The Rebel Alliance is just like social enterprise. By Gareth Hart
If you asked me to name my favourite films, my gut instinct is to say Star Wars (episodes four, five and six that is, although one, two and three aren’t as bad as all that, apart from Jar-Jar). What's this got to do with social enterprise I hear you ask - well just cool your Hoth-resistant moon boots and stick with me.
With the new Star Wars film just around the corner I'm watching the trailers with awe and excitement. I feel a bit like the seven year old who saw the first film in a small, dingy cinema in Cornwall in the 1970s.
So to social enterprise. The nature of the battle of the Rebellion versus the mighty Galactic Empire got me thinking about the parallel with social enterprise and standard business. I know all big firms aren’t really hideous Vader-esque clichés but, hey, I’m having a bit of fun here.
On one side you have the fragmented Rebel Alliance - a rag-tag fugitive fleet (er - I’m mixing my science-fantasy metaphors, that's Battlestar Galactica) being pursued across the known universe (isn’t that from Dune?) founded on some mystical mumbo jumbo. This is like the social enterprise community. No one can really define it (I'm sorry Dave, I’m afraid I can't do that). It is slippery; a loose federation of coops, CICs, charities, registered societies and other exotic, hybrid special purpose vehicles cobbled together to form a movement. The politics are complex and sometimes unity seems a far horizon.
Compare this to the Empire; a vast, malevolent machine with a clear governance structure directed from the top. Its minions are motivated by fear and greed. For the Rebellion (read social enterprise) power is diffused and the motley collective struggles against the Empire which is dominated by one man, the Emperor Palpatine. I should like to inspect his declarations of interest for swanky lunches paid for by Trade Federation corporate lobbyists.
And it always seems to be a man. Look at the Empire, can you find one female role model? Are any Stormtroopers secretly clone women? Despite some movement on this, FTSE100 companies are still dominated by men. Unlike social enterprise where there are large numbers of women leaders. The recent SEUK State of the Sector report points to 40% being led by women. This needs to get well above 50% of course. The Republic had strong female role models. Is Sophi Tranchell the Princess Leia of social enterprise? Is June O'Sullivan our Mon Mothma? Claire Dove our Amidala?
Let's look at the capital assets of the empire. Huge star destroyers, even more massive super-star destroyers. Then mightiest of all, the Death Star itself, which can destroy a planet (much like a massive oil spill or endless carbon emissions). Maybe, if Grand Moff Tarkin, of foul stench fame, had hired Futureclean - a social enterprise - to wash the seemingly limitless squadrons of TIE fighters, the packs of AT-ATs and the swarms of speeder bikes - he would be still be alive. All that stuff was beautifully maintained, sleek and impeccably clean wasn’t it? Just hold that image and think of a well-resourced corporate business that can seemingly throw money at all the equipment and gear it needs.
Compare this to the Alliance with its rusting speeders, bolted together X and Y Wings and its used, dirty tech. This is social enterprise: under-capitalized, lacking assets, begging and borrowing although sticking to good principles of reducing, reusing and recycling.
Then there is research, development, marketing and training. The Empire invests enormously in the Imperial Naval Academy, in clone armies, in new ways to crush and terrorize the opposition. They can even obliterate planets: “Fear will keep the local systems in line. Fear of this battle station.”
Many social enterprises lack marketing and training budgets and often struggle to invest in new services and products to grow but they are strong on innovation as the State of the Sector reports. The Rebel Alliance had to innovate and be clever to survive - finding hidden weaknesses, moving their secret bases, using cunning tricks to get past guards on forest moons.
However, it is not all as gloomy as a Dagobah swamp. The rebels have key allies strung across the galaxy. They - and social enterprises - are motivated by values. They may have a small workforce (compared to the colossal Stormtrooper/corporate army) but they have an untapped pool of supporters. Many worlds and peoples will rise to support them, even lowly Ewoks. The lack of marketing, lobbying and corporate power in the Alliance and social enterprise is offset by the passionate tales that are handed down and heart-warming stories of the few taking on the mighty. And that mystical mumbo jumbo may well end up being quite useful after all.
We all know who wins in the end, right?