A lack of U.S. government support is holding back businesses that seek to do good as well as making a profit, according to a Republican congressman who says the private sector often does a better job of solving society’s problems.
Tom MacArthur introduced a bill to Congress in 2016 seeking to establish a commission to examine how government could support social enterprises – businesses that deliver social or environmental benefits – but progress has stalled. “Leveraging the power of the market to solve social problems using private capital is something everyone should be able to get behind,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in an email. “It promotes radical accountability by bringing the private sector’s insistence on measurable results and fiscal soundness to bear – something that government programs fail at miserably.”
MacArthur said the sector was flourishing in the United States even without the support he is calling for. Examples include the Bombas sock company, which donates one pair to a homeless shelter for every pair sold, and Branded, a company named after markings traffickers make on victim’s skin that teaches survivors to become jewellery makers. However, he said a lack of data – no one knows how many social enterprises there are in the United States – was holding back legislation that could boost the industry.
Proper data “would help lawmakers appreciate just how far this sector has advanced, and help us make the case that lawmakers need to be paying more attention,” he said. The first national directory, compiled by a Vermont University academic and published in April, includes 1,000 social enterprises.
In Britain, with a population a fifth that of the U.S., there are 70,000 businesses employing nearly 1 million people last year, according to membership organisation Social Enterprise UK. “We run the risk of missing a huge opportunity,” said MacArthur, whose social enterprise bill was referred to the House of Representatives Committee on Oversight and Government Reform in 2016 and has since stalled. “Social entrepreneurs want to solve the problems facing all of us, and they want to do it in creative, financially sustainable ways.”