Scaling social impact

A brief post before heading out of the door…but just received the latest missive from Greg Dees at CASE/Fuqua, which is all about scaling social impact. Well worth a look through the 160 case studies they have in their online database (OK, I’ve looked at a few…), as well as some interesting articles from Stanford Social Innovation Review. SSE’s take on this is that, yes we need some organisations to scale up and replicate to have a bigger impact and share their knowledge and strategies….but we also need to scale up the number of opportunities for as many people as possible to become a social innovator/entrepreneur. For many initiatives are fit to a particular locality and community and are not suitable for scaling, and should resist the impulse (I talked about this previously in Scaling your replicable pilot franchise).

Anyway, there is lots of interesting stuff here to sift through.

Also worth mentioning is that UnLtd, of which SSE is a founding partner, had a big Awards event today. Sadly, I couldn’t be there, but hope it went well, and that there was a warm welcome to these new entrants to the movement. Please note that the autumn/winter 2006 edition of UnLtd’s No Limits magazine (quarterly, becoming monthly) is available for download here (pdf). Featuring Ben Metz of Ashoka fame, no less….

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50 Green Entrepreneurs

Worldchanging (whose book you should be buying at a particular time on November 1st…about 4.11pm Uk time, I think?) points out’s list of 50 Green Entrepreneurs: the Green 50. They are US-based, pretty much, but loads to inspire and inform here…from recycled toothbrushes to a zero-waste company. And natural burial, something I know a fair bit about from previous work: one green industry where the UK is well ahead of the pack.

All very timely given the Stern report and associated brouhaha. On the back of which, George Monbiot has a 10 step plan to save us….which seems remarkably plausible on this blustery Tuesday morning.

[via Doors of Perception]

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Comprehensive Spending Reviews

For the sector geeks amongst you, a good link here from Voluntary News, detailing various responses to the Treasury Comprehensive Spending Review re. the third sector. SSE also submitted a response, + fed into the London Third Sector Alliance response as well….

Whilst we’re in the political sphere, it’s also worth mentioning that there was a social enterprise supplement in the Observer this Sunday (though sadly not online, that I can see), organised by SEC and featuring many of the award-winners from the Enterprising Solutions event. There’s also an article by Ed Miliband which features the following:

"[Government] can help to build a culture of social enterprise. We want more people, from schools to boardrooms, to understand what the term means. Only by extending understanding of the concept can we inspire more people to become social entrepreneurs. We can ensure that social enterprises have the right advice. This starts with Business Links….but it also means encouraging specialist support agencies and the networks of successful social entrepreneurs"

Yes, yes and yes to that: broadening understanding of this movement… to encourage many more people to get involved in it…and encourage those networks and agencies that provide opportunities/support to those people.

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The Financial Times on social enterprise


The Financial Times carried a piece on social enterprise last Thursday, which somehow crept past our eyes, entitled "When the good struggle to be great". It covers the mighty GreenWorks, and attempts to wrestle with two key questions (which won’t be new to many of you…):

1) What exactly constitutes a social enterprise?
2) How can such businesses achieve the scale needed to meet the expectations being heaped on them?

The first is an old thorny argument: social entrepreneurs choosing the models most effective to them achieving their outcomes, or social enterprises being defined by their business model. As if to elucidate this issue, the FT article mentions CafeDirect, Big Issue and Fifteen, none of which are a CIC, a Co-op, a social firm, a DTA etc….but a Plc, a private limited company and (I think) another company (the Fifteen website says that the charitable arm, the Fifteen Foundation, "effectively owns the restaurant"). I’ve probably said enough on definitions to last a lifetime but would only add that the issue for me is transparency; we trust CafeDirect because it is clear that 86% of its profits go back into their social initiatives; we trust Fifteen because it is clear that all profits go to fund the work. And so on. A CIC does lock in assets (and prevent takeovers?) but it’s not necessarily a barrier to unethical practices, or a direct route to the most effective social impact.

Interestingly, Gordon D’Silva (of Training for Life) is quoted as saying that “a lot of rubbish about 55,000 successful social enterprises”, the government’s estimate, and it’s certainly true to say that there is a fair amount of scepticism about that figure. And there’s mention of a web toolkit for budding social entrepreneurs which we look forward to. It’s also interesting that Gordon talks of "sharing knowledge" as a means to scaling the industry, rather than necessarily expanding his own organisation to the hilt.

It’s just frustrating that a major piece of coverage in the mainstream business press should focus on what is, really, a bit of a tired debate. Yes, some focus on the individual making change and some focus on the model/structure. Some more on the social impact and some more on the (financial) sustainability….but there is room for all of them and more, and the less time spent debating these internal issues and the more spent delivering on the promises the better.

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Enterprising solutions and other things

Racking up things to blog about at the moment, so here’s a round-up of a few things to clear the blog intray…..

Enterprising Solutions Awards last night, organised by SEC (well done all), with some worthy winners (see the shortlist on the site), an entertaining host and a really moving speech by the main winner Sunderland Homecare….supplement on the winners in the Observer this weekend.

– Ed Miliband was also there last night, and worth mentioning the philanthropy research centre he launched last week; see the Cabinet Office press release for more. I assume they will be speaking to SSE Fellow Dave Pitchford, whose Intelligent Giving site goes live soon….

– Gordon Brown, meanwhile, gave a speech at the Corporate Social Responsibility dinner which talked of Britain being the world leader in CSR and talked of the achievements in social enterprise and volunteering….see here for more

– Interesting report on social enterprise and housing associations
from the Camberwell Project; coming at it from the housing associations
creating/becoming social enterprises, rather than empowering their
residents, though….

– Loving some new terms in this field: vetrepreneurs and hyperpreneurs; oh yes.

– Amidst all the hullabaloo (sp.?) about social enterprises delivering in health and care (after a big conference recently + a new initiative), it’s worth pointing out a more cynical view of the current trend from a practitioner who points at three drivers for becoming a social enterprise, namely:

    fausse sacoche de luxe

  • Looking impressive to political masters
  • Trying to stay one-step ahead of the next      organisational restructuring
  • Pure cold-blooded knee-trembling fear

– Finally, what about cut your friends, improve your effectiveness as a strapline for the future? Food for thought….

[via lots of places, but especially, VoluntaryNews and Xpress Digest ]

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