Wednesday, 1 July 2015

"Rethinking Social Enterprise for the 21st Century" - a Draft TorontotheBetter Statement

 Torontothe Good?... Not so. TorontotheBetter? Better. 

                                                                                                                                     Since 2004 Toronto’s original online social business source,                                                                                                                               
Rethinking Social Enterprise for the 21st Century                                                                     – the position of TorontotheBetter [July1,2015]
 Back in the  day, Toronto was known as "Toronto the Good", usually meaning it was a pretty uptight moralistic town with the accompanying racism, sexism and inequality. Our TorontotheBetter stands for a fair, inlusive and cvreative city for the twenty-first century and beyond.     

In 2015, after now over twenty years of the most recent generation of social enterprise, with virtual enterprises like Ethical Deal  a staple of many online consumers’ inboxes if not of their buying behavior, with  organizations like Me to We in Canada, and Whole  Foods everywhere, except poor neighbourhoods, these days, global celebrities like Jamie Oliver celebrated by thousands young people and countless books written about the potential of capitalism to be conscious or responsible or  …anything finer sounding than rapacious, has anything really  changed in the way modern economies, specifically  the Canadian economy operates. In sum what has been the impact of the Social/Responsible/Sharing/Third Economy?  The following is the opinion  of TorontotheBetter, Toronto’s non-profit social economy portal, whose directory of Toronto social enterprises first went online in 2004.

Social enterprises, which come in many shapes and sizes each in their own way want to do good for the world in the way they do business and with the market place accorded increasingly more economic and other room for manoeuvre in recent years business indeed has an increasingly important influence on the quality of life, as has been argued by more than one writer. Doing well by doing good; who could argue with that?  
Nice idea, then but like social, aka responsible, investment it sounds a lot like having your cake and eating it to. In other words it can’t be done: any dollar in profit for the sole disposal of an owner is a dollar that’s not in wages or benefits or community grants or recycling or donations or  training, or anything else “responsible” for that matter. And if private owners, however well meaning,  decide things, the public does not, so there is no broad accountability.  In what follows  we ignore, but do not discount the reasons why  the status quo is, well, the status quo. And we must acknowledge that in fact food habits are changing and the enironmental and women's movements have ensured that rernewable energy options and women's economic status are parts of most  high-level planning agendas. So  there has been change at the olicy level but to what extent it is part of a new business normal is less certain. And onn the other side of the ledger  the relentless promotion of market solutions to everything has ledt Canada again in recession and countless people in many austerity victimized nations like Greece less well served by their cash-constrained public sectors,
Setting the fundamental structural problems aside and it’s a big set-aside, there are other, more practical concerns with the social business economy as it has evolved in recent years.                                                       
1) Most people don’t know about it                                       

2) Most people can’t afford most of what’s being offered by it                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  3) Most people most of the time think what they buy and sell in the “un-social” economy  is ok                                                                                                                                                                              4) Even if people can afford what the social economy offers it is not physical accessible to them because most social enterprises in Toronto and other urban centres  tend to be concentrated in certain downtown and therefore expensive areas largely inaccessible to the 99%.                                                                              
5) The language used by much social enterprise is foreign to what most people use and so its users seem to  be more or less comfortably talking to themselves

The result is that social enterprise is still pretty much a sector that is a fringe of, or alternative to, the mainstream economy. The problem with that is that the mainstream screws up fairly often most recently 2008 and everybody, including the 99% of innocent bystanders, suffer. We need something different: a thoroughly social  economy. And it is possible for the alternative to  become normal,  as the increasingly broad adoption of organically grown food has demonstrated.  But how do we get there? Below are TorontotheBetter’s suggestions.
1)      Social  enterprises must partner and speak with one voice so that they always have a public voice on issues that arise and can counter the usual business council voices invited to talk by the main stream media, now owned and/or funded by organizations they are in theory supposed to be open to oppose            
2)      Social enterprises should adopt a social business charter that calls for ALL business, not just the “enlightened” or “progressive”  to incorporate standard operational principles like workplace democracy, including acceptance of unions, environmental sustainability, and community investment.  The result would be a new business normal.   
3)      Social enterprises must commit themselves to affordability and accessibility to the majority in  whatever industrial area they inhabit
4)      Social enterprises must speak in language people who go to watch movies and sports events can understand.
Right now much of the social economy  in Canada and North America exists in a kind of  bubble. Time to deflate it and let some fresh air in so all can breathe better.


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