Promoting credible and sustainable standards for social enterprises

by Elise Perry
Tuesday, 31 May 2022 14:41 GMT

This impact story is part of a new series to celebrate the extraordinary pro bono projects undertaken by legal teams to support NGOs and social enterprises with the support of TrustLaw. All projects mentioned in this series are nominated for this year’s TrustLaw Awards. Find out more.

Social Enterprise Mark CIC is a London-based social enterprise accreditation authority, which provides industry standards to assure that the social enterprise business model remains ethical, credible and commercial around the world.

In 2010, the organisation developed sector-agreed criteria to define what qualifies as a genuine social enterprise. It has since been working to promote the capabilities of social enterprises as competitive, sustainable business models dedicated to maximising social impact. Its accreditation has become a global standard for social enterprises and has been expanded to include other standards including the Social Enterprise Gold Mark (the social enterprise mark of excellence) and the Disability Employment Mark (which marks out those social enterprises that primarily support disabled people with securing mainstream and decent jobs).

With the accreditation scheme successfully implemented in the UK, Social Enterprise Mark CIC has worked to broaden its social impact by expanding its accreditation assessment services internationally. To ensure the longevity and success of this expansion, in 2021, Social Enterprise Mark CIC approached TrustLaw, the Thomson Reuters Foundation’s pro bono legal service, for advice on what legal entities should be employed for social enterprises and how these structures could be regulated in various jurisdictions. TrustLaw’s support was also sought to formalise any partnerships, such as with regional or local accreditation organisations, that would be necessary to implement this international growth.

In response, TrustLaw connected Social Enterprise Mark CIC with a team of lawyers from law firms Maples and Calder LLP, Latham & Watkins LLP and Morrison & Foerster LLP to provide the organisation with a clear and comprehensive overview of the legal framework governing social enterprises in Ireland, United Arab Emirates and the United States. In addition, lawyers from law firm Ropes & Gray developed a trademark licensing agreement to be used as a template when expanding operations in the United States.

This legal support has facilitated the Social Enterprise Mark CIC’s international expansion. The organisation is now operational in various countries, including Spain and the UAE, and continues to welcome applications from social enterprises across the world seeking accreditation.

Speaking about this collaboration, Priyambada Das, Associate from Ropes & Gray, said: “This will have a significant impact in encouraging social enterprises to meet the social enterprising standards and parameters defined by Social Enterprise Mark CIC and get recognised as a genuine social enterprise.”

Alfredo Silva, Partner at Morrison & Foerster, said: “Assisting Social Enterprise Mark CIC was a timely and impactful way to leverage the 83-jurisdiction wide comparative analysis of social enterprise legal reform that we recently completed. We hope our research continues to be useful in other contexts as well.”

Echoing the same sentiments, Osama Lone, Associate from Latham & Watkins, said his law firm was “thrilled to have been able to assist Social Enterprise Mark CIC with its expansion in the UAE and looks forward to it enhancing the local social enterprise eco-system”.

The pro bono legal support received was critical for this scaling up. Speaking after the expansion, Lucy Findlay, Managing Director of Social Enterprise Mark CIC, said: “For a small social enterprise like ours, legal costs are prohibitive and can lead to barriers to growth and exposure to risks that are harder to mitigate when you are trying to reach out to other countries for international expansion and partnership building”.

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