Is it time to get behind the @SE_Mark ?

Flicking through Twitter I noticed that the CIC Association are continuing a debate about whether there should be another quality mark, that differentiates CIC’s which have a stricter criteria than the SE Mark currently has.

As a Founder and Managing Director of Development in Social Enterprise CIC and a proud holder of the Social Enterprise Mark I can understand the points made, but think it may be time to stop debating and get behind the Mark to promote the wider concept of social enterprise to the masses.

Now I understand that the Mark criteria [at the moment] is weaker than I [and perhaps the CIC Association] would like, as it only requires organisations to demonstrate that 50% of profits are re-invested in the social or environmental purpose.

The CIC structure has a much stronger ‘asset lock’ and dividends are capped meaning 70% of profit needs to be re-invested in the social or environmental purpose.

I would like personally to see social enterprises re-investing 100% of their profits, as Development in Social Enterprise does, but again recognise that not all will or indeed can.

However, with the current public and media scrutiny on businesses that waste public money [we wont mention any names here] and the introduction of the Social Value Bill and the confusion as to what social enterprise is

  • businesses that have a social or environmental purpose [mission] that primarily trade [rather than rely on grants] and re-invest their profits [or most of them] into their social or environmental purposes’ i.e. do ‘good business’

it may therefore be time to get behind the mark and strengthen it for the good of all social enterprises, because, let’s face it, there are many legal structures that social enterprises can adopt and the CIC is just that, a legal structure.

Many enterprises out there who are using the social enterprise term are not able to demonstrate that they are a social enterprise, at least the Mark creates a benchmark which can be easily communicated and encompasses any organisation trading for social good no matter what legal structure it is.

Now here’s a suggestion on a possible way forward.

  • Get behind the Mark and build on it for the benefit of ‘bona fide’ social enterprises
  • Consider strengthening the Mark to easily distinguish different strengths and trading models of social enterprises for example:
  • Bronze meet the basic mark criteria as is now
  • Silver meet the more stringent CIC criteria
  • Gold meet the CIC criteria, but demonstrate 100% of profit being re-invested and perhaps
  • Platinum 100% profit and social impact proved through SROI or something

Now I know some work would have to be done to sort this out, but to the wider world and general public such a move may help to clarify and build confidence whilst strengthening the social enterprise movement, rather than cause even more confusion and division?

One final point on cost. Now I don’t like paying for ‘badges’, but we need to recognise that organisations that are working to assess organisations can’t do it for nothing, all of us need to charge for what we do, or we wouldn’t eat and indeed we would have no profit to put to our social causes.

The Mark in comparison to say Investors In People [IIP] for example is tremendously good value and just think how much better this value would be if we get behind it and the mark holders’ increase to a significant number, because then it’ll gain some more clout and I say this noting that the National Offender Management Service and some private companies e.g. WATES find the mark a useful reference when considering contract and purchasing from social enterprises [respectively].

And let’s just imagine if the Mark gets enough people behind it perhaps – economies of scale come in and the mark company starts reducing costs [putting profits back in]! Now there’s a thought [or two]!


2 comments on “Is it time to get behind the @SE_Mark ?

  1. Would you support the creation of a government registration for social enterprises?

    So companies could be a ‘registered social enterprise’ in the way that organisations can be registered charities.

    • Hi David,
      It’s an interesting thought.

      I think the Mark is essentially something that can cover this e.g. the government definition uses words that essentially lead to the mark criteria for excample ‘primarily re-investing profits’.

      Such a move [considering a registered social enterprise] would add to the debate of what amount of re-investment [as a percentage do you need to be a registered social enterprise?], which I think is counter productive, hence why I’m suggesting there could be a range of levels to the mark.

      One final thought a registered charity, that trades more than 50% [contracts] and makes a surplus [profit by another name] meets the government definition of a social enterprise [and indeed the mark criteria], the difference [which many may argue] is corporation tax. What some may forget is charities [usually] become end users when it comes to VAT so pay quite a lot of tax, they also have to operate ‘business like’, compete etc… I could go on but won’t.

      I therefore think the mark caters for whatever structure an organisation decides to work within [structure follows strategy], but considers the principle of social enterprise e.g. community benefit, trade, independence, value of assets, transparency etc… and assesses against these criteria it’s a logical and sensible starting point [in my opinion].

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