Social enterprises appear to be getting some bad press amid the Corona virus outbreak. Just a few days ago, a story broke about a social enterprise owner who had drawn flak for expressing some disturbingly ignorant and bigoted views.
Among her views include the following:
“Foreign workers now live comfortably in army camp, SCDF Academy, stadium, cruise ship, floating housing, HDB flat. They are beginning to get used to this comfortable life how to go back to slum living when Covid is over. Obviously these workers don’t make an effort to recover”
“Are tax monies used to pay for these foreign workers accommodation, medical and their leave of absence? Since they’re paid to stay at 3* staycations and don’t need to work why bother to recover soon? If these workers don’t recover in 2 weeks, shouldn’t the government sent them packing home? How is the government going to penalize the dorm operators?”
Now, it would appear that another social enterprise Migrant X Me LLP (“MXME”), has also become the subject of controversy and increased public scrutiny.
Among other things, MXME has been criticised for possibly promoting and profiting from poverty porn. Poverty porn has been defined as “media which exploits the conditions of the poor in order to generate the necessary sympathy for profits or other forms of gratification”.
It also appears that there might have been some inconsistencies in relation to MXME’s fundraising activities which gave the initial impression that all funds for a particular fundraising drive were going to be used for SG Accident Help Centre although it later transpired that only $50,000 would be going SG Accident Help Centre while the remaining funds would be used to fund MXME’s own operations.
With social enterprises garnering such attention, it might be worthwhile to shed some light on what a social enterprise is supposed to be.
According to an article on TODAY: “The term social enterprise depicts a hybrid model of a revenue-generating mindset and a deep commitment to address one or more social issues.”.
So while it is perfectly fine for a social enterprise to be profit driven like any other company, the public do have a higher expectation for the morals and ethics of a social enterprise because a social enterprise is meant to have the addressing of a social issue at the core of its existence and foundation. With that in mind, it is only natural for the public to assume that the owners of such social enterprises are socially minded as well.
Besides, social enterprises have benefits that regular companies do not have. In some ways, it could be viewed that they are rewarded for trying to accomplish a social mission.
Social enterprises registered in Singapore can claim;
- Up to S$100,000 in seed grants under Venture For Good (VFG), by Singapore Centre for Social Enterprise (raiSE)
- Up to S$20,000 grants for expansion to existing social enterprises as an early stage funding for pilot ideas
- Up to S$300,000 for social enterprises that train and employ disadvantaged Singaporeans under the ComCare Enterprise Fund (CEF)
- Up to S$300,000 to new cooperatives under Central Cooperatives Fund
Given that a social enterprise is meant to be beneficial to the community and has access to grants, should there be a code of conduct that social enterprises and their founders have to comply with?
Apart from raiSE which helps support social enterprises, there does not appear to be a specific governing body for social enterprises. Given that they can market themselves as a company that is beneficial to the community to attract customers, it is not unreasonable to hold them and their founders to a higher standard.
It therefore comes as a rude shock to see social enterprises and their owners come across as racist, classist, tone deaf, ignorant and/or bigoted.
Looking at the recent bad press, it might well be that we need a more robust regulatory regime for the behaviour of social enterprises and their founders. We might also need to build in a stricter criteria for what qualifies as a social enterprise. On top of that, there should be repercussions for misleading fundraising activities.