Rob Stocks, E-Business & Partner Activation
What is a Social Enterprise?
Some people assume that because we have a mission to stop ocean plastic and improve the lives of people living in poverty that we are a charity. We aren’t. We are actually a Social Enterprise which is a slightly different and more powerful solution.
A Social Enterprise is defined by Wikipedia as:
“…an organization that applies commercial strategies to maximize improvements in financial, social and environmental well-being—this may include maximizing social impact alongside profits for external shareholders. …Social enterprises have both business goals and social goals. As a result, their social goals are embedded in their objective, which differentiates them from other organizations and corporations.”
We chose the Social Enterprise model because the best way to create sustainable change is not through charity, but by harnessing the power of business and entrepreneurship as a force for good in the world.
At one point all enterprises were social enterprises. We traded with our neighbours and supported them through hard times knowing that they would support us if the roles were reversed. We bought from and hired our neighbours and the success of one business helped the entire community. As markets grew, the social went out of enterprise as business owners focused on profit as the single measure of their success. Social enterprise rights this wrong and puts the good of our planet and our global markets on the same level as those profits. We recognize that we need healthy and strong consumers with hope and opportunities and we need a healthy and strong planet to support those consumers.
We are not providing handouts. We are revealing the value in plastic waste and developing a sustainable Social Plastic ecosystem that helps the environment and the communities we operate in. The Social Plastic ecosystem we have created supports local entrepreneurs whether they are collectors, independent depots and co-operatives, or processors. It creates a market and provides the tools they need to run their business and thrive in areas traditionally affected by poverty and limited opportunities.
When you give handouts you create a power imbalance. It means that you assume you know what the beneficiaries need and their role becomes passive. A social enterprise creates empowered customers so we listen to our customers and clients and we co-create solutions with them like our partnership with an informal group of collectors in the Philippines. Doing that makes our interventions sustainable and the behaviour changes we are looking for become habit.
The Social Enterprise model allows us to move at the speed of business, pivot if necessary, engage plastic producers in meaningful conversations, and be a reliable supply chain partner. We are grateful for the support of our partners like Shell, Henkel, and SC Johnson who have made a commitment to use Social Plastic and have embraced our Social Enterprise model. By using a market model, we give respect to our customers (in this case our Collectors and partners) and design solutions that work for us all.
We are also grateful for the the growing Movement that has gathered together behind our mission. Contributors to programs like Plastic Neutrality for individuals and groups support our efforts to Stop Ocean Plastic and have helped us remove tons of plastic that would otherwise have been lost.