Saturday, 13 February 2010

UPDATED: Is The Phone Co-op’s Social Enterprise Mark award an attempt to quell the critics?

I spotted a tweet this afternoon with a link to the announcement that The Phone Co-op has been awarded the recently launched Social Enterprise Mark. This is a high profile development given that the successful telecoms company was named social enterprise of the year by the Social Enterprise Coalition (SEC) in 2008 and its founder Vivian Woodell is a regular attendee and speaker at the sector’s big events.

What is intriguing however is that at Voice10, SEC’s annual conference in Cardiff, Woodell was asked whether he had applied for the Mark. He said he had but had been rejected because his co-operative didn’t fit the criteria. The comment was made during one of the workshops at Voice10, not during one of the main plenaries, but I was in the room when he said it.

The Social Enterprise Mark’s blog post makes reference to the “concern” over The Phone Co-op being rejected but does not say whether the criteria has been adapted or whether Vivian was mistaken when he made his comment in Cardiff.

Since its high profile launch at Voice10, the Mark has been met with some criticism from social entrepreneurs and other interested parties. Most have focused on Clause E of the criteria which calls for at least 50% of profits to be committed to a social or environmental cause. Those running co-ops have also expressed
concern that they are excluded. 

The cynic in me would say that today’s development is a publicity stunt and an attempt to quell the doubters but at the moment I can’t confirm that. What is clear though is that the Mark does not yet have the support of the entire social enterprise sector and issues such as this won’t help.

I will do some digging and see what I can find out but in the meantime I’d be interested to hear your thoughts.

UPDATED (16/02/10)

Yesterday, the following quote from Vivian Woodell was published on the Social Enterprise Mark blog in response to my post above:

“It is absolutely clear that we were not rejected at any stage, and I never said that we were. What I said was that when we read the criteria initially, it looked as if we (along with other co-ops) might not qualify, because of what appeared to be rather rigid rules about profit distribution. They did not change their rules to accommodate us, and what Lucy Findlay said is correct – the application was still in process when I spoke at Voice. We heard that we had been awarded the Mark soon afterwards.”

Fair enough. However, my confusion does perhaps reflect the general confusion about how the rules apply. Woodell thought the criteria ruled him out but it turns out it doesn't. Why?

1 comment:

Dave Dawes said...

This story does raise some worrying concerns. The impression that is given is that a well-established award-winning social enterprise was rejected and days after this was criticised in public, the decision was reversed.

There are clearly well-established as well as start-up social enterprises that don't fit the criteria for the SEMark and that is why it can never be the definitive mechanism whereby social enterprises are distinguished from organisations which aren't social enterprises. We should just be honest about this and accept that the SEMark is a set of compromise criteria which are better than any others around but are not perfect. Unfortunately the impression given here is that the decision was made to avoid embarrassing publicity or the inevitable political fallout when people point out that a recent "social enterprise of the year" didn't qualify.

Unfortunately kind of decision increases rather than decreases the criticism of the SEMark.