A toxic link between social enterprise & Big Society?

Posted on 02/12/2011

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One of the more controversial questions from yesterday’s Guardian Q&A on social enterprises and the media, was what impact their association with the Big Society has had. And how toxic that association has been.

Looking at Google search trend data for the last two years, we can see that after David Cameron appropriated social enterprises to be part of his Big Society movement, their fortunes have been inextricably linked in the public – and the mainstream media’s minds:

But the data shows that as the fortunes of the Big Society have waned – in the aftermath of countless relaunches, attacks from supporters, the August Riots, criticism from MPs and changing political priorities – so ‘social enterprise’ has started to assert itself more in the public’s mind.

Which, for a sector, crying out for more media coverage should be music to its ears.

But, to continue driving the separation between Big Society and social enterprise, the sector bodies must act fast to build momentum and celebrate their industry.

And the sector still faces a challenge with the media. For the 200 articles generated in major news outlets for ‘social enterprise’ every month for the last six months (on an upward trend), over 1,000 were generated for the Big Society (roughly static trend).

Which makes the ‘Society Profits‘ campaign which Celia Richardson wrote about in the Guardian Q&A so important (after some criticism of the umbrella bodies for the sector). Richardson explains the logic behind it:

We created this ‘no brand’ campaign after our members said they wanted something general to explain social enterprise. We did it with small resource but it has the backing of 60 organisations, including other social enterprise organisations, businesses, thinktanks and MPs… The message is ‘choose social enterprise and society profits’.

Keep a look out – we have lots more plans up our sleeves for the campaign, but it relies on social enterprises themselves championing the message, and of course labeling themselves as social enterprises.

And there-in lies the challenge.

Getting more organisations to call themselves ‘social enterprises’ – a phrase that doesn’t mean much to the general public –  in a diverse sector is going to take hard work.

So while sector leaders may want to think more about working toward a branded approach (think Fairtrade labeling), ‘Society Profits’ is a great first step and, if social enterprises are serious about getting more media coverage, the hard work must be done.