Anna Whitty: How entrepreneurial flair can advance social aims

Anna Whitty, chief executive of community transport provider ECT, explains how entrepreneurial flair can advance social aims.

 Anna Whitty: How entrepreneurial flair can advance social aims

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What is a social enterprise?

A social enterprise – people often wonder what does that actually mean. It’s a term that…I used to go to dinner parties and I’d say I work for a charity and they would ignore you because they think that charities don’t work. If you work for a social enterprise it sounds slightly better but they still don’t understand. But over the years social enterprise has become more known, but essentially it means not for profit, and again people do understand that and people, I think, over the years are keener to work for a non-profit making organization, rather than working for somebody where the money or any sort of profit is going into shareholders. When people can actually see that the money that is being made, because not-for-profit doesn’t mean not-for-money, but employees can actually see that the money is going into the quality of service.

How did ECT start?
Community transport grew up because of the individuals were falling in between. There was no one doing that work. You know, if you were under social services then you would get statutory transport. If you were mobile you could use public transport or you had your own car. So like a lot of charities they grow up where there is a lack, where there’s a hole in provision and one of the great things about working for a charity, working for a social enterprise, is that because you’re at the sharp end of provision and you’ve got the power to make instant sort of decisions. You can actually be very responsive to need. You know within the wider sector it takes a while for that need to sort of become obvious, but we can see it because we are actually working at the roots.

Do people prefer working with social enterprises?
People like working with us, you know, for a number of reasons. People… I think a lot of people chose who they work with because they like working with them, because they’re nice people. I mean that is often a primary motive but also actually, you know, you like that person because you like what they’re doing, you like the principles, you know. When I see clients or when I see any other support it’s why I’m there, why I’m doing it. I’m not doing it to make money, I’m not doing it to try and increase profit for the shareholders. People do normally sense the fact that I’m sitting there because I actually believe in what I’m doing.

Are social enterprises run differently from ‘normal’ businesses?
No I think we’re just the same as any other business other than we may have parts of our business that isn’t profit-making, that may be grant aided, but you have to ring-fence that. But when it comes to actually operating a contract, you know, that is no different to any other business and when we tender, we tender it in the same way as any other business does.

Is it harder to run a social enterprise?
I think it’s a difficult question because other businesses who are only interested in a bottom line are not actually interested in doing something just because it’s needed. They are only interested in doing a contract and doing, sort of, people promising everything just to get the contract and actually not delivering at the end of the day because they know that it’s not being monitored. And for us psychologically it’s harder because, you know, if that’s what the client wants and you agreed that’s a good thing then you want to deliver that, and it’s actually difficult to deliver it in the sort of price that will win a contract.

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