One of the few things that people can agree on at a time of so much fractious debate is that our society faces numerous major challenges. Climate change, health and social care, education, public welfare, housing, the criminal justice system and the world of work in general all seem to be under constant threat. “We’re doomed” It’s difficult at times not to hear the voice of Corporal Fraser from the much-loved sitcom, Dad’s Army.
In a continuous search for innovative solutions everyone has their favourite approach.
For many, the key is the private sector existing in a free and unregulated market, where individuals left to their own devices – i.e. once government gets out of the way – will naturally find the best answers.
Others argue that at such a time of crisis, only government, the public sector, has the resources and value system to be trusted to make the key decisions needed
Finally, many people still focus on the role of not-for-profits to fill the gaps left by the limitations of both the market and the state.
So, three sectors of our economy are fighting their corner. All offer something of merit, yet all too often with something in their DNA that inhibits the critical mass and quality of innovation that’s essential to create the solutions so desperately needed in the gaps these sectors don’t serve.
Meanwhile, sharing attributes of each of its bigger three siblings and sitting slightly outside the debate with its nose pressed against the window, is an alternative that offers a vital and vibrant additional ingredient to the debate. A place where the enterprise of business mixes with the sense of service of government and the compassion of not-for-profits to create an exciting space where innovation for substantial social good can truly thrive.
Called variously the Social Enterprise, Social Business, Profit with Purpose, Beyond Profit or Impact-Led Business sector, however, it is an approach that suffers from what can at times be best described as a crippling identity crisis. A crisis that we believe ultimately limits its ambition. A crisis that it needs to address.
That’s why we believe it’s time to start talking clearly, coherently and consistently about a 4th Sector but crucially one that is defined more by the attitude and intent of its leaders and their organisations as any legal definition or structure.
As Karen Lynch, Chief Executive of BELU Water, summed up so well when we interviewed her recently,
“…..the joining together of people around positive intent. Every problem can be an opportunity. Rather than telling people they are bad, we align people around the good that can happen.”