill down and answer questions such as whether the places were in poor neighbourhoods, whether they linked to places where there has been higher levels of redundancies among professional couples, whether the growing debt among parents damaged nursery cash-flow and saw the demise of the business or if the insufficient NEF (a loss of 98p per child per hour as an average to nursery businesses) was the final nail in their coffin. No doubt, the Daycare Trust will provide us with one of their useful analysis which highlights the impact for parents.  The failure of a business is a blow, the failure of businesses in areas of poverty is a disaster and leaves a greater trail of devastation including unemployment, reduction of money flowing in the local economy and a moral blow to an area and a community which is often fragile and vulnerable.

Welcome, to the complex quasi childcare market. Take heed all those charities which think becoming a social enterprise is just a step away.  If you want to be a social enterprise then realise the importance of your business skills and ability to manage within a volatile market where failure affects not just you but generations of children and families.