The Social Enterprise Mark (SEM) is claimed to be the first award that guarantees to the public that an organisation is a social enterprise. To date, there has been limited discussion of its conceptual dimensions and legitimacy. This paper seeks to make a contribution to knowledge by critically discussing its conceptual dimensions and exploring its impact.
This exploratory study uses feedback from participants on open access co‐operative and social enterprise workshops. They were asked to study published SEM criteria then rank ideal types of social enterprise activity (a worker co‐operative, a trading charity and a self‐employed consultant) in order of likelihood of obtaining the SEM.
Workshop participants from different backgrounds drew the conclusion that SEM criteria favour trading charities and community interest companies with social and environmental objects, not enterprises that deliver social benefits through transforming labour relations and wealth sharing. Participants reacted to their own deliberations differently depending on their sectoral affiliation.
Attempts by the academic community to define the social enterprise sector have run into linguistic and practical problems. Definitions tend to privilege one group of social enterprises over another. The arrival of the SEM in the UK takes place amidst these conceptual and practical difficulties.
The SEM criteria contribute to social constructions of social enterprise that favour “social purpose” enterprises that explicitly target a beneficiary group or community, and not “socialised” enterprises that transform labour relations, promote participative democracy, and design new wealth sharing arrangements.
The paper suggests there has been a shift away from the co‐operative values advanced by the founders of the UK social enterprise movement. To secure legitimacy, the paper proposes changes to the SEM to re‐establish the conceptual alignment of social enterprise and the social economy.
Ridley‐Duff, R. and Southcombe, C. (2012), "The Social Enterprise Mark: a critical review of its conceptual dimensions", Social Enterprise Journal, Vol. 8 No. 3, pp. 178-200. https://doi.org/10.1108/17508611211280746Download as .RIS
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