Third Sector Leadership event: nuggets of leadership gold

The Third Sector Leadership Centre’s inaugural big event took place this week at Vinopolis in South London, and there were nuggets of gold to be had. Given that social entrepreneurs are often instantly leaders as well, and often the next generation of third sector leaders, I thought I’d try and capture a few brief highlights from some of the speakers and presentations:

Digby Jones, recently DG of the CBI, started us off with the keynote, and he had some good leadership advice, including:

  • lead by example (if it’s uncomfortable, do it first)
  • ensure people take their holidays
  • put the hours in, but…
  • …if it can wait till tomorrow, go home tonight
  • problems at work often stem from problems at home
  • communicate at all times: foster a culture of openness and honesty
  • look out for others: "good leaders are unselfish people"
  • have a sense of humour
  • remember QED: Quality (of organisation, brand, the work), Environment (workplace, politics) and Dosh (has to be right; "if there’s room in the budget, give it to them not you…then tell them you have")

Inevitably, he also banged on about the need to educate people about risk, about the low levels of literacy and numeracy, and that there are winners and losers. To quote directly, "If they can’t do things, let’s put an exocet up their chuff". And he ended with another pearl of wisdom: "It’s very diffficult to give a bollocking to a cheerful person"

[In theory, this led on to a "big debate" but actually we just had a series of speakers (something of a shame for those of us expecting/hoping for sparks to fly)….]

Stuart Etherington of NCVO started with a generous tribute to Stephen Bubb of ACEVO for having the original idea, before moving on to what was distinct about leadership in the third sector, namely governance, measurement, more/more diverse stakeholders, combining delivery and policy, and multiple funding streams.

Shaks Ghosh, ex of Crisis and now at the controversial Private Equity Foundation, talked about leadership being about:

  • reaching down into communities, and understanding how to lead within communities
  • the challenge of remembering where we came from, and retaining that contact with the grassroots
  • fearlessness (in pushing boundaries, grasping opportunities…and saying no)
  • good management, as well as energy and passion

Stephen Bubb, chief exec of ACEVO, reciprocated the tribute from NCVO’s boss (who said they didn’t get on? ;0) and  gave his insights:

  • best leadership lessons are learned on the job
  • "tipping point" leadership: you don’t always need everyone with you…sometimes you are  ahead of them, seeking opportunities and reading trends
  • whingeing: a CEO should never do it, but point out the way forward (there was a  swipe here at whingers in the sector, methinks)
  • "You don’t cross a chasm one step at a time" (from Lloyd George)

Finally, Campbell Robb, the Director General of the Office of the Third Sector, shared his insights (the first of which was not to speak fifth, as Digby Jones walked out as he started….!), starting with an anecdote in which he referred to an exercise on a Harvard programme about the power of silence. Having chatted to his partner, she asked if NCVO had "sent you to Harvard to find out you talk too much", before adding that she could have done that much more cheaply. The lesson from this was to look to those who know you. Others included:

  • keep mission and values at heart
  • have empathy and humility (and a willingness to learn at all times)
  • create space for fearlessness

Add all of those up and some sort of perfect leader may emerge…and more still came out under questioning. Campbell Robb had a neat summation of the independence issue (govt: "why don’t you do what we pay for?"; sector: "why don’t you pay for what we do?"), while Stuart Etherington talked of the "uniqueness of managing people who don’t have to be there" (volunteers). Stephen Bubb called for boldness over paying for the best people, and being professional and passionate (and that the two are possible in tandem).


The sessions I was in were varied: the first was (in title) about leadership in local communities, but was really an introduction to an evaluation/planning tool, rather grandly titled Weavers Triangle. It’s basically a triangle with Overall aim at the top, Aims/Outcomes at the middle level, and Activities/Outputs at the bottom. Like this:


It was quite interesting, but caused lively debate as there was inconsistency in the way it was described at different times.The flaw for me is that there is no sense of "needs" in that equation: what unmet needs are trying to be met? As Ben from Bassac said to me afterwards, though, it’s just a tool…and people can do what they will with it.

The second session I went to was "leading a social enterprise". This was obviously more directly SSE’s field, so no great revelations, although it was interesting to gauge the cultural barriers from some voluntary sector organisations to trading and earning income. The Adventure Capital Fund gave a presentation about their work (which was very dry; some case studies would really have brought this alive) in terms of mixed loans and grants, and seeking a blended return + the type of support they provide during the length of their involvement.

There was also a social entrepreneur, Kevin from Pecan, an organisation in Peckham which had been revitalised through nimbleness and new innovations. He was a much more engaging speaker (almost all questions went to him), and covered important issues like risk, internal skills, shift in cultures, and the need to communicate the social impact of enterprise activities. He also gave a real sense of this being a people-driven change, rather than simply adopting a model or structure which would solve all problems.

[btw, it was great to see an SSE Fellow and current student in that session as well….]

