The Purpose Prize and silver social entrepreneurs

Had you ever heard of the Purpose Prize? No, me neither. What a great name, btw. It is a prize for "Americans leading with experience", or, more prosaically:

The Purpose Prize awards $100,000 to each of five people over
60 who are taking on society’s biggest challenges. It’s for those with
the passion and experience to discover new opportunities, create new
programs, and make lasting change.

Which basically means they give £50k to five social entrepreneurs over 60. Check out the finalists here, or read a piece in the Wall Street Journal, which covers the prize and features four of the finalists. Inspiring people, inspiring change, as the SSE strapline would say.

What is interesting for me is that when politicians and our sector fellows talk about "encouraging new entrants" to social entrepreneurship and social enterprise, they talk (for 99% of the time) about young people, entrepreneurship in schools, marginalised groups and so on….so rarely have I ever heard anyone raise the issue of the ever-growing, talented, skilled and passionate older population who are entering retirement not to relax but often with a renewed sense of purpose. As the article in WSJ puts it:

"The prize highlights the emergence of innovative altruism among
older Americans. In a survey of 1,000 people age 50 to 70 that Civic Ventures
commissioned last year, nearly three in five of those in their 50s said they
wanted to use the next stage of their lives to improve the quality of life in
their communities."

Is the UK any different? No. SSE has several Fellows over 50 who’ve completed its programmes, and it is a trend I envision increasing. I look forward to the first Purpose Prize UK….

[info via Vancouver Social Enterprise Forum and the Wilson Center for Social Entrepreneurship ]


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29 ways to stay focused at work

Social entrepreneurs can be, by their very nature, leaping from opportunity to opportunity: restless, action-led people wanting to make things happen. These traits do not always lend themselves to focus in the office/workplace, so thought these might be of interest:

11 ways of staying focused

and, then….

– another 18 ways of staying focused…

Of course, my focus remains undiminished….which is why I am blogging about remaining focused….

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Entrepreneurship education

At SSE we like to tackle the big questions in life: If a tree falls in a wood and no-one’s there, does it make a sound? What is the meaning of life?  Where is Timbuktu? And, of course, are entrepreneurs born not made?

A similar poser is "Can entrepreneurship be taught?", to which one might add, "or can it be learned?" There’s no easy answers here, but SSE certainly recruits on the basis of character traits and life experience, rather than paper qualifications. What might be a more interesting version is "Can entrepreneurship be learned in an educational institution?" This is particularly relevant because a lot of the skills that employers are looking for are possessed by entrepreneurs: innovation, flexibility, cross-cutting skills, adaptability, self-reliance and so forth. As a result, there is a lot of interest in teaching entrepreneurship, and social entrepreneurship, in schools.

The most famous and long-lasting of these has been Young Enterprise, which encourages students at school to set up actual business/enterprises in a learning-by-doing kind of way, primarily outside of the normal school day. The Young Foundation are looking at something more radical still, in the form of Studio Schools; as they put it:

"The idea of a studio school hangs on the central feature of a series of
operating businesses run by the students themselves. As small schools
closely linked to particular industries, participant numbers would be
capped at 300 per school and the staff would comprise a mix of teachers
and non-teachers with business expertise."

Which reminds me of an even more radical US experiment that I read about, under which the whole school had its own money, courts and taxation. Now that is learning by doing….

Other initiatives with a particularly social entrepreneurial leaning have been put in place by Changemakers and Cantilever (offshoot of CAN), though they battle the limits of the curriculum. If entrepreneurship inevitably contains risk and failure, can it happen in the classroom?

Or, as this article suggests, do most entrepreneurs simply get on with it from a young age, be  it via the paper round, selling to school friends, or, in some unusual cases, running a lemonade stand that gives money to charity…..youngest social entrepreneur of the week award….

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Social enterprise research: CIC-ass results?

All bad puns aside, the research in this month’s Social Enterprise Magazine on CICs makes interesting reading. The survey of the 296 CICs (they interviewed 65 of those, which is not a bad sample size) has some good stats to chew on. Most interesting is the "Why did you choose a CIC structure?" question, of which the results were:

– Most appropriate form between business and charity: 43%
– Less regulation than charity: 19%
– To prove social purpose: 16%
– Asset lock: 9%
– Clear brand: 8%
– To get funding: 3%
– Simplicity of setting up: 2%

Although I remember several of the early CICs saying that they were in it for the free PR! Though maybe that comes under "clear brand". Obviously, for most organisations it would have been a mix of all of the above (they also asked "which was the most important factor for your decision?", and proving social purpose came top, followed by less regulation)… is intriguing that the asset lock scored relatively lowly, although the regulator’s role is also a key part of the CIC make-up, and that was obviously welcomed.

The other stats that seemed most interesting to me were the regional breakdown (19% London, 15% South East, 12% South West, %10 North West and all others between 3% (Wales) and 9%) and the "What is the biggest barrier facing your company?" The answers to the latter were as follows:

– Access to finance: 37%
– Lack of understanding of CIC model by others: 20%
– Dealing with growth/cashflow issues: 9% (surely these are separate problems?)
– Winning business/contracts/sales: 8%
– Finding premises: 6%
– Getting the right staff and skills: 6%
– Marketing: 6%
– Other: 5.5%

So, there is obviously further work to do promoting the CIC model, but it’s still early days, so that comes as no surprise, really. Nor does the ‘access to finance’ issue….is this ever not a barrier for any business, I might ask, if I was being unfair – but just because we always hear it doesn’t mean it’s not true (or still true). It’s also good to see that the model can be used by a diversity of different businesses (environmental, youth, restaurants, transport and so forth). The finding that the "typical manager is aged between 30 and 50, white and male" is less encouraging, and I hope the SSE can help in changing that picture (which is probably similar for the sector as a whole).

Other research is available for download from SEL’s website: the Social Enterprise Journal, Volume 2 (pdf), which has some interesting pieces worth a flick through (or a longer peruse, if you find the time). Most relevant to us seems to be the "Developing fledgling social enterprises? A study of the support required and means of delivering it" and "Developing emerging social enterprise through capacity building", so I will report back on those another time…….

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Seventh Generation Networking: Canada

Whilst away at a friend’s wedding, the world of social entrepreneurship and social responsibility continued to follow me around. Met an interesting guy who works in music TV in Canada, but who previously was involved with CSR with Seventh Generation, the US’ "leading brand of non-toxic household products" who, allegedly, are now Vermont’s coolest employer, ahead of the erstwhile Ben and Jerry. He was saying that Canada views the US and UK as a fair way ahead in terms of social entrepreneurship and corporate social responsibility, and that they have a distance to go.

I’m not sure this is totally the case, as there seems to be a fair bit of activity, particularly over in Vancouver. Check out these links:

– the Canadian Social Entrepreneurs Network
– the Vancouver Social Enterprise Forum
Canadian Centre for Social Entrepreneurship
– the Columbia Foundation
– the Peter Drucker (social) Innovation Award
Social Capital Partners


In a bizarre coincidence, word reaches me of the 3rd Tremblant Forum on Corporate Responsibility and Sustainability, being held where I was at the Quebec wedding I mention above….the world moves in mysterious ways, indeed. See TremblantForum for more info…

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