The Debate Over Social Enterprise

Not too long ago I was unfamiliar with the term social enterprise.  I had been out for coffee with a friend who mentioned it in passing; apparently she had recently had a stimulating conversation with an old acquaintance about about the subject.  I had no clue what she was talking about, but I nodded my head, acting as though I fully understood to what she was referring.  As soon as I got home, I started googling and venturing through Wikipedia.  The Social Enterprise Alliance defines social enterprises as, “businesses whose primary purpose is the common good. They use the methods and disciplines of business and the power of the marketplace to advance their social, environmental and human justice agendas.”

Imagine my surprise when stories recently began to  pop-up in the news regarding this very same topic.  The software company Salesforce had applied to trademark the term “social enterprise” as part of its software suite.  It had been using the term to describe how companies connect with their customers via social media. The Social Enterprise Alliance (SEA) was not happy about the application for trademark and thus began to build the site THISisSocialEnterprise.com.  You can also read their “Initiative to Protect the Meaning of Social Enterprise”.   Their argument against Salesforce was that the term is specific to companies who exist for the greater good, not a marketing tool within social media.  Two days ago Salesforce backed down and withdrew the trademark applications.

The discussion becomes: How does social enterprise compare to corporate social responsibility.  Is one more efficient than the other? Is the difference fully in ideology? Should the term “social enterprise” be off-limits to corporations that are not recognized by the SEA?

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