Social enterprise and Salesforce’s shameless profiteering

For the past decade there has been a growing movement towards social change in the business world, but you may not have heard of it. You may have heard the term social enterprise bandied about, often incorrectly, sometimes disingenuously, however true social enterprises have been working hard away from the limelight to bring about a better world for everyone.

A social enterprise is a business whose social goals are equally, if not more, important than its need to generate a profit. It is different from a charity in that it seeks to be sustainable through trading goods and services, and it is different from a regular private sector business in that it seeks to do so in way that is not just socially responsible, but unapologetically socially focussed. A term that describes the goal of social enterprises is the triple bottom line – trading for people, planet and profit.

A social enterprise reinvests its profits principally within the business or within the community that it is serving. One of the best known social enterprises is Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen chain of restaurants, which provide training and employment opportunities to marginalised young people. There is also the Big Issue, and locally we have the Big Lemon bus company and East Sussex Credit Union. From this very small sample of companies, you can see that social enterprises work across an array of sectors and with a variety of social groups.

Nationally we have the membership body Social Enterprise UK as a voice for social enterprise, in Europe there is Urban NOSE and internationally most developed countries have their own social enterprise networks, including the Social Enterprise Alliance in America. This is big business.

So imagine my surprise when I discovered that Salesforce- a multinational private sector data management company have started making attempts to trademark the term social enterprise.

This attempt will surely fail, at least in the UK. Peter Holbrook, CEO of Social Enterprise UK, has already written to Paul Durdik, the CEO of Salesforce following repeated unsuccessful attempts to initiate dialogue, and his letter echoes my thoughts, written more eloquently than I could.

The biggest insult in this is that what Salesforce are attempting to do is the absolute antithesis of social enterprise. To attempt to trademark such a general term for profiteering is bad enough. To attempt to trademark a term that defines a socially and environmentally friendly business for the sole purpose of profiteering is unforgivable*.

I can hear the business community now – “All’s fair in business.” “If social enterprises can’t compete they shouldn’t be in the marketplace.” “These people are unrealistic, moralistic and shouldn’t expect an unfair advantage…” etc. I’ve heard it all before, and so has our sector. If there’s one thing that social entrepreneurs exceed at, it’s making the best from a bad situation. So I’m calling all social entrepreneurs to get together and make the most of this opportunity. If Salesforce want to hijack the term, we can hijack them and get it back.

Whenever we see their name, or the term used incorrectly, we can point people to the correct usage and the history of social enterprise. We can engage people in the work we do. We can encourage people to think about social enterprise as a way of trading, a supplier for their banking or a restaurant for their evening out. In short, all of the things that we already do.

The social enterprise sector is in a very strong position at the moment. People are more fed up than ever with the way corporations feel that they can walk all over us. Take the Libor scandal, the 38 Degrees campaign that caused the sponsors of the olympics to pay their taxes, and the campaigns calling for people to move their money away from mainstream banks.

It’s long been argued that we need to bring social enterprise into mainstream consciousness, and in a slightly perverse way, this attack by Salesforce may well be what we need.

Guy Walsh is the managing director of Sweet Opportunity, a start-up social enterprise operating locally to provide work experience and progression opportunities to young adults with learning disabilities.

*I am aware that Salesforce offer discounted charity licenses for their software, however from my limited experience of their CRM, this offer itself is indeed disingenuous as you still have to pay to obtain the modules that make it of any use

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