Geof Cox's Blog

Britain’s Fat Fight: the ‘elephant in the room’ (no pun intended)...

Hugh's Letter

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s recent television series made some good points, and his continuing campaign to restrict junk food marketing, etc, should be supported, but I don’t think he quite gets to the heart of the problem.

The ‘elephant in the room’ is not really the fact that we eat a lot of food that ruins our health – it’s that we live in an economic system that is fundamentally based on getting us to consume more and more of anything and everything – regardless of our well-being, or that of our natural environment, or anything except extracting the maximum profit.

Why does the food industry put junk like huge doses of sugar in our food?  For 2 reasons:

1. It’s cheap – so they make more profit;

2. It makes other cheap ingredients taste better – so we buy it – and they make more profit.

Happy Xmas!

Those who have known me for some years will recall that each Xmas I send an image which reflects both the past year and something of the Xmas spirit.

Bringing these together in the year Trump took office in America, the UK started the 'brexit' procedure, and Europe continued to struggle with refugees, there seemed only one theme that would do: the common humanity and shared values of all peoples.

I thought first of the many sculptures commemorating the children saved from fascism before the war, such as Frank Meisler's 'Kindertransport' sculpture at London's Liverpool Street Station; but on reflection I have chosen a slightly more artistically challenging sculpture for this year's Xmas Image, by Moroccan-French-Italian artist Bruno Catalano.

Catalano has described his 'Voyageurs' - naturalistic figures with large parts of their bodies missing - as 'world citizens', and he has linked them with his own experience of emigrating from Morocco to France as a child, then working as a sailor...

What would a social enterprise economy look like?

CafedirectSocial enterprise – using business models and methods, but for the common good, rather than private gain -  has now proven to be a viable way of organising human affairs.  We can do business better than businesses: for years Cafédirect, for example, has taken market share from multinational corporations, and social investment funds often beat conventional funds even by their own criteria of financial returns; but at the same time we also often achieve greater social impact than conventional charity or philanthropy.

So why aren’t politicians clamouring to use social enterprise as a template for a new economy? – especially in the light of the shortcomings of planned economy models exposed by the soviet collapse in the nineties, and those of contemporary capitalism exposed by the world financial crisis from the noughties to date?

Social Enterprise Law in South Eastern Europe


I've recently been advising the government of a small country in South Eastern Europe on their social enterprise legislation.

Disappointingly, their first Draft Law drew heavily on the Italian 'Types A & B' Social Co-operatives model.  This made me realise just how far social enterprise had come in the last 20 years (Italy itself introduced registration of social enterprises using a much broader definition in 2005).  I thought part of my assessment of where we are now might be of interest to readers in other countries...

A few years ago, 'social enterprise' was seen as a small business 'sector', rather like 'retail' or 'textiles', or as a type of organisation. This is now seen as a misunderstanding: what we call 'social enterprise' is in fact a broad social movement - a whole new way of organising human affairs, linked with 'social innovation' and 'social investment', and influencing how many existing organisations see themselves.

The recent growth in social enterprise has been in response particularly to environmental crisis and the disruptive impact of the internet, and also to loss of faith in both 'state capitalism' or planned economy models (following the 'soviet' collapse of the 1990s), and market economy models (following the world financial crisis - ongoing from 2008).

Geof Cox's Xmas Image 2015

I don't feel I had any real choice about my Xmas image this year - the tragic events in Paris in January, then again last month, defined 2015 here in France.  This year, it had to be Charlie Hebdo...
It's a choice not without some difficulties.  Should such tragedies shadow our celebrations?  But for me, the Xmas and New Year period is not only a time for relaxation and enjoyment, but also reflection on the past year and resolution for the new.

Where does social enterprise fit in postcapitalism?

Thoughts on reading Postcapitalism by Paul Mason, Allen Lane, 2015.

One of the biggest divisions in the social enterprise world – although it's rarely spoken of – is that between those who see social enterprise as mitigating the worst 'market failures' of capitalism, and those who see it as a bridgehead to a better world.  It is this division that drives, for example, the 'definitions' debate – and it's the reason why that debate tends to surface at every conference, despite the participants' avowed boredom with it: official definitions, marks, etc, only make sense if you see social enterprise as a narrow and distinct 'sector' – in which case they make a lot of sense - but if you see social enterprise as part of a broad movement towards the way ALL business should be done, any narrow definition is worse than useless.

Can social enterprise save public services?

The forthcoming conference on this theme led me to post the question 'Can social enterprise save public services?' on social media, which elicited one immediate response of 'NO!'NESEP Brochure

This reminded me of a public service transformation I worked on exactly 20 years ago this summer.

In January 1995, Newcastle Council made a £240,000 cut (84%) in its instrumental music teaching service.  The Musician's Union sent me in to help the teachers facing redundancy to save the service.  We quite explicitly wanted to blend a public service ethos with the dynamism and flexibility of a business.  Together, we set up the North East Music Co-op (NEMCO) - which in its first year grew from the initial 18 teachers to 33, and approximately doubled the number of pupils taught.

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