I was lucky enough to attend #AltitudeConference last week hosted by EY in the photo above. Not many conferences are for the social enterprise sector and quite likely it will spawn more blogs and quite possibly an existential crisis!
Breakfast started with a discussion about the three sectors that many in our sector work across – business, third sector and local authorities. We broadly agreed that there is more in common than divides us. It’s a shifting continuum now more than ever.
And I don’t just mean Serco delivering prison contracts, but those businesses with meaningful foundations (not just Corporate Social Responsibility tick boxes), social value lead supply chains and investing in mission-lead enterprises.
Is big business then a threat rather than a partner, investor or customer? Big business has the cash not just to spend on marketing and therefore shouting about their good causes in a way no third sector organisation ever could, but in so doing will start to hoover up the young talent seeking values-lead organisations to work for.
For now we lead in values-lead cultures and big business is looking to us to learn. After that learning the difference is that they will have the budget to implement these cultures. With the shifting sands of politics, these businesses will continue to move into the spheres that many big social enterprises operate in – health and social care among others.
Patrick Butler of the Guardian spoke at the event of a slowing in awareness and development of our sector. We need to keep all those great values, but perhaps be more transparent.
Is the sector a bit messy? We are certainly very diverse. From tiny charities through to large spinout companies limited by shareholders – this is complicated for customers, commissioners, the public and beneficiaries to understand.
Patrick suggests we need to be more open to Freedom of Information (FOI) requests as local authorities are as well as unionised.
We must hold our ground on purpose and not be complacent about this (given recent news about Oxfam). But I never feel so at home and humbled than when I’m a room of social entrepreneurs. Being purpose lead is what marks us out, for now.
To survive and thrive we need to have the transparency of a local authority, the business acumen of a FTSE 100 company and the purpose and values of who we are proud to be – a social enterprise.