The more eagle-eyed amongst you will have noticed that this blog has changed its colours / template, as of yesterday. Rather than this being the result of watching one too many makeover programmes, this is in fact to bring it in line with our new website and overall brand.
Check out the new website here: www.sse.org.uk , and let me know what you think. The ideas underpinning the redesign were to make the site more navigable, clearer (no dreaded dark green background), more student stories front and centre, and more of the common questions answered. We’ve also put news and this very blog on the homepage to keep it active and, I hope (!), dynamic. Plus, better contacting ability, and the chance to sign up to a newsletter by e-mail (which is long overdue) or our news feed / blog by RSS.
Now I’m off to find all the bugs and broken links….. ;0)
Someone asked me the other day what my background was before getting into the third sector, and I said it was literature. As they looked at me with pity/disbelief/wonderment in their eyes, I explained that this had come in useful when writing funding applications, investment proposals and policy documents. Not, as a cynic might suggest, because these are works of fiction, but because they are all essentially about constructing an argument or making a case in a clear, coherent manner. [In theory] Which is pretty much what our teachers used to ask of us in writing an essay.
Now before we head down the "Evaluation in triplicate: drawing the (triple bottom) line…discuss" type of road, I mention this for two reasons. One is the fact that SSE is recruiting at the moment and whilst deciding on ‘key skills’, I kept returning to excellent written skills being essential. The second is that I ran across this post on the MicroPersuasion blog: "Writing is Part of Almost Everyone’s Job" which argues that writing is becoming more and more important:
"Almost every white-collar job today requires good communication
skills. There’s nothing new to report there. However, what is new is
that much of the way we communicate today in business is in writing
through email. So even if you’re not a scribe by trade, you’re a still
a writer by default.
Writing not your forte? That was just fine 10 years ago, but not
anymore. Writing is how business gets done. Communication inside
corporations will shift somewhat away from email to wikis and blogs,
but that doesn’t really change the need for this skill."
And it’s no different in this sector; particularly for social entrepreneurs given that they are often responsible for everything (at least to start with), from the business plan to marketing literature to funding applications to press releases. MicroPersuasion recommends the ‘Word Wise’ blog which is good, with tips and advice on how to improve your writing / presentations; check out this post on e-mail subject headings, for example, or this one on one of my personal bugbears/failings: e-mail tone.
Amnesty have a spangly new pink widget to promote their work; if all goes correctly, it should spring up to the bottom left of this post anytime soon. Interesting use of the web for campaigning, and squarely aimed at bloggers too. Sow the seeds and protect the human is the strapline….
[SOME WEEKS LATER: Removed this: got too annoying!]
What a frustrating read this article is in the WSJ: "Why social enterprise rarely works", which is apparently ‘true’ because the researchers of a report "failed to find a single subsidy-free social enterprise", and therefore "few if any of the businesses set up by nonprofits are truly self-sustaining". This is the kind of ridiculously reductive territory we get into where people insist on defining things so narrowly by structure. So, because organisations have funding from mixed sources, they’re a failure? Great analysis there. There’s more as well:
"The report advocates a new model that embraces the entrepreneurial
spirit of the business world without expecting social-service groups to
be self-supporting. "There’s no shame in subsidy," says Neil Kleiman, one of the report’s authors."
Ah! Now we’re getting it: the structure alone doesn’t guarantee success, but entrepreneurial spirit and flair will….coupled with an opportunism to marshal resources to achieve desired outcomes. Of course there is no shame in subsidy or grant in achieving a social mission….the problems come in over-reliance in any one area, be that a single grant or one big contract, and in not costing to recover full costs and generating unrestricted income for reserves. It is less entrepreneurial to stick rigidly to a model that isn’t working, and ignore opportunities that could help further the social mission.
The sad thing is that the WSJ article simply brands this as a failure, and uses one example to generalise widely: "stick to what you know….business is hard". Which feels a little like third sector orgs being patted on the head. But the insight this organisation (Seedco) and its report reached is a pretty simple one: an entrepreneurial drive, spirit, creativity and opportunism can help further a social mission and help ensure its sustainability (in all senses, human, environmental as well as financial). A legal structure or model won’t do that on its own, so "getting caught up in the [social enterprise] mantra", as they refer to it, can be misleading.
Look forward to the WSJ article that says: social entrepreneurs are changing things, using their characteristics and traits to create social change, using a whole range of different legal structures, business models and organisational types. Or perhaps we should follow their lead: "stick to what you know….social entrepreneurship is hard."
Massive backlog of notes and news, so here’s an attempt to clear the decks a little at the end of the week:
– new Health and Care forum for social enterprises, prompted by the Social Enterprise Coalition
– Social Stock Exchange is back on the political agenda, + check out the discussion on the subject on Catalyst’s blog
– PBS are doing a fair bit of coverage on social entrepreneurs in the US with a whole new ‘Enterprising Ideas’ programme of work; get SROI blog’s take on it, and check out this health/franchising/Kenya video
– Rob Greenland has a couple of great posts on ‘Innovator, entrepreneur or manager‘ (if only all support organisations thought about such distinctions) and ‘Is social enterprise right for you?’
– There’s been the Quirk review on community asset transfer, and the new waste strategy; plenty of third sector in both
– Two Sustainability publications available as pdfs (if you register): Growing Opportunity (on growth of social entrepreneurship) and Raising our Game (on globalisation / sustainability)
– article in the Guardian on Tom Savage, leading light of young social entrepreneurs; impressively outcome-driven, and flexible with structure to achieve his goals
– a group of organisations have got together to remind of the need for grants: absolutely right, particularly for new organisations starting up at the grassroots / locally; aimed at local authorities….
– our landlords the Young Foundation have released a new pamphlet on campaigning called Contentious Citizens; worth a read (and it’s not too long…)
– the Women in Ethical Business Awards have been announced, with congratulations to the winners (Polly Gowers from Everyclick amongst them); the awards are sponsored by Triodos, which you can now buy shares in.…
– some good social entrepreneur videos here from the Centre for Advancement of Social Entrepreneurship over in the US
– the Directory of Social Change has released a book called Leadership 101, offering "101 practical tips from two experienced charity sector leaders"
And a good quotation to end the week: "You cannot be a leader, and ask other people to follow you, unless you know how to follow, too." [Sam Rayburn]