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Trademarking ‘Social Enterprise’

A few weeks ago, Salesforce.com withdrew its application to trademark the term social enterprise (http://techcrunch NULL.com/2012/09/04/salesforce-bows-to-peer-pressure-withdraws-social-enterprise-trademark-application/). The cloud computing company has used the term extensively in its marketing materials to refer to its suite of services that help businesses use social media.

The retraction was prompted, in part, by an outcry from the social sector -namely, Social Enterprise UK’s campaign to keep the name “for the REAL social enterprise movement.”

In a statement, Saleforce CEO Marc Benioff wrote, “It was never our intention to create confusion in the social sector which we have supported since our founding.”

And yet, this confusion around the term social enterprise is pervasive and has been since the term was first used in the late ‘70s. More than any sector I can think of, we worry about what to call ourselves, who is in and who is out, and the implications of the terms we use. While this attention to detail and level of self-reflection is good, it does come at the cost of confusing and often dissuading those outside of this community from participating.

Ownership of the term by one entity, as Salesforce attempted to do in its own misguided way, is not the answer. But neither is the narrow approach of excluding large, technology-based or mainstream companies either. Instead, individuals playing in the realm of revenue and impact generation must decide for themselves what is deserving of the “social enterprise” title and be prepared to defend that to the people and organizations they work with.

In my first year at Venture Deli, I’ve learned a lot about social enterprises and the diverse range of models and missions of the organizations laying claim to this title. I’ve also learned to go with my gut when figuring out what is and is not a social enterprise. Some key criteria for me are:

Intention – does the company have an honest intention to make the world a better place?

Measurement – does the company measure and respond to their social and environmental impact?

Motivation – does the company consider their social impact equally as important as their financial results?

Profit – do they generate revenue as a result of their activities?

While Salesforce eats crow, we at Venture Deli remain on the lookout for social enterprises, in whatever form they may take.

Image from WebHostingBreak (http://www NULL.webhostingbreak NULL.com/business/9-essential-online-tools-for-your-business/)

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