“Russell Brand’s New Statesman editorial has caused quite the stir. He takes aim at current models of business, economics and politics, blaming them for the spread of inequality and leaving a trail of environmental destruction. He accuses them of nurturing the uglier the sides of human nature.
He said: “We require a change that is beyond the narrow, prescriptive parameters of the current debate, outside the fortress of our current system. A system predicated on aspects of our nature that are dangerous when systemic: greed, selfishness and fear.”
He argues for a “total revolution of consciousness and our entire social, political and economic system.” It’s terrific that a figure of Brand’s influence is raising these issues and pointing to the systems that have created them. However, he is frustratingly vague on actions we should take or movements we could join to address these issues, essentially suggesting either a revolution or abstaining from voting.
However, the kind of revolution that Brand talks about may already be well under way in the business world, and social enterprise lies at the heart of it. It is not just the fast growth of social enterprise in the UK that has caught the eye, but other developments in the business world.
Whether it be assessing for environmental impact, greater transparency in control of wealth, or multinational corporations building an environmental mission in to their purpose, we are seeing significant transformation. And with every new story about the growth of social businesses, the more that corporates are put under pressure to deliver social and environmental value.
This revolution in business may have wider consequences too. Not least, it shows those working towards economic and political alternatives that systemic change is possible. Perhaps it highlights an underlying desire in people to focus more on well-being rather than further economic growth.
In addition to these, the growth of social enterprise raises pertinent questions about the way we measure progress, and whether national measures such as the Social Progress Index or the Happy Planet Indexare more suitable than GDP. Corporations have proved very effective at stimulating economic growth, but whether they could drive well-being or environmental sustainability is not so clear. Unlike social enterprise, the model is not built for this purpose.
There is a certain sense of urgency about transforming our systems in the way that Brand demands, particularly when you consider ourworrying environmental trajectory. Social enterprise could have a crucial role to play in addressing this, as well as societal inequality. But as soon as I step out of the social enterprise world I am reminded how small it still is.
So what can we do to catalyse this business revolution? As members of the public, we can speak with our wallets and buy from social enterprises. Those of us working in social enterprise could make it more accessible to the public as a concept (rather than cloaking ourselves in cliquey terminology), and engage more with debates around economics and policy.
Social enterprise could work more in partnership with those involved in other areas such as policy or research, just like in the newly-launched Hub Launchpad. There is much more we can do to stimulate growth of social enterprise and increase public awareness, and I leave this question to others with more expertise.
When figures such as Mr Brand prompt people to look for answers, those us working within social enterprise ought to jump on the public bandwagon and show people that whilst this may not be the complete answer, it is certainly a part of it. And it is something that anyone can contribute to.
And Russell, how about lending us a smidgeon of that rather considerable influence of yours?”