Bridging the gap between Corporates and Social Enterprises
On the 9th of July we organised discussion between representatives of big business and social entrepreneurs to understand how we can combine our assets and collaborate on some of the most pressing issues of the day. The event was set up to understand how we can work together and unleash the innovative potential of our society – to answer the question ‘how can corporates and social enterprises collectively start solving societal problems?’
The event was organised in collaboration between Impact Hub King’s Cross and members: Jelena Hercberga (The Loop), Mike Freeman (Business in the Community’s arc Programme) and Adam Garfunkel (Junxion).
My key takeaways from the event:
1) Mistrust and prejudice exists on both sides
There is a sense that corporates feel social enterprises are ‘all passion and no profit’ and that social enterprises feel corporates are ‘all profit and no passion’. This is unfair to both parties: the truth is no doubt more grey than these black and white positions suggest.
2) There is a need to find shared values and a common language
There is a sense that social enterprises and corporates are not speaking the same language. Understanding motivations and interests relies on openness and clarity on both sides. A common language is needed.
Linked to that, corporates and social enterprises need to connect around a set of shared values. Many people have low levels of trust in corporates, thinking they are ‘out for themselves’ and essentially lacking in honesty. This holds back the potential for genuine collaboration, which requires teamwork rooted in honesty and openness between partners.
3) Social enterprises feel patronized by corporates
Social enterprises feel big business is patronizing towards them. This is clearly an obstacle towards collaboration.
On an individual level this might not be true, but when those individuals are part of a corporate system, then social enterprises feel as if the engagement is patronizing.
Social enterprises want to be recognized as businesses. They are entrepreneurs with passion and purpose at the heart of their business. But still entrepreneurs!
4)Corporate structures and processes favour certain types
Some social enterprises resent the form-filling, process-driven approach that big businesses set in place for managing relationships with them.
From their side, corporates feel they have to put a structure in place for managing relationships (procurement ones or more problem-solving partnerships). Indeed, they can become exasperated when social enterprises resent this.
However, corporates need to recognize that these structures favour entrepreneurs who are ‘good at process’, not necessarily the best social entrepreneurs for that corporate to be dealing with.
…But there are also some possible ways forward
5) Creating this space to talk
People want more of a safe space where corporates and social enterprises can come together to get to know each other better. Not a pitching/buying situation but a place to come together, meet and share. This does not currently exist – and this event could be the beginning of such a space. This platform for conversation can break down barriers and create a shared understanding and mutual trust where innovative thinking and collaboration can flourish.
6) Action is needed as well as words!
While recognizing that a safe space for conversation is needed, there also have to be some actionable next steps. So what? What’s next? These questions need answers!
7) The search for Purpose
One area where social enterprises and corporates came together was around the idea of Purpose. Corporates increasingly recognize the benefits of reconnecting their people with their social purpose. Sometimes this is done through voluntary placements outside of the organization working with charities and social enterprises. Companies report people returning to the coalface re-energized and motivated.
Social entrepreneurs have that social purpose at the heart of their business. There seems to be potential to explore how social enterprises can help corporates embed a sense of purpose throughout the organization.