Social enterprises, which have dual social and business goals, have attracted some attention lately. Critics note that some businesses with a superficial social role claim the label cynically for marketing purposes or to attract funding. Misuse of the social enterprise tag as an opportunistic cloak for companies targeting a certain demographic would be blatant misrepresentation that has to be taken to task. But such action should not weigh upon genuine social enterprises that do not qualify as charities since they are profit-driven, but are not purely corporate entities either because of their social mission.
The key questions would be the proportion of profits a social enterprise ploughs back into its chosen cause, and the degree to which its business model makes a palpable impact on society. These considerations are important to safeguard the integrity of the new way of making business serve the public interest that social enterprises represent.
However, any regulations envisaged ultimately must not stifle the entrepreneurial spirit, creativity and spontaneity that lie at the heart of business-cum-social endeavours. Charities will have a role always, but what distinguishes social enterprises from them is that they make the market serve the interests of the disadvantaged instead of turning to the public or the state for donations.
Indeed, they help charities by reducing the possibility of compassion fatigue. Their beneficiaries gain from the self-respect which comes from working for their bread instead of having to depend on handouts. This is an important part of the Singapore ethos as well, which discourages welfare dependency.
Sound business strategies wedded to a social conscience are the hallmark of a social enterprise. It is another steadying arm that society places around the vulnerable in order to help them play an active role. It must not be allowed to weaken in Singapore.