This week Social Enterprise UK launched Society Profits, a campaign to put social enterprises and their supporters at the forefront of promoting a simple message directly to customers: choose social enterprise and society profits. Social entrepreneurs and their employees are full of passion for the cause and can do more to sell it than the support and infrastructure bodies ever could. We really hope they will.

Anyone who’s been involved for more than a few weeks will know that arguments about how to identify a “real” social enterprise have dogged the sector for years. They will also know the key challenges, aside from finance and investment, that will determine the growth of the sector: inter-trading, civil society investing its own billions in social ventures, supply-chain and consortium effectiveness. And the one that will ultimately determine whether world domination can ever be ours: consumer awareness.

The sector has already travelled some distance when it comes to consumer trade. Our recent Fightback Britain report uncovered a surprising picture: despite the drag toward public service reform that the sector has seen in recent years, the most common source of income for social enterprises is in fact trade with the general public. Even if you are more in the public sector space, remember a voting public that has some basic awareness of the difference between a social enterprise and a private business will determine whether social enterprise can ever be used as a fig leaf for privatisation – another argument we are all familiar with.

In fact other research we carried out earlier this year suggested the public had a strong preference for social enterprise models in public services, even if they didn’t know the term. In public polling we asked which type of organisation was best-placed to provide public services – including leisure, health and transport services. UK adults chose the following: 43% “a community business that reinvests its profits to improve services”; 36% “the government or public sector”; 4% “a business that makes profit for its owners and shareholders”, and 3% “a charity”. This data got the attention of the media and we were lined up for some big shows and hot debates – but then the hacking scandal started unfolding just as our embargo was approaching. Nevertheless, we think the data justifies our belief that there is a tacit understanding of what social enterprises do, and a lot of support for it.

But how do we make tacit understanding firm and widespread? It’s a big job, but others have done it. There are Fairtrade labels on shelves in supermarkets up and down the country. And while there are structural differences between social enterprise and Fairtrade, these are not particularly important to a willing consumer. Social enterprise offers people a chance to buy high-quality goods and services at a competitive price, and ensure their money supports a fair deal for workers and the communities where they’re produced – here in the UK as well as abroad.

Clear communication and self-identification are the only things that will make this happen. Social enterprises need to be the champions of their own markets, sectors, communities and spheres of influence. We have legs everywhere as a sector – and we need to use them. A multitude of champions made the Faitrade movement what it is today. That’s what our campaign is about. It’s our first step in encouraging more social enterprises to champion the social enterprise message simply and directly.

We hope they will take up the Society Profits campaign and use the materials we have created for them. They’re unbranded and suitable for any person or organisation to use, whatever their size or area of business. Get your pack here in time for Social Enterprise Day on Thursday 17 November and get involved.

Source: Guardian

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