Social Innovation Listening

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I know I’ve mentioned these Social Innovation Conversations before, but some of these podcasts, despite the US focus, are really worth a listen, particularly if you have a lengthy commute or are travelling around a fair bit. The one I listened to most recently was about "Evaluating Social Venture Ideas" which certainly livened up the tube/bus home….What caused the brain to kick into gear mostly was one of the panellists talking about a four-way division of companies: bad-bad companies, good-bad companies, bad-good companies, and good-good companies. [imagine the first adjective refers to "well-run" and the second refers to "social impact"; it’s explained better on the podcast!]…but there’s other stuff too.

Loading up for listening this evening is the very relevant "What does it take to get off the ground?"….

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Intelligent Reporting?

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I thought I’d post an update about the ruckus that has kicked up around SSE Fellow Dave Pitchford’s Intelligent Giving website. Obviously [disclaimer alert] we are biased as we have a connection to the organisation, but I do think it’s an interesting tale with some relevant lessons.

It started with an article about Children in Need which criticised it being poor at reporting/transparency and recommended giving direct to local charities rather than central grant-givers, because that’s a more efficient way of donating. This then led to an article in the Times and lots of follow-ons in the Mail, the Sunday Mirror, the Sunday Telegraph (in which Terry Wogan called them ‘contemptible’) and across the sector press as well.

The IG team claim the original Times article misquoted them badly, and that several of the subsequent ones have as well (see their blog and the discussion forum on the site for all the links and rebuttals and responses).

Most recently, yesterday’s Society Guardian weighed in as well, quoting critics from the Institute of Fundraising (‘crude’!) and Sue Ryder Care ("disturbing"!; disclaimer: SRC’s annual review gets strong criticism on the IG website). What’s interesting is that none of the articles or critics have actually answered the original points from the article, but merely said, effectively, "who are these upstarts!" or, as the SRC man puts it more eloquently, these "self-appointed guardians – with apparently little demonstrable understanding of the operating framework of modern charities".

Now obviously we at the SSE know a little more about it, but you only have to look at the people who’ve helped/advised (Geoff Mulgan, David Robinson, Luke Fitzherbert, Fred Mulder, New Philanthropy Capital, Esmee Fairbairn Foundation etc. etc….) and to  have seen the 43 criteria they judge by, and how they were thought through to know that the "little demonstrable understanding…" is way off beam. You only have to look at the sensitive wording around, for example, fundraising and admin costs on each profile to see that this is far from crude. (the US version, Charity Navigator, does include these in its ratings….). See also this discussion on Fundraising UK’s forum, which is much calmer

As for self-appointed, well, to a degree all social entrepreneurs are to begin with (who "appointed" Lady Ryder to start her first nursing home? or Michael Young to start the Consumers Association? etc..or did they just see a problem that they understood and aim to solve it?), but what the article misses is arguably the most important point. Yes, the founder/backer have a background in journalism (along with a whole other range of cross-sector work) but they are also both donors. That is to say that they come from the community they are aiming to serve…rather than,  perhaps, one of the countless voluntary sector-led initiatives which are operating in the same field. And they have worked hard (see above) to get buy-in from the sector at large…very few charities actually seem to have complained, but see it as a potentially welcome addition to the field.

The only part of the criticism that rings in any way true is that charities should be judged by impact and effectiveness, rather than just finances/transparency/accountability. A massive complex job that I’m sure Intelligent Giving would be delighted to take on with greater capacity. After all, it wasn’t criticising CIN’s impact, but its reporting and the inefficiency of the giving mechanism…..

Finally, it’s interesting to note that the same edition of the Guardian featured an article calling for  charities to be more professional,  including  "And governance issues should be addressed. If you are to handle public funds, you must be visibly accountable and transparent."  Meanwhile, there is news elsewhere about a consultation for the government funded Charitable Giving and Philanthropy Research Centre ….so clearly they are operating in a field of some relevance, no?

The lessons (for me)?

– Social entrepreneurs do challenge the status quo and are often self-appointed; but that’s not a bad thing as long as they’re not being some heroic individual who is not listening, understanding or engaging with their stakeholders/beneficiaries…..which is not the case here

– The media is a double-edged sword (OK, not so much a lesson as revision); + one article can lead to another….but if the first one doesn’t get it quite right…..

– That the sector needs challenging if it wants to improve, and needs to acknowledge its weaknesses as well as communicate its strengths; being honest about your weaknesses (and how you intend to address them) is far better than communicating that "everything is perfect" (does anyone ever believe that?)…

Informed debate is healthy and to be welcomed….

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Scarman and Hinton lectures

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There was much coverage towards the end of last week of Cameron’s Scarman Lecture which featured Conservatives accepting the concept of relative poverty, and the propounding of the ‘social responsibility agenda’. The emphasis was on attacking the "causes of poverty" and, following families, drugs & alcohol and debt, comes a fount of solutions: social enterprise:

"Well I want local authorities – and large voluntary organisations – to be more permissive themselves.To take more risks. To put more emphasis on funding organisations themselves, and less on funding specific measurable outcomes.To sustain the continuity of care, so that social enterprises can
develop proper relationships with the people they’re trying to help. And in the most deprived areas I want us to be especially proactive.

