In a landscape that is largely still defining itself, the narratives attached to work in social enterprise are more important now than ever. These stories should be meaningful, authentic, reflective and accessible. These stories of social enterprise must be told in earnest because they are largely the way a collective understanding of social enterprise is currently growing.
Over the last decade, despite an array of dedicated social entrepreneurs, increasing academic interest, and more recent government involvement, we have yet to arrive at a common definition, unified approach to the practice of social enterprise, or agreement on measurement of outcomes. This reflects the versatility of the social enterprise model and what we do know. We do know that there are currently organizations worldwide that identify as social enterprises and that these organizations are creating positive outcomes. It is less a question of if social enterprise can happen and more of a question of how it is currently happening.
The opportunity for case studies and real-time action research is before us as we continue to learn and build this sector. The problem with case studies and research is that, for many, it may be inaccessible. For an individual, organization or community just getting their feet wet with social enterprise, diving into these resources may be intimidating or irrelevant.
Interest and inspiration in the field of social enterprise can happen primarily through story-sharing, conversations, workshops and other casual mediums. There is no “official definition” to cross-reference and, for most new to the model, there are very few preconceived notions to limit the shape of the story. The current ambiguity around the sector of social enterprise is an opportunity to front-load our understandings with stories of impact and what has worked.
The takeaway from this is that individuals and organizations working in social enterprise should be prioritizing the work necessary to refine and continuously build their organizational narrative. Again, this only works if it is meaningful, authentic, reflective and accessible. As opposed to looking like an intro to an executive summary, picture instead a conversation between a group of people deeply invested in understanding the social enterprise they have built and in the social purpose it is rooted in.
We have identified the importance of narratives for social enterprise and suggested that the work needed to craft, refine and adapt these narratives should be prioritized alongside all other organizational priorities. In terms of how this narrative is crafted, it can be done in virtually any way, as long as it is meaningful, authentic, reflective and accessible. Video and audio mediums allow the story of social enterprise to be shared in a broad and accessible way. Written form is, of course, a traditional way to craft and share stories, and oral story-sharing dates back even further. This means that everything from the conversations we have in formal or informal settings, to the emails sent daily, to content deliberately created to highlight a story can all align in a way that forms a full, rich narrative of your social enterprise.
Some examples that we at SENCO have direct experience with are the video profiles and new SENCO podcast audiograms featured on the Stories section of senco.io. We are also in a fortunate position to see existing social enterprises and often support those in development as they craft a story alongside their financial models for sustainability and other operational aspects.
The final takeaway is that if our narratives around social enterprise are not continuously developed, this becomes an obstacle to understanding for others. If a social enterprise is working towards it’s intended social purpose, this is a story worth telling and worth telling well.