Reposted from the Cardus After Hours blog (RIP).


Yesterday The Guardian published a brief article that highlights the importance of the third sector (the social economy), identifies the challenges that arise from defining the third sector, and suggests some possible ways forward. Cox contemplates whether the variation and blurring may, in fact, be a great strength:

And that's the point: there isn't a difference. The values-driven women entrepreneurs in Newcastle, the hidden thousands of young and young-at-heart social entrepreneurs revealed in Rebecca Harding's studies, the open source or peer production communities admired by Benkler, and all those Kingsnorth finds fighting the 'battle against the bland' in my view represent a much bigger and better future for social enterprise. If we can only reach out and welcome them in, stop hanging quite so hard on to the fringes of the public sector and get our heads out of the oh-so-carefully defined and distinguished 'sector'.

Perhaps the most useful aspect of the article is the link that connects to the Third Sector Research Centre. In particular, if you go to the Publications page, you can access 50 papers related to the social economy. The first paper identifies what the TSRC is, how it is funded, and that it began in 2008. Paper 43 summarizes current attempts at measuring the third sector in the UK and the report is about 20 pages long. As far as I know, there is no equivalent survey that has been done on the social enterprise in Canada, though excellent organizations like Enterprising Non-Profits have begun to chip away at some of this mapping through analysis of social enterprise in Alberta and BC.

Additional UK research can be found at the Voluntary Sector Studies Network site and via their Voluntary Sector Review journal. This is a network of academics who are working in and around third sector areas.

Geof Cox also mentions Yochai Benkler. I've been very impressed with Benkler's insightful (if a tad long), analysis of how digital exchange is fundamentally shifting business, institutions and culture. I think it is imperative that we don't see emerging forms like social innovation in a hermetically sealed box, another little niche among many others. There is a connection between the shifting fortunes of industrialization, network knowledge sharing and global supply and demand.

The impulses of social innovation are very old, the means of acting on those impulses are rapidly changing, and the potential to make use of both motivation and means to solve our human problems is significant. Social enterprise is, in large part, a response to and an anticipation of deep structural changes.

We need to be attentive to both the particulars—what laws should change, how might tax structures be adjusted, how should policy improve—and the much more tectonic shifts that are occurring. What does it mean to be global and local? How do we envision nation states today? How is political, economic, and demographic power shifting globally?

While Canadians can learn a great deal from the experiences and insight of UK players, we will need to increasingly shoulder the particularities of our own work among the peculiar conditions of our neighbourhoods, cities, regions, provinces and country. I happened across this interesting social economy post as well, originating in China, about the social economy and how it relates to capitalism, communism and changes in global society.

We have much yet to learn.