I was up in
A key theme of the event was the relationship between business and social enterprise. Someone remarked that “this is the only issue that really matters for social enterprise right now.”
I kind of agree. I think this can be split down in to two broad areas of opportunity for the social enterprise community: one of a short-term/practical nature and the second that is long-term/aspirational.
First, the private sector can provide opportunities right now for social enterprises to scale-up (in both impact as well as financial clout) by creating business partnerships around service delivery and contracting out parts of their supply chain. Douglas Johnson-Poegnsen, a partner of ours at BT, is doing just this and we are expecting to hear announcements soon about BT joint venture with a social enterprise.
Second (and more aspirational) is the notion that the private sector might evolve to become social businesses themselves. Is this fanciful or might companies actually gain competitive advantage by having social as well as financial goals? This seems unlikely right now but there are fundamental shifts occurring in society that are changing the rules of business. We are choosing new ways to live, new ways to build our careers and changing the way we purchase our goods and services in light of social and environmental concerns. What will the winning businesses in 2020 look like? My guess is they will be different types of organisations than they are today.
We recently presented this view to Fernando Rojas, the CEO of Havas, the 6th largest advertising company globally and one that advises many large companies. To my surprise he agreed with this prognosis.
How business navigates this evolution over the next decade is of course incredibly tricky to predict. Some businesses will concentrate on short-term pragmatism in the light of the economic situation and will not be in a position to take a leadership role. It has been a disappointment not to see Havas’ rhetoric matched with action – or at least not yet. However, the current situation will also give opportunities to more visionary businesses and individual champions within firms to take a march on their rivals and to begin developing their brands into the ones that future consumers will demand. After all, in market economies there is only one group more powerful than investors – and that’s the customer!