Fellows and guardians

As we pore over the various action plans and reviews (third sector pre-budget, social enterprise, public service delivery), we prepare for our Fellowship event tomorrow, in which a further 20 will be welcomed to the growing network who’ve completed SSE programmes. The event will be at Rich Mix all day tomorrow, featuring writer and broadcaster Simon Fanshawe and Minister for the Cabinet Office and Social Exclusion Hilary Armstrong, and some amazing and inspirational people (the real stars) driving tangible change in their communities.

As a trailer for the celebration event, there is a long article about SSE in the Education Guardian today, entitled ‘Passion in action‘. Aside from getting the day wrong (they graduate tomorrow, not last week), the article is just about spot on, and really captures what we’re all about: pretty rare and welcome for a newspaper piece….plus its important that we’re recognised for the learning/educational/people development side of what we do, not just the social impact/societal change part. The two go together, and this article communicates that well.

And we’re not the only ones in the media: another SSE Fellow, Simon Fenton-Jones, featured on the Politics Show on BBC 1 on Sunday (so I’m told; I confess to missing it), as chief exec of StreetShine. This was in connection with Iain Duncan Smith’s Centre for Social Justice report….which you can read much more about (and comment on) here.

Last but by no means least, news from another Fellow, Paul Hodgkin, whose Patient Opinion site has started a new feature. Paul writes: "the Patient Opinion blog has just started a new Stories from the Cutting
service where we post up the day’s
(or perhaps the week’s if we’re busy!) most interesting opinion from the front
line of the NHS. Plus whatever comment and erudition we can muster."

Great stuff….

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Campaigning success: a new tube station!

Chrissie Townsend is a social entrepreneur of amazing persistence and ability. Since completing the SSE programme a few years ago, Chrissie, and the Teviot Action Group she founded and runs, have gone from strength to strength.

Whilst we may bask in the achievements of a new website or a well-received report, TAG has been warmly welcoming the start of work on something they had long campaigned for: a new tube station. According to the Tower Hamlets Recorder’s latest article, the campaign has been going on for 19 years. The new Langdon Park stop on the DLR will plug a big gap in the network, and serve people on nearby estates and schools.

And such transport links can massively affect regeneration of an area. As Chrissie puts it herself: "[The station] will help bring along the new homes and
businesses that we need so much in this area."

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Social Entrepreneur Awards: global round-up

A week today, the next group of SSE students graduate from the London programme, and it is certainly important to celebrate and recognise achievements in the field. So, on that note, here are a few recent award-winners of note:

Vikram Akula, Indian microfinance guru, won Schwab Social Entrepreneur of the Year in India

– Kyle Zimmer, of First Book, won the same award for the US: hear a podcast interview with him

– Sylvia Hudson won a social entrepreneur award in the North East here for her work with South Tyneside Credit Union

– Acumen Fund calls for 2008 Fellows (that’s the year not the number they want…)

– Australia’s Social Entrepreneur of the Year is named: Tania de Jong for her work introducing disadvantaged children to music and the arts

– The US seem to be mirroring our Enterprise Week initiative…except they call it entrepreneurship week… and there are some good stories/award-winners here too.

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Social Innovation is (not) Finnished

Ok, so the wordplay has faltered…

Anyway, attended a Demos event last Friday morning on social innovation which included the likes of former Prime Minister Esko Aho ("the tsar of innovation"), Cliff Prior (the new CEO of UnLtd) and Jonathan Kestenbaum (CEO of NESTA), as well as the Demos Helsinki guys who came to visit us earlier this week.

Aho spoke interestingly about the need to invest in not only R&D, but also what he called innovation applications, and the ecology of innovation….and that this applied to social innovation too. Catherine Fieschi, acting Director at Demos, added that "we need to provide safe spaces to take risks…[and] only very legitimate institutions can do that"…hear, hear.

Kestenbaum was impressive as well, although starting misleadingly by quoting the government social enterprise figures (which there is, as I have reported before, some scepticism about) as  proof of "social innovation". Misleading because those figures represent, at best, part of the wider third sector which is, in turn, only one of the three sectors where social innovation can occur.

Anyway, after that, he had much of interest to say, particularly around what tools/techniques from the venture capital world could be transferred (summary: yes to analysis/frameworks to view, no to milestones tied to finance) and around the need to invest in people more than ideas. Or, as he put it, always better to invest in A-grade management with a B-grade product than B-management with an A product, because the former will make it an A product, whilst the latter will drag it down to a B….He also spoke about the gap between "the scale of the problems and the scale of the solutions", and of the need for the UK to "adjust the failure tolerance level"…Finally, he added that the bottom-up vs. top-down dichotomy is a false one, and that ‘true’ social innovation occurs when the two meet.

Plenty of food for thought there, not least around scaling the number of opportunities to take risks or ‘prototype’ and then scaling those ‘prototypes’ that can work/replicate; and around the need to invest in people.

Other speakers included Roope and Aleksi from Demos Helsinki, whose paper on the Welfare State in the Age of Communities will no doubt be available online soon…., and also Cliff Prior, CEO of UnLtd, on the power of networks for social entrepreneurs, which provided something of a grassroots, grounded contrast to some of the discussion earlier, and some interesting examples (not least Green Knickers) which certainly caught the imagination of those present.

All of which provoked some interesting discussion and debate, although I’m not sure the understanding of social innovation was as clear as in some of the Young Foundation’s recent work. Nevertheless, with Demos, the YF, NESTA et al involved, there is clearly a flourishing interest which is overdue in this area, and one which is only set to increase and take social innovation, as Jonathan Kestenbaum put it, "mainstream" in the years to come.

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CAMFED hits the headlines

Ann Cotton, who runs CAMFED (the Campaign for Female Education), was an SSE student back in 1999. CAMFED has been doing amazing work on fighting poverty and AIDS in rural communities in Africa through educating girls since 1993. In that first year, it helped 32 girls. Last year, it supported almost 250,000 and its impact grows ever more substantial and significant.

The exciting news is that the Financial Times have chosen CAMFED for their seasonal appeal, which is a massive achievement for Ann and her team, and worthy recognition. You can visit the appeal site to donate or contribute yourself, or read more about CAMFED as the FT (subscription needed) writes about it over the coming weeks.

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