Just as economic growth in the inner cities was kick-started in the 1980s by Enterprise Zones with low taxes and regulations…..so I believe we need Social Enterprise Zones today. Our Policy Review is developing proposals for areas where the planning
rules are relaxed, so communities can use buildings and space more
flexibly where there is a level playing field for the voluntary sector to compete with the public and commercial sectors…where the funding streams for social enterprise are simplified and longer contracts awarded and where voluntary work is rewarded in the tax and benefits system."

Difficult to argue with much of this, and many small/medium charities/enterprises would endorse the sentiments and the words. Cameron even responded directly to the main criticism of this focus on social enterprise + the voluntary sector ("Some people may be nervous that our faith in social enterprise and the
voluntary sector is a cloak for an agenda of spending cuts to finance
tax cuts….") and there is evidence of a good understanding of the issues of state funding and its relationship to independence/innovation/effectiveness. His answer: trust/be open.

Can’t help but be made nervous by stuff like this though: "But I am supremely confident that as we allow communities to take over responsibilities for their own neighbourhoods as we change the funding system to reward creativity and innovation we will witness a fantastic flowering of social enterprise, the like of which we cannot even imagine today."  Well, I’d like to think so, but I think a bit of underpromise and overdeliver is probably called for…. (though I guess not many politicians underpromise….)

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Also last week was the Hinton Lecture (pdf), delivered by Ed Miliband. Provides quite an interesting foil to Cameron’s lecture with some similarities (user-driven solutions, third sector as haven of innovation etc) but also a strong emphasis on the sector as voice/campaigner, engaging and representing in a way that government/politicians cannot. Obviously the major difference is that the tenor of Cameron’s speech is about getting out of the way of the sector or the "letting them get on with it" approach, whereas Miliband’s is much more on government and third sector as complementary partners.

Public services is always a hot topic but I think Miliband is right to say that

"For those that do deliver services, it is important this doesn’t become simply a battle for territory with the state or private sector and focuses on the quality of the service. And the third sector needs to do better, working with government, at showing through evidence its impact and difference in the quality of service".

Absolutely. Michael Lyons was saying something similar recently

Aside from public services, the two areas focused on were voice and building communities. There are some interesting points made here about whether it is better to be a unified voice (a la Make Poverty History / Stop Climate Chaos) or not, and about the networks of support that third sector organisations can build and maintain more effectively than government. I would only add that it is key that policy is rooted in practice (a point made by Nicholas Hinton himself, quoted by the minister), and that networks are key in this context…as support mechanisms, as routes of opportunity, as steps on a ladder, and to create strength through diversity.

Miliband/Labour are also getting a little clearer (braver?) about differentiating themselves from Cameron, which is to be welcomed, if only to be able to slide the proverbial cigarette paper between… Witness this paragraph near the end:

"You might call it social responsibility. And social responsibility therefore is the foundation of both voluntary action and a modern welfare state – not, as some would suggest, voluntary action versus a modern welfare state.

So my message tonight is this: progressive change can’t happen without you. But I also don’t think it can happen without an engaged government, working as a good partner at all levels."

Now I wonder who that "some" might be referring to? ;0)

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CSR and responsible business

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Great article on WorldChanging by Joel Makower, entitled Milton Friedman and the Social Responsibility of Business which repeats Friedman’s view that the sole purpose of business is to generate profit for shareholders…and that responsible business is therefore uncompetitive, costly and a distraction from their core obligation.

As Makower points out, we now know this to be nonsense: that ignoring environmental and social issues can be bad for business, and that this trend is only increasing. Want to recruit new graduates? Want to not poison/pollute your customers? Want to have raw materials to use in ten years time? Want to retain employees? And so on. If a company isn’t thinking in these kind of ways in this day and age, it will soon be left behind….better to be ahead of the curve than trying to claw your way up it over the next decade.

And that goes for big and small business: I enjoyed judging the CAF CCI awards recently, an enjoyment tempered only by how few SMEs enter the awards, a topic we discussed afterwards. So much discussion of CSR revolves (understandably) around the big boys that there is probably need for a corrective of some sort. I was interested to run across Small Business Journey the other day, which is an interesting way for "small businesses to realise more value by behaving responsibly". Value of all types…

A few more corporate social responsibility pieces to end with:

– a corporate social responsibilty course in Barcelona (download the modules online) [via Audeamus]

– Fast Company have dished out their 2007 Social Capitalist Awards to, slightly bizarrely, 43 organisations (why 43? a secret homage to 43 Things and 43 Folders?)….mainly US-focused as ever, but worth reading some of their gumph as well, including their take on why this is all important: "A More Powerful Path"

– A post linking to some debates about Product Red (iPod, AmEx etc. raising money for HIV); interestingly, there was someone on the radio this morning discussing how we should be giving African countries an army rather than aid…will try and find the link….. 

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Video posting: the Camel

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Have a few bits of video I want to post up occasionally, so thought I would give this a test run (using VideoEgg.com). Here is a video of our local pub (the Camel) detailing its history during the war as an early social enterprise!

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