If I understand 'social enterprise' correctly,
it goes like this: "an organisation that applies commercial strategies to maximize improvements in human and environmental well-being". The problem of being social entreprise is, well, in being an entreprise.
You not only are seen differently by people - you are also supposed to see the world differently, through spectacles of 'commercial strategy', so to speak.
Being a business entity (even different in it's relationship with shareholders, as it is the case of social entreprise) imposes business language, logic, all emotional and cognitive structure of a, well, business entity. And it is not just you (we) - it is the whole world that changes the perception of you. Defining yourself as the enterprise, ties you to the vast mental burden (and heritage) of capitalist system - the burden we are actually trying to get rid of.
It's tempting, indeed. We (almost) all have been born and bred to believe that this marvellous toolset of capitalist entrepreneurship can do anything. And in skilled and benevolent hands - our hands - will certainly sort the world's problems out.
Except it's not true. [metaphore on] Master's tools will never dismantle Master's house. And bootstrapping works in Von Munchausen's tall tales only. If you sit down to the blackjack table, you better not play chess there - or you perish. [metaphore off]
The good example of social entrprise approach is what James phrased so well: if your community needs steelworks and you have no money for steelworks, adjust. Run a community clothing bank instead. Be pragmatic. Show must go on. The fact that the community REALLY needs steelworks simply fades into a woodwork. Personally, I ceased to be that pragmatic. The world (or system, if you prefer) is ingenious in setting circumstances up to make us behave (according to it's rules) and our socially conditioned minds are relentless in finding rationalisations why we should conform. BUT I BELIEVE Edgeryders were meant to change the world - not to be changed by it.
In his almost iconical "The Fifth Paragraph", Alberto listed a set of advantages he sees in changing Edgeryders into an Edgeprise. These are advantages, I agree. But they are by no means unique to the business entity form. Every foundation or association can provide:
Linking point between freestyle activists and policy makers (provided both sides want to be linked).
A revenue stream. I do not know formal nuances for the rest of EU, but in Poland foundations and registered associations are allowed to run business activity, as a side one, to support their statutory objectives. Apart from that - a non-business entity has several additional funding sources available, like donations and wills.
Paid work or even some jobs. To whom it may concern (not me ) - it's just the same with the foundation & association.
To cut the long rant brief, I think we may have most of advantages, with the least of disadvantages, if we decide to form (I stick with Polish legal framework, why not) a registered association, being internally structured as a cooperative, with strongly defined statutory goals and the charter allowing business activity to support them.
For those, who like doing business, it would give a lot of playground - and the important role to play in the whole community. For those who prefer Edgeryders as they are now - the non-business activity will stay unharmed, even reinforced.
And as long the direct democracy, in the form of cooperative, will be maintained, I do not expect any major trouble with the community spirit.
As a last thing - some of you may be aware of the situation of Couchsurfing after they decided to go commercial - how many people, often long-time dedicated members, decided to leave and join totally freestyle Bewelcome, just because of this.
We do not wont that for Edgeryders, I hope.
L'esprit d'escalier: If you want to see an organisation I would like us to be inspired of, see http://www.seashepherd.org/