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Objectives - There has been limited discussion of the conceptual dimensions of the Social Enterprise Mark (SEM), or the implications of its growing legitimacy. This paper makes a contribution to knowledge by critically discussing the conceptual dimensions of the SEM and providing some empirical data on its likely effects.\ud \ud
Prior Work - Recent attempts by the academic community to define the social enterprise sector have run into linguistic and practical problems. Any definition tends to privilege one group of social enterprises over another with the result that co operative and employee-owned enterprises, or enterprises pioneering public service reform, are marginalised in policy discourse. The arrival of the SEM in the United Kingdom takes place amidst these conceptual and practical difficulties.\ud \ud
Approach – The paper is an exploratory study based on feedback from participants on open access co operative and social enterprise courses. They were asked to study published SEM criteria then evaluate three forms of social enterprise activity (a worker co operative, a trading charity and a self-employed consultant). Participants were asked to rank these in order of likelihood of obtaining the SEM.\ud \ud
Results - Course participants from different sectoral backgrounds drew the same conclusions. Criteria were perceived to favour CICs and trading charities with social and environmental objects, but not enterprises that deliver social benefits through transforming labour relations and wealth sharing arrangements. Participants on the first course were bemused (and in some cases angered) when they found that award winning social enterprises would not meet, or have been denied, the SEM.\ud \ud
Implications - The SEM's evaluation criteria currently favour 'social purpose' enterprises that explicitly target a beneficiary group or community, and not 'socialised' enterprises that transform labour relations, promote participative democracy, or design new wealth sharing \ud arrangements.\ud \ud
Value - The paper suggests there has been a shift away from the values advanced by the founders of the UK social enterprise movement in the mid-1990s towards values embedded in The Social Enterprise Mark. The paper proposes a critical research strategy to investigate the origins and potential effects of applying the SEM’s criteria.
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