Leadership in action event: social entrepreneurship reports launched

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On Tuesday, SSE launched two new reports at an event at NESTA, which have wide significance for the sector, government et al….

– The first is an executive summary of the Evaluation of the School for Social Entrepreneurs 1997-2007, by the New Economics Foundation, and with a foreword by Ed Miliband MP.

– The second is a new research report, Leadership in the Social Economy, by Charlotte Chambers (SSE Chair) and Fiona Edwards-Stuart.

[Both are downloadable, as is the press release, from the online SSE media centre]

You can read the official news article about the launch on the main site, which makes clear that both reports make a strong case both for people being the key to sustainable change, and also for tailored, long-term support for social entrepreneurs. Or, to quote Alastair Wilson, SSE Chief Executive:

"These two reports make a compelling case for supporting social
entrepreneurs as a means of driving social change. Both serve as
crucial reminders to all in the third sector that sustainable
organisations are people-powered, and that our most crucial resources
are human ones.”


The event was really well-attended, so thanks to all those people for their support…and for those who were mopping my slightly fevered brow beforehand. First up were a sterling set of keynote speakers: Hilary Armstrong, making her last public speech as Minister for the Cabinet Office, gave a strong endorsement of the SSE, and placed our work in a wider political context. Given our new partnerships with government, this was especially welcome.

She was followed by Liam Black, of the Fifteen Foundation, who entertainingly wondered when he went from being a "bright young thing" to an "eminence grise", as he reflected on his journey as a social entrepreneur. He also gave a ringing endorsement of the SSE, in slightly more forceful terms: "There’s a lot of bulls**t  and hype spoken about social enterprise and entrepreneurship, but none of it by Alastair or the SSE". He also had interesting things to say about his journey, though: that it was alright to be afraid; that if it starts feeling easy, it’s probably going downhill; that everyone makes their own mistakes (but it’s good not to make other people’s again). He was also open and honest about their own struggles with replication (and replicating an ethos and culture), which was refreshing.

Finally, Alastair spoke about how both reports give real evidence that the SSE methodology works and creates lasting change, and how we are now looking to proactively replicate the franchise across the UK. It was great to have the support of Carmel and Ken from SSE Ireland, Fergus from East Midlands SSE, and Jo and Lisa from Liverpool SSE at the event, because this was very much about promoting the network. Also delighted to see several current SSE students and Fellows there, giving them great networking opportunities as well as hearing more about why we do what we do…


The room was then literally divided in two (by the wonders of NESTA’s space-age offices) for the workshops about each publication. I can’t speak for the Leadership in the Social Economy workshop (though I heard good feedback afterwards), but the Evaluation one seemed well-received, and myself and Richard (from nef) were really pleased by the thoughtful and incisive questioning, which allowed us to flesh out the bare bones of the report itself. Questions about response rates, overall aim/purpose, methodology (and its implications for the 3rd sector), time commitment, background / make-up of Fellows and student cohorts all helped further issues come to light, and I had some good strong discussions which carried on afterwards in the networking….


For those who were there, and/or who have read the reports, we’d be delighted to receive any comments below, or directly by e-mail. Thanks.

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The obligatory Facebook post

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OK, so I resisted only so long. Since I last mentioned innocently in passing that "Facebook appears to have hit a tipping point recently amongst my circle of friends" (Social networking for good), it has gone absolutely stratospheric…to the point of dominating pub conversations and news aggregators alike. So….relevant to SSE and social entrepreneurs? I honestly have no idea, currently. Ok, so the ‘Causes’ application seems promising, it’s more usable (to me) than MySpace, and the SSE group is in place and (slowly) starting to grow…but surely too early to say? Not for plenty of other people:

Facebook: social enterprise machine? seems an appropriate place to start. Tom Watson reckons that, like other online philanthropy matching sites, Facebook "holds the promise of connecting social entrepreneurship with mass
markets of consumers: of linking the motivation behind philanthropy
with the aspiration to bring about change".
Longer piece by Tom is on OnPhilanthropy

Facebook causes and effects has a good overview of what it might mean for charities / social causes, particularly focusing on the Causes application….and how to promote it. Interestingly, it also raises the point that, because Facebook was initially designed for and populated by those in university education, your friends could be ripe potential donor material! Which brings me neatly, if tangentially, to:

The class divide between Facebook and MySpace... which strikes me as, well, wrong. It’s pretty obvious to most that it’s an age divide, surely? Or a music vs photos divide? Or a ‘I embrace the randomness’ vs ‘I want to communicate with people I know’? Anyway, the argument rages in the comments…

– More relevantly, check out the ‘Beginner’s Guide to Facebook for non-profits’. Very much for beginners (here’s how you create an account…etc) but useful, nonetheless.

Falling for Facebook seemed about right to me, particularly in drawing attention to the way it "mixes business and pleasure", rather than, like LinkedIn, seeming "like some sort of massive resume swap". And, of course, that it’s about connecting to your community…

– For background on where it’s heading, here’s a good interview / article in Fortune mag: Facebook’s new face; key quote: ""We want to make Facebook into something of an operating system so you can run full applications"…

CharityBlog also gets in on the act, albeit with a slightly resigned air ("The social networking site Facebook appears to be flavour of the month"). Can’t help feeling comparing it to BBC’s Action Network is somewhat off the mark, though.

– The prolific David Wilcox thinks it could help to re-invent membership organisations

This Facebook post is quite interesting too, helping to elucidate the USPs and why you end up using it: "The first thing is that you get a feed of what changes about any of
your friends. The second is that there’s a whole lot of things to do,
so there’s a lot to see in that feed. And, thirdly…they’ve made an API
that allows third parties to add modules to their hearts content, to
add new functionality, which is nicely integrated with the rest of the
site."

