Tag Archives: social enterprise

Thinking big

My dear old mum used to say that if all the money put into probation and prisons was invested in nurseries, after a generation prisons wouldn’t be needed. I was reminded of this when learning recently about a social enterprise that I think is simply brilliant.

70% of toddlers and infants aged up to four years in Brazil have no access to nurseries. A 27-year old entrepreneur has set out to change this by organising ‘community mothers’ to provide home-based daycare centres.  Like all the best social enterprises, Elisa Mansur’s initiative MOPI (The Movement for Education) is a simple idea that works at so many levels:

  • It trains community mothers of all ages in best-practice childhood education through play
  • It creates employment for those traditionally disadvantaged in the Brazilian jobs market
  • It provides accessible and affordable nursery places to free-up family members for additional purposeful activity
  • Above all, it gives the next generation the enriched start in life they deserve and need for a fulfilling future and for the wider benefit of society

Whenever I see what I think is a simply brilliant idea, I can’t resist imagining it being replicated in the UK. The need for accessible and affordable quality nursery spaces is real, as is the undeniable benefit of providing training and employment for people who might run them. But I’m afraid I can only see the heavy hand of bureaucracy spouting all sorts about safeguarding, quality assurance, and limited resources. But, given the reward of success, it doesn’t stop me speculating.

And my mother might well have been right about the long-term impact of investing in nurseries, but we’ll never know of course; politicians think they can only think-and-do short term – operating with five-year horizons. But we can dream, can’t we?

Here’s a short film about Elisa Mansur’s vision http://www.bbc.com/capital/story/20190307-the-27-year-old-protecting-brazils-hidden-job-economy

Slowing the spin about social enterprise  

Before Christmas I wrote about resisting the temptation to sanctify social entrepreneurs and I think the same goes for over-selling social enterprise.

IMG_3712As a social enterprise supporter of the past 15 years or so, I’m naturally delighted when the sector gets a positive profile-raising plug, but I’m equally dismayed when someone goes over the top about what social enterprise has achieved. And the praise is usually coupled with a side-swipe at mainstream business.

It’s all too easy to cast the private sector as the villain and social enterprises – assuming that implies the business is ‘not-for-private-profit’ – as the answer we’ve all been waiting for to treat society’s ills. Reality, of course, is much more complex – there are good and bad private sector and social enterprise businesses, and both may have social impact (ref David Floyd’s social enterprise myth-buster).

I also think scale is relevant. Big isn’t automatically better, but until social enterprises (individually or collectively) make enough difference to enough people’s lives, I believe they won’t offer a realistic alternative to mainstream business models – holding the moral high ground will never be enough.  This isn’t to knock small scale, community-rooted enterprise – it can demonstrate a better way of doing business – but we shouldn’t pretend it’s going to change the world until it’s more ubiquitous and until many more people benefit.

In an imperfect world, I’m happy to credit a large scale solution to a social problem rather than condemn it outright for being big and motivated by making a profit for shareholders. What I’m not happy about is mainstream contractors (they all seem to have numbers in their names these days) providing public services badly and passing themselves off as social businesses. We know who they are…

There’s a well-worn saying in customer care – ‘under-promise and over-provide’. In other words, say you’ll deliver an order within a week and have it with your customer the next day, not the other way around.  The same should go for social enterprise which has a rich heritage that goes back at least 165 years to the Rochdale Pioneers – founding fathers of the co-operative movement.

Recent difficulties for the Co-op Bank show how easily reputations for ‘better business’ can be shaken, so it’s more important than ever to manage expectations about what social enterprise can achieve. If we get carried away with our own publicity and hold it up as the solution to all economic, social and environmental ills, and it’s then found wanting, we could see customers taking their business back to mainstream suppliers – condemning social enterprise as ‘all mouth and no trousers’.

References

Slowing the spin about social entrepreneurshttps://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/2013/12/21/slowing-the-spin-about-social-entrepreneurs

David Floyd social enterprise mythbusterhttp://www.theguardian.com/social-enterprise-network/2013/oct/03/private-sector-social-enterprise-ethics

A shorter version of this blog first appeared on the Social Enterprise East of England blog site