Other stuff: some decent networking, an interesting whistlestop session on integrative leadership (which I’ll come back to another time, methinks), and a final plenary which didn’t do much for me but others seemed to enjoy. There was one great quote from Susan Digby (or Susan Digby Jones as she was called in the programme!), founder of the Voices Foundation who said, in response to a question about leadership/gender, that she’d always been able to get any man to do anything for her! Her advice included:

  • learn on the job
  • absolute blind faith in the mission
  • strong support systems (at home and work)
  • display passion + work hard
  • work on the ground: it feeds and sustains the motivation

Final note to Tracy Beasley, Director of the TSLC (and congrats to her and her team on the event being a real success), who left us with the thought that "there can be no change if there is no learning", which certainly underpins SSE‘s work and has done since inception.

Share Button

Edge Upstarts winners event 07

SSE attended the Edge Upstarts awards the other evening at St James’ Palace, no less. Having arrived slilghtly late, I found myself walking directly behind the royal party (our host was the Duke of Kent, President of Edge) into the venue, and it was a close-run thing not to walk straight up on the stage behind them. Thankfully, I settled in the audience and listened as the winners were announced (photos etc. available via this link).

No great surprises, to be frank…Tom Savage won young social entrepreneur of the year, Belu Water won social enterprise of the year, and Sital Punja (of Sari UK) won social entrepreneur of the year. Best speech came from social enterprise trainee of the year, Craig Watson ("Thank you, London!") who revealed to me later that this was the first time he’d ever been to the capital….and we agreed that receeiving a prize from a duke in a palace might not happen every time.

As ever, the networking is what it’s all about, and the organisers had done well to keep the awards/speeches section to a minimum. Some of those with left-leaning, grassroots backgrounds raised an eyebrow at the level of bowing and scraping, but the Duke’s speech was actually pretty good: he (or his researcher) had done his homework on the background to some of the award-winners, and he was frank in admitting his lack of knowledge of the movement up to that point. Another convert.

Other speakers included Geoffrey Robinson, who just about got through his MC duties (there seemed to be a degree of relief when handing over…), Ed Miliband (who had a nice line about Geoffrey knowing his father, bolstering his youthful credentials…), and Edge CEO Andy Powell. I confess the latter’s speech didn’t really resonate with me, and the problem with hosting an event in such rarefied surroundings is that it can seem rather stuffy and undynamic in contrast to the very movement we are there to celebrate and recognise.

On the flipside, there is also a sense in which being in such a place does make people feel ‘special’ in some way, as evidenced by Craig above. So I can see why it was chosen. Good networking areas in the palace, too, after the main section, chatting to Alan (Strachan, partner of one of the nominees Servane Mouazan from Ogunte), Cliff Prior from UnLtd, Simon Tucker from the Young Foundation, the lovely Louise Coward from OTS, and MT Rainey, founder of the mentoring website Horse’s Mouth (which Edge Supports) and is now open for use in beta..

Having called for celebration and recognition recently, the Edge awards are an important part of the social enterprise and entrepreneurshp ecology… and long may they continue.

Share Button

A-head of the game: new hats business

I was recently at the graduation of the first SSE programme in Aston. For those of you who missed me writing about this previously, it was a really moving day, and an amazing bunch of inspiring people to meet and learn from. [8 completed the
programme, 7 of whom are women, 6 BME, all previously unemployed]
One of that new group of SSE Fellows is Vivean Pomell, who is launching her new business this Wednesday in Edgbaston.

The business, Brynels Hats and Accessories, is named after her mum who died earlier this year, and will be launched by Birmingham’s Deputy Lord Mayor and Jo Cameron from the Apprentice (for those of you who don’t remember her). Vivean is an amazing woman, and committed to providing support to those with specific hat/hairpiece needs (be that after hairloss, or bereavement etc.) as well as pursuing high-end fashion: indeed, she recently displayed at London Fashion Week with extraordinary work.

So well worthy of support if you are in the Midlands on Wednesday…., and worth drawing attention to as one of the more unusual businesses to have come through an SSE programme.

Share Button

Social entrepreneur round-up May 2007

Long overdue round-up of recent news and links of interest:

– the Third Sector awaits the imminent reshuffle with Gordon Brown succeeding Tony Blair and, most likely, Ed Miliband moving from his current post….though no-one seems to know where (not even the legendarily well-connected Stephen Bubb, who I asked last night)

– the Schwab Foundation, who run "Social Entrepreneur of the Year" competitions across the world (US, India etc.) appear to have paired up with the Independent and Boston Consulting Group to launch here: see Calling all social visionaries here; I wonder how the Edge Upstarts Awards (who announced their finalists and will announce winners this evening) and Enterprising Solutions and the other ceremonies will feel about another award scheme on the patch? Given that the article above misspells "entrepreneur" in its headline, possibly not very worried….

– And, while we’re on the subject, the Skoll Centre in Oxford has launched (or re-launched) its business plan competition as the 21st Century Challenge: "to encourage bold and innovative business ideas that will help to solve
the major social and environmental challenges of the twenty-first

– Social Edge, the Skoll-funded portal of US/international social entrepreneurs, has launched some video and audio podcasts. Global X, whose blog is profoundly irritating or intensely amusing depending on who you speak to, is in charge of video interviews… ;US-centric, but there are some nuggets here….

