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10 reasons why social business is the way of the future (circa 2008)

Jonny Kates
Jonny Kates, posted on 05.02.13

Blog comments2 comments

On a slow Friday afternoon, an old Powerpoint presentation made its way around the ClearlySo offices dating back to a breakfast event with investors on the 26th of June 2008; a time when ClearlySo was better known as socialinvestments.com. The title of the presentation - as put together by ClearlySo co-founder Julia Meek - was 10 reasons why social business is the way of the future.

Here they are:

1. Affluent consumerism peaks?

2. Renewed quest for authenticity

3. Climate change impacts intensify

4. Disenchantment with 'greenwash'

5. A more educated population

6. Ethical motivations strengthen

7. A job for living

8. Collective individualism grows

9. Rise of the creative class

10. A more networked society

Nostalgia aside, we began discussing whether the message was still accurate in 2013 and the overall verdict was that they were. The question therefore is whether the 'dream' of social business as the way of the future has failed to progress over the past five years or whether it's a more long term vision. As believers in the prophecy (as it were) we were firmly voting for the latter and in fact managed to highlight many areas of Julia's starter-for-10 where real progress has been made.

Firstly, we have potentially witnessed a new paradigm of highly educated professionals moving in to the social sector in the UK. The rise and success of professional networks such as Escape The City lends evidence to this, working in tandem with (and owing a great deal to) a far more networked society. At ClearlySo we have been directly affected by this trend; benefiting from extremely talented professionals turning their attention to the social sector and joining our team.

Secondly, the 'creative class' has seen unrivalled growth despite downturn in many other sectors. The comparison of soft, web-based technology between 2008 and 2013 is truly a vast chasm. This has enabled many would-be social entrepreneurs to leverage technology in new and creative ways which would have previously been impossible. In 2013, there's nothing to stop the bedroom entrepreneur from making substantial social impact.

And thirdly, no matter how hard CSR departments try to cling on, an increasingly ethical public are becoming wise to 'greenwash' initiatives. Since 2008, the sustainability spotlight has shifted its gaze somewhat from the individual consumer and governments on to business; highlighting fundamental flaws in the way we approach manufacturing and waste. As theories such as a 'circular economy' gain traction, hopefully the sustainability blame game can finally be dropped in favour of actual progress.

The Powerpoint presentation signs off with three challenges presenting the social entrepreneur in 2008, which I'd like to leave open for discussion in the comments:

1. Free falling economic indicators

2. Growing culture of fear

3. Red tape and lack of support

However I would argue that the support network for social enterprises is healthier now than ever before, backed by support from government. We're currently working on an updated version of our 'Guide for the Ambitious Social Entrepreneur', which attempts to signpost all of the various support channels for social entrepreneurs in the UK. Hopefully the challenges facing the 2008 social entrepreneur no longer look so stark.


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2 comments so far.

Blog comments Colleen, 06.02.13, 16:48

Fascinating insight into ClearlySo history, thanks Jonny. As a relative newcomer, I think I would add to the 2008 list of challenges "public perception." My experience has been that the message is too slow in getting through to the outside world, and the sector needs to find how to communicate its developments more widely. Certainly there are great ideas and energy from the visionary people on the enterprise side, innovations on the investment side and healthy support networks. Looking forward to all the updates in the latest version of the Guide for the Ambitious Social Entrepreneur.

Blog comments Jonny Kates, 06.02.13, 16:55

Thanks Colleen. Yes, I'd agree with you that public perception is a challenge that perhaps hasn't been tackled much since 2008. The concept of social business still eludes many people I know, even though they would describe themselves as highly ethical consumers. It's almost as if for many, the term 'social business' remains an obscure phrase rather than a buzzword for describing what they ultimately support already but just don't know it! At the risk of sounding overly sceptical, I'd also say that a challenge appears to be a lack of commitment from larger corporations who purport to help social enterprises, yet in reality are not providing nearly enough support as they should.