In her recent blog post, NIBE Director Alison Shaw reflected on the need for businesses to “recognise the importance of their contribution to the common good”, especially during times of crisis, such as the current pandemic affecting all of our lives.
At a time when there is much talk of ‘building back better’, Alison posed the question of how we can turn this rhetoric into action to genuinely make a difference. I believe this is something that will be key to the recovery from Covid-19 and where social enterprises, by their very nature as businesses driven by a social or environmental mission, will play a vital role. We need to create a more equitable and person-centred economy moving forwards – one that recognises and values the individuals which drive it. At the heart of our economy are human beings who are all being affected by the unprecedented challenges that we face currently and to ignore this will not lead us to Building Back Better – just a more divided incoherent society that cannot address the challenges of climate change and social polarisation.
As part of its levelling up agenda, the government recently announced a Build Back Better Council, which brings businesses and government together to unlock investment, boost job creation and level up opportunity for people and businesses across the UK. It is disappointing to see the lack of diversity in representation – the council is predominantly made up of big businesses based in London. We need to think much more broadly about the breadth of the economy and what the economy must look like for the future. Scaling and globalisation need to be looked at through a fundamentally different lens.
There is much that can be learned from the social enterprise business model when it comes to how businesses can contribute towards the common good. The very foundation of our sector is based on co-operative principles of listening and responding to the needs of those stakeholders alongside creating wealth for the collective good, a role which mainstream business took much more seriously historically, e.g. Quaker-led businesses such as Cadbury.
In recent years, we have seen a sharp rise in mainstream businesses talking about ‘purpose’ and ‘values’. This is a positive step forwards, but only if there is accountability, i.e. they put their words into action. This is where social enterprises can help – by partnering for delivery and buying from social enterprises, corporates and other businesses can demonstrate and quantify how they are contributing to the generation of ‘social value’ – the wider economic, social and environmental effects of their actions on individuals, communities and society in general. It should be a relationship of equals.
As we all work to build back better post-Covid, I hope that we will see a greater understanding that social enterprises can help lead the way in showing how sustainability should be a forefront consideration to progress towards a true values-led economy.
Lucy Findlay MBE – founding Managing Director of Social Enterprise Mark CIC