– Whilst we’re covering all things Skoll-related, there’s an interesting take on the recent World Forum: all the way from New Zealand

– How can I not link to an article entitled "Digging into social enterprise: the mud beneath the yellow brick road"? It doesn’t really deliver on the title, but some interesting bits and pieces on earned income, sustainability and the balance of economic with social aims

–  An article in the NY Times about businesses which "try to make money and save the world"; worth reading, and the first time in a while that I’ve read the label "fourth sector", which was once predicted to become a more established term….

– Closer to home, this month’s Social Enterprise Magazine features an article by Barbara Phillips on scaling , which refers to our own Long Tail of Social Entrepreneurship theory….(article not online yet, but available in our reception if you’re passing by… ;0) )

– Finally, seamlessly linking to the long tail comes this marvellous video on that very subject. Spoof movie trailer on how old media is being undone by the power of new technology. Or something.

Share Button

Duplication and diversification

Just thought I’d reference a couple of posts that deal with the two ‘d’s: duplication and diversification….the first, duplication is something that comes up a lot when I’m expounding our long tail theory: "but then there’d be hundreds, thousands of them…all starting new organisations, all duplicating existing activity…" etc. And there is something to this: in Hackney in East London, for example, it is said (urban myth?) that there is a charity/community organisation for every 6 people. I also heard the other day that there are over 150 prostate cancer charities….in London (is this true??!).

So this post on Social Citizen about duplication is an interesting one, particularly because it places it in the context of ‘why young leaders are leaving the [third] sector’….s/he says the following about the situation in the US:

"There are a million social entrepreneurs coming out of college ready to
go, and they all start their own nonprofit or get a job with a
nonprofit they have always loved. The problem is, there are too many
people doing the same thing. Talking in business terms, nonprofits are
flooding the markets. A recent Chronicle Article
got it right. Someone interviewed had said this about competition in
the nonprofit sector: “‘It wouldn’t be nice to compete. We don’t run by
metrics; we run by good intentions.’ If the city the social
entrepreneur was working in had eight soup kitchens, he said, everyone
would applaud the person who decided to start the ninth.”

To an extent, this is true, although I’d temper some parts of this in our context. Certainly, I don’t think you could say that there are lots of graduates (never mind millions) leaving university dedicated to becoming a social entrepreneur and starting their own thing. There are more than there were, but it is still a relatively minority career option (a subset of entrepreneurship, of you will). The other part I’m not sure I go with is this myth that the sector is all nicey-nicey. Certainly, there is an imperative to collaborate, but there is also an impulse to compete. If I opened a 9th soup kitchen, I can guarantee the other 8 would be in touch, be protective of their funding, do their utmost to prove they were more effective and had greater impact and so on….given the amount of third sector organisations supporting themselves with contracts as well as grants and donations, there is no dearth of competition.

In theory, also, a social entrepreneur spots a niche in the market…so I would argue that the person starting up a 9th soup kitchen is not doing anything innovative, or meeting an unmet need. Unless they were doing it in a new way, more effectively, or something, it would simply be pure duplication.

Where I think Social Citizen has it partly right is that we should be less afraid of being like business here, and understand that organisations fail, merge, get taken over, partner to cut costs and so on. We’ve started to see this at a big level (in the ‘corporate’ charity world): Childline being absorbed by NSPCC, Gingerbread and OneParent Families merging, and, of course, Cancer Research and Imperial Cancer Research….but maybe we will begin to see these happening at a smaller level. New innovative projects being taken under a larger organisation’s wing; two social enterprises merging for greater effectiveness and sustainability; community groups sharing back office functions….and so on.

And so to the other peril, diversification. A post from Todd over at Social Catalyst got me thinking about this, and I think he has it pretty much spot on:

"Why do Social Enterprises think they are different than private
enterprises? I want to shake people silly or run outside and scream
every time I

we will run a cafe, bookstore, creche, catering service, consultancy
service, training, lettings, bakery, car repair, disco, and flower shop
in our building."

You and what government? How do we
get social enterprises to do one or two things well and grow sensibly.
It’s no wonder so many social enterprises never get off the ground or
are spinning out of control. You cannot do everything and do it well
(or even ok)."

Certainly this rings bells here: social entrepreneurs, particularly, are often buzzing with lots of ideas, and an eternal message here tends to be "focus" or "you can do three things well: what are they at the moment?" or "put those in order of priority for yourself" etc. And this doesn’t just happen at small, fledgling organisations, as this article on CAN demonstrates well, with Adele Blakebrough sharing the learning of how they went from 25 projects to focusing on two, to great success.

One key thing we’ve used to enable social entrepreneurs to focus on the goal, is to introduce evaluation techniques at an early stage, basically as a planning tool. Focusing on the outcomes and impact they are striving for, and gaining an understanding of how, why and what to do to get there, is incredibly powerful for channelling the drive, commitment and passion they all have.

Share Button