Headlines: September 23rd, 2008

Predictions of the growth of social enterprise and its expanding role in taking on the delivery of more public services have not been realised. The Office of the Third Sector, which is part of the Cabinet Office, commissioned research to find out why growth had stalled and why new people had not been attracted to the sector. The research concluded that there is very little awareness of the sector and high levels of confusion about the difference between a charity and a social enterprise.

The report from the Office of the Third Sector reveals that social enterprises are not fulfilling their true potential as the leading sector
within socially driven commercial businesses. They are more often characterised as vague, woolly, confused, rooted in small cottage industry, worthy, inefficient, not dynamic and grant dependant.

They are also considered as marginal to the economy. This perception results in reduced access to resources and markets and difficulty in securing funding, support and talent. Influencers, such as the media, not only reflect this perception, but reinforce it. There is also a perception that social enterprise is too alternative, and ‘not for me’. It’s a place for people with disabilities or people unable to work fully and also as a temporary place to work.

The report recommends that a campaign should be launched to cut through the confusion and that the sector should be re-positioned within the economy so that it is more clearly recognised as a credible business option. It should also be distinguished from the voluntary sector.

The sector needs to promote social enterprise as dynamic entrepreneurial business with wide career options. It is a place for nnovation, a dynamic sector for passionate people who have bright entrepreneurial business ideas that are not only profitable but really make a difference. It should show that it is commercial and profit focussed as well as socially driven.

There is a clear need to get across the message that social enterprise is part of everyday life rather than a Government initiative.

The Office of the Third Sector has committed to develop a work programme, in partnership with key stakeholders, to address the issues raised in the report.

The report is available from the OTS.