What is 'mission-led' business?

What is ‘mission led business’ and what are the implications of the Government’s interest in it?

In March 2016, the Government’s Office for Civil Society and Innovation [1] launched the Mission-led Business Review, ‘focused on understanding the nature, potential and needs of mission-led businesses and identifying private, philanthropic and public opportunities to double the social and economic impact of mission-led businesses over the next decade.’[2]

While the government’s intention to promote ‘social’ business and ‘responsible’ capitalism has been welcomed, the initiative itself has provoked some anxiety, especially amongst existing players in the social economy, including social enterprises, cooperative businesses and charities. There is a real risk, some of these organisations argue, that by introducing open-ended concepts such as ‘mission-led’ business, the government is not serving those who have an established track record in ‘social business’ without distributing profit.

Responses to the initial call for evidence (May to July 2016) indicate that the Review initiative, and indeed the concept of mission-led business itself, provoke deep controversy, especially amongst organisations within the social economy, including social enterprises, cooperative businesses and charities. Social Enterprise UK for example considers the Review’s definition of mission-led businesses ‘nigh impossible to draw’,[3] and questions why the Review confines itself to ‘profit-distributing’ businesses, thereby excluding social enterprises that typically re-invest profit into the business. A key concern is thus that the Government’s mission-led business agenda will be perceived as ‘a threat to or criticism of regulated social sector organisational forms’. At the same time, some voices have argued that change is unnecessary as current legislation provides the flexibilities already for businesses to adopt a mission-driven approach, should they wish to do so. Others still question whether and how it is possible to effect such change at scale, so whether the initiative can have a meaningful impact.

The Centre for Law and Enterprise at the University of Bristol Law School, together with leading social enterprise law firm Bates Wells Braithwaite LLP (BWB), are exploring these controversial policy questions. David Hunter, a senior consultant at BWB, has taken on the role of Associate Fellow on a project directed at the issues, opportunities and challenges thrown up by the Mission-Led Business Review. David will be working with Ms Nina Boeger, Senior Lecturer in Law and Director of the Centre for Law and Enterprise in the University of Bristol Law School. The aim of the project is to produce an evidence-based, balanced and relevant assessment of the legal and policy implications of the Review and the responses to it.

[1] The OCSI was then placed inside the Cabinet Office. It has now migrated to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS).

[2] Mission-led Business Review, Call for Evidence, p. 2 at: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/521927/Mission-Led_Business_Review-Call_for_Evidence.PDF

[3] Social Enterprise UK, Response to Mission-Led Business Review: Call for Evidence, at http://socialenterprise.org.uk/uploads/editor/files/Mission_Led_Business_Review_-_Social_Enterprise_UK_response.pdf

[4] Mission-Led Business Review, Call for Evidence, May 2016, p. 2 see https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/521927/Mission-Led_Business_Review-Call_for_Evidence.PDF

Characteristics of a mission-led business

'According to the UK government, the key characteristics of a mission-led business are that it can: [4]

  • fully distribute its profits;
  • identifies an intention to have a positive social impact as a central purpose of its business;
  • makes a long-term or binding commitment to deliver on that intention through its business and operations;
  • and reports on its social impact to its stakeholders.'

Contact us

For more information please contact Nina Boeger.

Tel: +44 (0) 117 954 5358
Email: nina.boeger@bristol.ac.uk