Chapter 10: Verifying social enterprises: applying lessons from Fairtrade and other certifications
This chapter tells the story of Social Venture Partners of Rhode Island, a support organization for social enterprises. SVPRI’s stakeholders requested assistance in marketing and growth, and SVPRI and its consulting firm, New Commons, responded by developing a label that qualifying stakeholders could use to verify their work as a social enterprise. In preparation for developing standards and creating a verification process for their label, the SVPRI/New Commons team convened stakeholder focus groups, researched extant social enterprise certifications, and studied the history of Fairtrade certification. This chapter describes these investigations, their findings, and the resulting Buy with Heart™ verification process. The authors posit that organizational form is irrelevant, and that – contrary to conventional theory and traditional practice – both for-and nonprofit social enterprises can be held to the same standards of prioritizing social impact. They also argue for peer-verified certification, as opposed to self-certifications, which lack accountability, or thirdparty auditing, which does less to foster a practitioners’ community. This chapter speaks to the literature on voluntary certifications, social enterprise definition, and multi-stakeholder decision making.
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