Accreditation exists everywhere from higher education to medicine. So why should entrepreneurs be any different? Lucy Findlay, managing director at the Social Enterprise Mark Company, helps socially-focused businesses receive accreditation for the work — and the good — that they do.
“We recognize the type of business that is putting the money it makes back into society and the environment rather than using it for shareholder gain,” Findlay said. “Our mark helps them to prove that.”Earning a Social Enterprise Mark
The Social Enterprise Mark is modeled after the Fair Trade Organization, Findlay said. The accreditation process begins by submitting an application on the Social Enterprise Mark website along with relevant governance and financial documents.
Applications are professionally assessed and any questions that arise are sent to an independent certification panel. Most businesses that apply receive a mark because those who do not qualify are taken out of the running through conversations with Social Enterprise Mark staff. Once approved, each business is re-evaluated annually.
Over the years, the company has developed what Findlay calls its own “case law” about questions that arise related to social enterprise. Marks are only given to true social enterprise organization, not solo entrepreneurs or companies run by one person.
In addition, the business must have a stated social or environmental objective. It must also generate revenue from trading or selling goods and services, which is what Findlay said separates a social enterprise from a nonprofit or NGO.Findlay’s Journey to Social Enterprise
Findlay took an unusual path to arrive at Social Enterprise Mark. Her background is in geography and she initially worked in the field of land use and town planning.
“I soon got very fed up with that because it was all about land use and buildings rather than people,” Findlay said.
That frustration led her to do research on regeneration in urban and rural areas and the people who make it happen. As part of that work, she came across a woman who set up a business based on a town revitalization grant in a rural mining area in Wales. She used government redevelopment funds to buy properties that generated income to further fuel the regeneration — all in the mid-1990s.
Her story inspired Findlay to dig deeper into the area of rural regeneration and how it can be sustained after an initial grant or government funding source runs out.
“She had ensured that regeneration for that community was there in perpetuity and that’s what really inspired me,” Findlay said. “People were talking about the woman who had set up this trust and I thought, ‘What a great model.’”
Around the same time, Tony Blair’s Labor Party had just come into power in England and social enterprise came to the forefront as a business solution. Findlay realized the niche that needed to be filled in helping these businesses promote themselves and the Social Enterprise Mark business was born.
Findlay’s research background also gives her a unique perspective on the history of social enterprise, which she says dates back to the cooperative movement in the 1800s, when it was common for communities to own a stake in their local businesses. That model still exists around the world today.Growing and Expanding
The Social Enterprise Mark is available to companies around the world, and Findlay said businesses from Spain to Dubai have already received certification. The company has also worked with China and Russia to set up their own versions of the certification process.
For businesses looking to take things to the next level, the company offers something called the Gold Mark. It moves beyond an online application process and includes an examination of ethics, social value, and stakeholder engagement in the business. This information is gathered through interviews and surveys conducted by Social Enterprise Mark staff.
Findlay sees this as an area for growth moving forward. The company recently launched a pilot for the Gold Mark certification program internationally.
“We’re interested in piloting our Gold Mark outside the UK because that’s something no one else is providing at the moment,” Findlay said. “It’s an onsite assessment we carry out and includes an action plan to help improve areas where there’s not such a high score to be even better.”
The Social Enterprise Mark exists alongside B Corp certification. Any type of business can apply for B Corp certification, but only those that focus on benefitting social or environmental good and direct profits in that direction can earn the Social Enterprise Mark.The Takeaway
Findlay has worked with a lot of businesses over the years and has seen people who have great ideas and motivation but not a business model to support it. She now applies that philosophy to her own work as a social entrepreneur.
“You have to be sure that the business has a market and that you’re addressing a need from a customer perspective,” she said. “You might have a great idea but is there a market for that product and is it going to generate enough money to create a business?”Social Entrepreneurship Quotes from Lucy Findlay
“The profit from the business must go back into the social or environmental objective.” @LucyFindlay @SE_Mark
“I applied the principles I’d learned about social enterprise and we generated quite a bit of money.” @LucyFindlay @SE_Mark
“I’ve learned so much along the way and am now running my own social enterprise so what goes around comes around.” @LucyFindlay @SE_Mark
“The social Enterprise movement really began in the 1800s with the cooperative movement.” @LucyFindlay @SE_Mark
“This is a movement that has spread around the world.” @LucyFindlay @SE_Mark
“Businesses that weren’t behaving so ethically before are now being challenged.” @LucyFindlay @SE_Mark
“If they can’t make a business out of it and it can’t make money then it can’t be a social enterprise.” @LucyFindlay @SE_MarkSocial Entrepreneurship Resources
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