The myth and truth of the heroic individual

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Geoff Mulgan, of the Young Foundation (our landlords and colleagues here in Bethnal Green) writes interestingly in the Guardian yesterday about social innovation (a summary, effectively, of their recent Social Silicon Valleys pamphlet). Effectively, the argument is that social innovation (of which social entrepreneurship/social enterprise is a substantial part) has been underrecognised, undervalued, underresearched and undervalued, as compared with technological/product/scientific innovation. Mulgan believes that the time is right for a revolution, no less, in the way social innovation is supported + how research and development in the field are put into place.

Intriguing stuff. One bit that stood out for me was the following:

"But social innovation still tends to be left to energetic individuals (and, indeed, much of the limited support that there tends to be focused on individuals despite the abundant evidence that lasting social change usually comes from movements, networks and teams)."

This relates to something that I brought up in the last post about this belief, on occasion, that the School believes in the concept of the heroic individual who solves everything. I think there’s something of that in the paragraph above. Really, though, SSE approaches the development of social entrepreneurs as a group experience in which networks are paramount, and in which they form their own teams and, in some few cases, start movements.

It seems to me that the key is not to diminish the focus on support for individuals leading social change, but to ensure that the importance of building networks, getting people to buy into what you do, creating teams of support/champions, knowing when to expand/delegate successfully, and so on, is embedded in that support. Having just come out of a stakeholder evaluation workshop with SSE students and Fellows (of which, more soon), the thing that came out above all else in terms of importance to (and impact on) them and their project was networks, teams, support…indeed, one of them used the term ‘team’ to describe the people she now has around her.

What it comes down to, to purloin a phrase from elsewhere, is an investment in people. Should there be more investment in research of unmet needs? Yes. More collating of new innovations? Yes. More testing of models? Yes. More development of organisational solutions? Yes. But no matter how powerful and innovative the idea, how desperate the need, or how failsafe the model, it is the people involved who will most likely determine its success. Not heroic individuals striving on their own, but remarkable individuals who are engaged with the community (thematic or geographic) they are aiming to serve, who have an innovative solution to an unmet need (big or small), and who have the drive, commitment and characteristics to build a team and network around them to make it happen.

After all, if you look at a lot of the social innovations in the article, how many would have happened without such social entrepreneurs: Curitiba? (Jaime Lerner). New Lanark (Robert Owen). Grameen (Muhammad Yunus). Open University (Michael Young).etc…….Could they/did they do it on their own? No; they built teams, tapped into networks, started movements, piloted ideas etc. But nor would it have happened without them.

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Social entrepreneurs: hard heads and high minds

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Just a quick note to point out that Third Sector magazine has a feature on social entrepreneurs this week, which provides an interesting overview of the field of social entrepreneurship, and features SSE heavily (indeed, the title of the piece comes from our "for the high minded and the hard headed"strapline). As ever, featuring SSE heavily only makes it a more interesting read ;0) You can also view the article via the main SSE website.

There is also an interesting article by the indefatigable Laurence Demarco on the Senscot website (here), which also raises the question of placing too much emphasis on ‘heroic individuals’. This is something that sometimes gets thrown at the school, and we do believe in the capacity of the individual entrepreneur to lead and drive change (and that people make a model a success, and not the other way round), but our ethos is also firmly on group learning, peer support and networks of development.

That is why we feel the cohort of students going through the year-long programme are so important: for it to be a true learning journey, a colelctive experience and for those relationships to develop. More on different models of leadership another time….

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Earned income, social impact and the ultimate bottom line

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Interesting post I found by David Galipeau, entitled social entrepreneur 2.0. In it, he says the following:

“Despite efforts to spread an innovation-based definition, far too many
people still think of social entrepreneurship in terms of nonprofits
generating earned income. Too bad. This shifts attention away from the
ultimate goal of any self-respecting social entrepreneur, namely social
impact and focuses it on one particular method of generating resources.”

Also, he goes on to say:

“But now the focus has shifted from social impact – a hard indicator to measure – to earned income.This is only a means to a social end and it is not always the best means. It
can even be detrimental – taking valuable talent and energy away from
activities more central to delivering on an organization’s social
mission.Though it is very popular right now, it is just one
funding strategy among many and must be assessed on a case-by-case
basis. The key is finding a resource strategy that works.”

Which is pretty hard to argue with, really. When we’re helping students develop their projects here, we encourage them to decide what streams of income (or funding strategy) is most viable, what kind of governance they think would suit them (and the organisation), and what their thoughts are into the future. Does the organisation need to scale up, or is it fit to a specific local problem? Does the organisation need to exist beyond a certain time, or will it have served its purpose? All of these questions go into deciding which structure and strategy to take.

As David Galipeau’s post elucidates, the ultimate bottom line should be the social one: earning income and making a profit/surplus (or being sustainable) is only useful if the project is still having the social impact intended, otherwise earning income could potentially be a distraction, and even divert (all types of) resources away from where they are needed most.

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Action learning: useful links

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The SSE was the first organisation in its field to recognise that ‘action learning’, both as a general approach and a particular methodology, was most appropriate to the development and support of social entrepreneurs. There is a lengthy-ish explanation of why this is the case here, but what it boils down to is the following:

"that entrepreneurs prefer action to reflection: they want to get on with it. They are willing to explore their environment for opportunities and resources, and to take risks. They are "people" people. They aren’t interested in learning programmes that don’t seem relevant to them, and they often move straight into action without any educational preparation. They learn as they go."

So learning by doing, action learning, fits best with the ways they work and the lives they lead. Action learning is also a specific process, as well as a more general approach, and was originally coined and introduced by Professor Reg Revans in the UK mining industry in the 1940s. He described action learning with the formula L = P + Q, where
Learning (L) occurs through Programmed knowledge (P) and insightful
Questioning (Q).

Action learning has now been taken up by other organisations in the field of social entrepreneurship, and more widely in the voluntary sector. Indeed, the new spangly Workforce Development Hub are looking at reviving what was a successful scheme for managers in the voluntary sector….see the Action Learning Matters website for more details.

And if you wish to become an uber-geek on action learning all in, then check out the following links:

12 Manage on Action Learning (good intro)
Action Learning Associates (general info)
What is Action Learning (including photo of Reg Revans himself)
Action Learning: Research and Practice (academic journal)
The International Foundation for Action Learning and others
Action Learning by Krystyna Weinstein (practical handbook; available from SSE library ;0) )
ABC of Action Learning by Reg Revans himself…

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Lottery funding: an open door?

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Ok, so not an open door, but the lottery has created a new front door for people seeking funding from any of its various funds (from UK Sport to Heritage Lottery Fund to Awards for All and Big Lottery Fund). It has the astutely-titled moniker of LotteryFunding.org.uk and, at first try, seems to be fairly usable….

Also worthy of note, in the world of all things lottery, is that Groundwork has won the GMTV people’s vote, and received £1.5 million as a result to transform 25 neighbourhoods across the UK. Congrats to a great charity doing great work.

Finally, Awards for All (the small-scale local community (events) side of the Lottery funding streams) has raised its upper limit to £10k as of April 1st….

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