Social Enterprise and Good Work…Provoked by Craig Dearden-Phillips

Craig Dearden-Phillips wrote an excellent piece on the need to financially incentivise social entrepreneurs.

When I read it I was not sure whether I agreed violently or disagreed violently.  Let’s just say I ‘felt’ strongly about it.  It troubled me.  I was provoked.  As I am sure Craig was when he wrote the piece.

Schumacher (Fritz, not Michael) helped me to explore the basis of my feelings.

He pointed out that from the perspective of the employer, work is a bad thing.  It represents a cost.  It is to be minimised.  If possible eradicated – handed over to a robot.  This truth always makes me smile when the government talks of the private sector ‘creating jobs’.

From the perspective of the worker too it is  often a bad thing. What Schumacher called a ‘disutility‘. A temporary but significant sacrifice of ‘leisure and comfort’ for which compensation is earned.

Schumacher pointed toward a Buddhist perspective where work serves three purposes:

  • to provide an opportunity to use and develop potential
  • to join with others in the achievement of a shared task – to provide opportunities for meaningful association
  • to produce the goods and services that are necessary for what he called a ‘becoming existence’

He then went on to say

to organize work in such a manner that it becomes meaningless, boring, stultifying, or nerve-racking for the worker would be little short of criminal; it would indicate a greater concern with goods than with people, an evil lack of compassion and a soul-destroying degree of attachment to the most primitive side of this worldly existence

What can we do to make sure that more of our work is ‘good work’ and not merely a disutility for which we are compensated?

What products and services do we really need for a ‘becoming existence’.

This for me is the true role of the ‘Social Enterprise’ sector in our economy.  The development of good work.  The enhancement of association and compassion.  To provide a real alternative to the mainstream work as profitable disutility philosophy of much (but not all) of the private sector.

And there is no good reason why we should not take sufficient value from our business to lead a ‘becoming existence’ is there?  So I agree with Craig’s thesis, but not with the line of argument that took him there.  Are the risks really any greater?  Can a business be anything other than directly social?

I’m trying to learn just to die with pride,

Like the birds and the trees and the earth in time

But I’ve got this complex and it makes me fear,

That I’ll die knowing nothing and feeling less.

Hope and Social

Now, anyone for some truly social enterprise?


  1. There’s so much feeling that work needs or should be so much more than pain that you get paid for. I have been part of organisations that have seemingly fostered that kind of atmosphere: you’re paid to work, that’s why you should work. It’s bad for self esteem and office morale. It contributed, for me, to “living for the weekend” work/play-binge mentality and I was glad to see the back of it. There are so many ways to build an organisation from the ground up to be inclusive.

    Look at John Lewis (Partnership) or Co-op (Partnership). People have ownership of the company they are a part of… and you only need look at the success of JLP throughout the recession to see that partnerships can be The most profitable enterprises.

  2. youre heading in the right direction, negating a money factor from business needs to be replaced with more motivation as money motivates most people.

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