The journey to becoming a social enterprise
For many companies, the challenge of becoming a social enterprise would be a distant dream and something of a long-term strategy – no matter their passion. It comes as a surprise to many when I say that I am the CEO of the oldest security company in the world and that we have social enterprise status. In fact, we believe we are the only security company currently registered as a social enterprise in the UK.
The questions I often get asked are: how difficult was the process? What does this mean for the business? Was it worth it?
The growing importance of ESG
The growing emphasis on environment, social and governance (ESG) has seen a mindset shift for all of us in business. After years of focusing on policies that are right for our businesses and where we stand in the supply chain, now is when ESG begins to open the doors to new opportunities for our businesses. Additionally, we are also beginning to see successful companies lose opportunities to competitive companies because they are unable to prove their point on issues important to a buying organization.
As a company, we have always been aware of the importance of ESG, but our biggest learning was not what ESG stood for, or what policies our credentials would prove. In fact, it was cultural. For ESG to be successful for companies, every stakeholder must be fully engaged in what you are trying to accomplish. A unique team approach, a culture of improvement, commitment and commitment that runs through the beating heart of the organization.
ESG is not a set of policies, it is a commitment, a promise and a foundation for a better and brighter future.
Corps’ founding mission of supporting ex-servicemen returning from the Crimean War was the starting point, but also became the foundation of our business as it is today and was the light that led us on the way to social enterprise status.
Our history and journey of discovery
The Corps of Commissionaires, better known as Corps Security, was founded in 1859 by Captain Sir Edward Walter with the primary mission of providing gainful employment to former servicemen returning from the Crimean War. A mission as relevant today as it was then when considering the recent conflicts and the current situation in Ukraine. Veterans, returning from active duty, will often experience physical and psychological impacts that many of us would find hard to comprehend. Corps was founded to provide employment, in an industry that is no stranger to their training, to provide those who have served our country with lifeline, purpose, and a sense of purpose. The company follows this same philosophy more than 160 years later.
However, I cannot personally take responsibility for identifying our qualification as a social enterprise. He is a long-standing and trusted customer – who has a strong engagement with ESG throughout the supply chain – who has provided our company’s philosophy, goals and achievements across the business qualify us for social enterprise status. That’s when our journey began.
How we achieved social enterprise status
Like any other CEO, of any organization, I have to admit that I hadn’t really considered if we were qualified or if we really understood the requirements to become a social enterprise. When your whole organization lives and breathes the values and visions of your companyit may take someone outside of it to open your mind to the possibilities.
Following the intervention of our client, the team and I began to explore the possibilities and learn about the requirements for social enterprise status. Social enterprises are companies that:
- Have a clear social or environmental mission that is stated in its governing documents
- Are independent businesses and earn more than half of their income from trading (or work in it)
- Are controlled or held in the interest of the social mission
- Reinvest or donate at least half of their profits or surpluses to their social purpose
- Are transparent about how they work and the impact they have
Certainly, we were in an incredible position compared to many companies with more than 3,000 employees. A typical social enterprise, as you might imagine, tends to be a small cafe, food production company, or charity. For Corps, our founder had a vision all those years ago that many believe aligns with the social change we’ve seen in this country in recent years. This includes, but not exclusively:
- A dedicated social mission: Our absolute goal is to support veterans and that remains the driving mission of our company today.
- Trust status: Our business operates as a trust. We have no shareholders and therefore no payment of dividends.
- Reinvestment of profits: As a business, we reinvest all profits into business development, with remaining funds benefiting charitable projects, including our commitment to fight stress.
Benefits for the company
With the continued development of ESG strategies within companies, we are all aware that suppliers are being scrutinized more than ever. Social enterprise status has enabled our clients to improve their ESG credentials, we have a proven commitment to supplier spend diversity and we are a charitable organization with our ingrained social mission making Corps a more attractive investment in bidding and bidding situations.
Social enterprise status provides business opportunities in our sector. We are unique in our offering, and for many other security companies, the time and requirements to achieve social enterprise status would take much longer to achieve, leaving us the opportunity to capture and obtain more offers than our competitors in the market.
The benefits of social enterprise status offer more than just business benefits. Our retention of employees, many of whom have decades of service for us, is strongly influenced by the social mission on which we were founded. The team lives and breathes our vision and our values, which are much more visible and clearer than in many companies.
By reinvesting our profits, we are in a constant state of business development, but in addition, we can invest more in our team. We pride ourselves on having most of our workforce, and increasingly, on living wage – with the full support of our customers.
Should your business consider social enterprise status?
As mentioned above, for Corps, the process was much faster than what a typical business would experience. However, we strongly believe that the benefits of obtaining status would outweigh any effort to achieve it.
It is worth learning about the process and requirements of a social enterprise. Consider your company structure and shareholder reaction. To provide insight into how your business will need to adapt, here are some of the caveats required:
- The company must provide paid employment to an underrepresented group in society
- The company must reinvest its profits and donate the rest to charity
- The company will have to pass a “special resolution” with 75% of shareholders in agreement
- The company must have a definitive and solid ESG strategy
In addition, the company will need its own social mission. While Corps focuses on veterans, other minority sectors of society, such as those with physical or mental disabilities, need additional representation in the corporate sector. A social mission is more than a statement on paper, it should be something you believe in, your employees will engage in and positively influence your relationship with clients or clients.
We broke the mold
Corps is proof that any business, regardless of size or revenue, can become a socially ethical business. Your business may never be able to achieve status, but the guidance and support provided by Social Enterprise UK can, at a minimum, help you turn your business into one you can be proud of. Sometimes the smallest of steps will make the biggest difference to members of society.
About the Author: Mike Bullock is the CEO of Body Security.