“Social enterprise”, “socially responsible investment”, “social business”, “social return on investment”, “corporate social responsibility” etc., etc.. These are all phrases that have been popping up in our daily lexicon to an increasing and, some would say, increasingly tedious extent. In fact, the only usage of social which is distinctly taboo is “social-ist”!
New Labour in Britain has put an emphatic end to that usage, but nearly all political parties seemed to have embraced the other forms and phrases of this word. I often wonder, what is actually going on here and should anybody care?
Since the early 80s (the Thatcher/Reagan era) the economies of the UK, the USA and the OECD overall have become increasingly liberalised and market-oriented. This trend may have accelerated overall growth but only, many argue, at the expense of the social objectives of the welfare state. I too think that the pendulum has swung too far; thus the emergence of a strong desire to reconcile capitalist markets and their key underlying concepts (e.g. investment, enterprise, business) with social objectives and thus the appearance of the “word blends” noted above.
Consumers, governments, investors, businesses and other stakeholders in society are each playing their part in making the concepts behind these phrases concrete. Consumers and investors are demanding greater recognition of social criteria and business and government are, unsurprisingly, responding. The ideas have been around for years, but their move out of the concept stage into reality has taken time. Catalyst Fund Management & Research Limited, the business that I co-founded ten years ago, exists to facilitate and speed up this process.
Catalyst is a business, so it will surprise nobody that it seeks to benefit from this process, by providing the services described elsewhere on this website. This blog is its contribution to the ideological debate over the issues which impact this broad area-?most particularly social businesses but also social enterprises. Tell me what you think about these issues, the sector or us!