'Social enterprises have crashed onto the scene with the same energy and style as punk rockers, the new kids on the block full of passion and hope'
Punk exploded onto the scene and transformed the music business some 30 years ago. It came in swearing, gobbing, with loud noise and safety pins - Joe Strummer leading the Clash, Paul Weller the Jam and the Sex Pistols famous for rude interviews.
Another thing that happened in 1976 was that I started my nurse training. In those days, the NHS embodied altruism, pride and loyalty. I can even recall helping out on a shift at another hospital because they were short staffed - that doesn't sound like the NHS of today.But I believe that we can indeed go back to that kind of spirit and more, and that's the connection with social enterprise.
Social enterprises have crashed onto the scene with the same energy and style as punk rockers, the new kids on the block full of passion and hope.
The social enterprise movement, just like the rockers, has emerged proffering an alternative to the existing order. It's an alternative that rejects big business share ownership and blends social business objectives with democratic and co-operative ownership models that puts it closer to the people and uses its surplus to do good things.
The back drop to the introduction of punk rock was a moribund music industry with complacent large monopolistic record companies, predictable artists and a growing euro pop baseline. Many people, mostly young, were alienated, fed-up and impatient for change. The revolution started with small groups setting themselves up all over the place.They challenged professional artists and the unions that wanted to keep out the punks, who declared that they didn't need know all the chords, you just needed to be part of the movement and do it.
First reactions to the new music shocked the establishment to the core, some banned the music, others did not get it and hoped it would go away.
I now see the new healthcare enterprises getting the same sort of welcome and resistance from the system that was given to the early punk rockers.They are emerging though people power and are changing the rules about ethical capitalism.
The social enterprise movement has come about as a direct response to the public view that some of our services are moribund and are unable to meet the needs of the public, lacking in innovation and energy needed for change.
This third way is also a reaction to creeping privatisation and the need to control big business. It is a reaction to how vulnerable we are as a society that is losing social cohesion, to growing threat of climate change and to how we care for our planet.It directly counters the big government trap of making citizens dependent, passive and compliant.
Let's not fool ourselves though, those of us who went though the punk era also saw it move on.The rockers got big and bloated and the record companies found ways to harness their energy to commercial advantage. Even so,something fundamental did change and the effects continue today.
It is my hope that social enterprises go one better than punk and really are the catalyst that re-shape social ownership long term, how we govern organisations, what it means to make profits, how we demonstrate community interest and how we protect each other and the planet.
But for the moment, as late Joe Strummer said Let's Play the Music, these new kids carry on spitting and shaping the health and social care system for sometime to come and the buzz that they create attracts new followers into the public sector.
Peter Mason is chief executive of the Centre for Public Innovation. See the Resources/Useful documents area of HSJ's Working section for more on social enterprises