That’ll do for now, though I prepare myself for a rash of Facebook / philanthropy / social entrepreneurs /  non-profit / charity stories. I would only add that, if it’s rise / expansion continues, those spending time creating less usable, more niche, less open, less used, less, rich, non-profit-specific social networking sites might begin to wonder if they’ve barked up a very wrong tree. Those who can plug into it, and build with it, will be the ones to flourish….

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Student stories: narrative and numbers

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SSE Fellow Sheenagh Day features on our new spangly SSE website in the Student Stories section. Her profile (and that of her organisation, Maison Bengal) can be read here. Sheenagh was in the office this morning, speaking as an expert witness to 25 or so potential social entrepreneurs who’ve come into SSE for a day-long introductory workshop.

In the 5 minutes before she spoke, she had time to tell me of exciting developments: one is a revamp of the website (www.maisonbengal.co.uk) which is coming soon (incidentally, she commissioned another SSE Fellow, Dave Miller of Bikeworks, to do the re-design), but more interesting to me was some initial findings from a forthcoming evaluation. Sheenagh founded Maison Bengal for clear reasons, as the story above makes clear:

"Sheenagh’s long-term aim is to develop
sustainable export markets for them [Bangladeshi womne’s co-operatives / NGOs] to provide producers with secure
income and thereby contribute to poverty alleviation"

And the initial findings are hugely positive; I can’t give too much away here, as I don’t want to pre-empt the full report, but 100% of the 100 women interviewed said that their life had improved/poverty been reduced as a result of the work in tangible ways (more money for food / clothes etc), while about two-thirds said that there had been a significant improvement in their life/financial situation (significant here means buying a home, land, and so on). Really exciting stuff, and proof that Maison Bengal is not just growing economically  (it has just signed an exciting new deal with a major organic retailer), but also in terms of its social impact.

That kind of story is why they are front and centre in the new website, and I hope those articles will soon be as widely read as our perennial traffic favourites like "What is a social entrepreneur?" and "SSE’s approach to learning".

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Why social enterprise rarely works 2: the fall-out

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When the Wall Street Journal write about social enterprise, and write about it negatively, it seems everyone notices. I blogged my initial reaction to it previously in this post, but the reaction since, and the debate it has provoked, warrants a further mention.

Leading the charge is the Social Enterprise Alliance, the Social Enterprise Reporter here and here, followed swiftly by Nonprofit Board Crisis, and Xigi. There’s plenty more (see this link to view the 50 or so posts linking) comment, mostly from the US / Canada. There’s a whole range of opinion, mostly centering on the organisation (SEEDCO) that produced the report that the WSJ article is based on: ranging from "SEEDCO deserves credit for publishing a case study of their own business failure" to "Seedco, one of the least informed and most inept players to have dabbled in the nonprofit Social Enterprise field". Difficult to judge from this side of the Atlantic, but both may be true.

By all accounts, the original report (the Limits of Social Enterprise) is worth a read, and is more balanced than the article, which is pretty one-dimensional and un-thought through. SEEDCO focus on one aspect of social enterprise/entrepreneurship (non-profits starting up a business arm) and use their failure to extrapolate more widely….which is always a little tricky. Nevertheless, I think there are lessons / messages / points to wrangle with here for the UK scene, even if it’s just a reiteration of ones we already know. Here’s a few quotes from some of the blogs, for example:

  • "We already know that the purpose of social enterprise is to accomplish a social mission, not to change from being a nonprofit"
  • "While improved self-sufficiency, efficiency and quality are certainly
    key social enterprise goals for most entrepreneurs, no one touts social
    enterprise, earned income or business practices as a magic bullet"
  • "Sustainability is not just about earned income or self-sufficiency"
  • "The report only seems to use the term Social Enterprise to include existing non-profits that start a revenue generating business"
  • "People entrenched in the status quo are threatened by new ideas as they
    gain momentum, so these attacks are a good thing and a sign that we are
    making headway."
  • "Viewing social enterprise solely from the perspective of
    the for-profit world misses the social goals of nonprofits, where the
    primary measures of success are social outcomes"
  • "Growing numbers of nonprofits are…embracing social enterprise in order
    to diversify revenue streams, increase independence, improve overall
    capacity and advance more mission"
  • "Blind faith (and adherence) to one ‘pure’ model, whilst turning down
    other [funding] opportunities to achieve impact, isn’t entrepreneurial, it’s the
    opposite" [OK, that was me]

I think this gives a flavour of why we should be paying attention to the debate; because it covers a lot of the key issues: mission vs. money / business model as magic bullet / sustainability is about more than income / social enterprise as spectrum / the movement challenging commercial business / measurement is king / diversification of revenue / entrepreneurialism vs. blind faith in model…..

Not to mention the wonderful use of the phrase "advance more mission" which is a new one on me.

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SSE part of Ambassadors programme.

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Yes, as this news story details, SSE is part of the winning ambassadors consortium from the Office of the Third Sector. Read the article to get full details of the many partners, and what it’s all about (incidentally the new website has an RSS feed of news which you can sign up to). Essentially, it’s about advocacy and promotion of the movement, from "classroom to boardroom", and we’ll be involved in providing support/training to the chosen people, brokering opportunities for them to speak to potential / early-stage social entrepreneurs in different locations across the UK (part of the idea of the programme is to attract/engage new entrants), and getting involved in the online side of the work.

Should be interesting, and presumably Ferrero Rocher’s all round.

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