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This post is based on Sam Tappenden’s MSc dissertation, which he completed at INLOGOV earlier this year.

Sam Tappenden

In recent years a broad political consensus appears to have developed around the argument that social enterprises have an important role to play in the future of the United Kingdom. Yet despite the political rhetoric, the field of social enterprise research is still relatively under-developed. One major gap as perceived by the UK Social Enterprise Coalition is in understanding how social enterprises use their resources; how social enterprises mobilise resources that other organisations see as liabilities; and how social enterprises are able to integrate resources to formulate strategies and exploit opportunities. For this reason I decided to use Grant’s Resource-Based View (RBV) of strategy as a theoretical framework to explore whether HCM could develop a new strategy for achieving sustainable competitive advantages.

The apparent gap around social enterprises and resources is precisely why I decided to focus on this area for my INLOGOV MSc dissertation. Furthermore, I am currently on secondment from Hertfordshire County Council (HCC) to Hertfordshire Community Meals (HCM), a successful social enterprise which was set up and commissioned in 2007 by HCC to deliver a ‘Meals on Wheels’ (MoWs) service to disabled, elderly, and vulnerable people across Hertfordshire. The very nature of the organisation means that difficult planning, logistical, and resource issues run at the heart of the business, which provided an excellent opportunity for an in-depth case study.

Grant’s theory allowed for the ‘discovery’ of a wide range of under-utilised resources. For example, the research suggests that HCM has:

  • A broad range of transferrable ‘tacit’ and ‘non-tacit’ skills
  • A family-oriented, task-focussed, and tightly-knit organisational culture;
  • A motivated workforce which is primarily driven by ‘intangible’ benefits;
  • A range of under-utilised physical resources such as vehicles
  • A secure and stable financial position

Of particular interest were the findings into HCM’s intangible resources. For example, the culture of the organisation appears to be the source of some of its key capabilities, including its skills in caring, its reputation as a ‘likable’ organisation, and relationships with local government. As a direct result of its positive culture, HCM appears to have an inherent ability to both attract and retain a particular ‘type’ of person that is motivated to ‘make a difference’, attracted by the family-oriented environment, and inherently caring. In this sense it could be argued that the culture of HCM is self-propagating.

Yet more significant is the ‘transferability’ of HCM’s resources: Using Grant’s framework, the research suggests that HCM could achieve sustainable competitive advantages by diversifying into the community care industry through better-utilising its existing resource infrastructure. Furthermore, with HCM’s corporate status as a charitable and not-for-profit social enterprise, it is very likely that in diversifying its core business model HCM could help HCC find considerable financial savings in, for example, the council’s homecare budget. In sum, in the case of HCM, the evidence suggests that social enterprises can draw on a wide range of both tangible and intangible resources which could (and should) be utilised to help balance the budgets of local authorities.

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Sam Tappenden started his career in local government in 2010 through Hertfordshire County Council’s Graduate Training scheme. As part of the training scheme, Sam read for an MSc in Public Management at INLOGOV. Sam is now seconded to Hertfordshire Community Meals as a Business Development Manager where his role is focussed on improving the efficiency of the current business model and assessing options for business diversification. Before moving to Hertfordshire Sam read History at Cardiff University, worked as a Special Constable for South Wales Police, and taught English in rural China.

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