Saturday, 9 April 2011

A social purpose company

The approved description of A4e (approved, at least, by A4e) is "social purpose company". According to Mark Lovell on 3 February last year, "Over the last few years Emma came up with a nice phrase that we use to define what we do – a Social Purpose Company. As a business we have a really focused view of the social impact we aim to deliver; Improving People’s Lives. We have a strong set of commercial skills and principles that we continue to mature and develop. We have a strong set of values and a clear culture about the services we deliver, how we deliver them and how we want the business to evolve."
But if you google on the phrase, you find that it doesn't seem to be Emma's invention. For instance, on a website on Belgian law, we have "Belgian legislation has also created a hybrid entity, the social purpose company, which can be considered as an alternative to non-profit associations. Unlike these associations, a social purpose company may perform a commercial activity, but this activity should be carried out in a non-profit context." This is more or less what we would call a social enterprise; it doesn't describe A4e. Then there's an internet selling company called OneNest which sells artisan goods. It's founder says, "Exactly ten years ago, I created my first social purpose company, oneNest." And, "Global Partners & Associates is a social purpose company working to promote democratic politics, effective governance and human rights."
So the phrase can mean whatever you want it to mean. What A4e apparently wants it to mean is that they're not like all those other private companies, like Serco, Capita, G4S et al, which take whatever contracts they can get in order to make a profit. No, A4e sees itself as blending "commercial and social principles" and coming up with something new. They've got a long way to go to persuade many of the people they've had dealings with that this is the case.

And as a PS, I wonder why there are almost no comments under any of Lovell's blog posts.


  1. Your so right, and I doubt they will ever be seen as anything other than a ruthless multi-national only interested in ever increasing profits.

    If anything, active opposition to them is increasing. You only have to to type in "A4e Edinburgh" in Google - and see what comes up on page 1 of the listings.

  2. Social Purpose. It sounds somewhat friendly, caring and socially responsible don't it!

    Those of whose who have been to A4e, Serco, BEST etc. are referred to as customers.

    This is of course blurred and deliberately confusing terminology. A genuine customer of say Tesco has every right to leave any Tesco store and shop in Morrison's or Asda instead. A4e's customers on the other hand have no say in the matter and little choice but to attend.

    So it's not at all surprising that the term Social Purpose Company is used by A4e to somewhat blur the non-profit social enterprise model with what it (A4e) actually is - a profit making enterprise.

    Of course, we have to determine what Social Purpose A4e have in mind for its customers and the country at large.

  3. Terminology

    The Job Centre refers to you, well at least to your face, as a client! More accurate would be conscripts.

    I laughed when I watched that C4 programme on Emma personally helping to find a guy a job. She said in inverted commas her approach was holistic!!!

  4. And Again Terminology

    From the a4e website


    10 countries down. 180 or so to go.

    No, this isn’t an empire we’re building. It’s a global social movement. Although we’re a multi-national company, our concern is with individuals and local communities. Wherever “local” happens to be.

    Who is she kidding.? Does she really believe this?


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