The Future Face of Enterprise

Anyone else ready to jump on the enterprise bandwagon?  Dragons Den is trying to make entrepreneurs of everyone, enterprise has now entered the national curriculum, and everywhere I turn, it seems that organisations within the sector are embracing enterprise with a gusto usually reserved for voting on Britain’s got Talent.  The capacitybuilders programme has recently announced a £6million investment in social enterprise, and Gordon Brown aims that enterprise is truly open for all’

 

Related to this, Demos recently published a new collection of essays, ‘The Future Face of Enterprise’, articulating some of the key features of the future of enterprise, and exploring how this thinking can be progressed into action.  This publication is interesting for a number of reasons; by providing articles from varied authors it examines the most up to date thinking on the subject, relevant to a great deal of the VCS, and provokes off-centre thinking in its reader.

The publication is split into 10 chapters covering issues as varied as enterprise as a means to social mobility, the type of minds needed for successful enterprise, and whether European enterprise can compete in a global market.  It highlights some interesting points for the sector that might be worth considering, especially given the current environment where sustainability largely equates to financial stability, and an unstable and uncertain economic environment means that organisations may need to look to alternative funding streams.  However, it also provokes (in me at least) thoughts of oversubscription, and the danger of following a trend without assessing it first.  Additionally:

 

Enterprise is not just about making money

What struck me on reading these essays is that although enterprise is usually equated with income generation, it has a much wider application, and in its broadest sense (doing something new, clever and risky), enterprise transcends economic, political, sociological and geographical boundaries.  What is more useful then is not the idea that every organisation should become an enterprise, but that what is needed is an enterprising mindset.  Successful enterprises grow up through trial, error and persistence.  VCS organisations, and people within them, would benefit from taking the same approach, being:

  • optimistic,
  • adaptable,
  • willing to take risks,
  • willing to try new things, and
  • refusing to give up until they find the successful recipe.

Enterprise should be organic

Any enterprise is performing within a human, and therefore organic, environment.  Organic systems involve a lifecycle; birth, growth and eventually death.  It is a natural process for ideas and organisations to fail.  Death does not necessarily mean the organisation has to fold, it could evolve into something new.  However, this is not something to be feared, but rather to be accepted, ultimately expected, and consequently planned for.  By preparing ourselves for this natural process, the sector can better become flexible and able to cope with loses when they happen.

 

The sector has always been enterprising

One of the meanings of enterprise is to do something new, clever and risky.  The VCS is viewed by many outside it as being conservative, staid and afraid of change, the very antithesis of enterprising.  Of course there do exist organisations which are all of these things, however, our sector more than any other, has been enterprising right from its outset.  Providing homes for destitute children in Victorian England, producing talking books in the mid twentieth century, or combating climate change in the 1970s were all seen as revolutionary at the time of their conception, but are now widely accepted within all spheres of society. 

 

Social enterprise is not a panacea

In a rapidly changing and uncertain environment, many organisations are looking at different ways of remaining sustainable and generating income.  For many this may include social enterprise.  However, organisations should carefully assess their reasons for changing before embarking on what will ultimately change the very structure of their organisation.  Although currently popular and heavily invested in, social enterprise is not appropriate for all groups, and there are still many other ways of getting funding.

 

The most unexpected people and organisations are often the most enterprising

The dominant perception of an enterprising individual is of an (often aggressive) male.  However, within our sector, women, young people, and people from ethnic minorities have been equally enterprising, and some of the most exciting and innovative projects within the sector have arisen from unexpected sources.  In an environment where dealing with diversity is seen as one of the central challenges for the 21st Century, this is something to be valued and celebrated.

 

There are many ways of looking at enterprise.  The value of these essays is that they take a holistic view, and in doing so, examine areas of influence that might not immediately spring to mind.  They encourage the reader to think laterally about enterprise, and examine its strategic value within a wide frame of reference.  In my opinion, the collection is worth reading for that alone.

Last updated at 17:57 Mon 12/Apr/10.
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