Beijing: everyone a (social) entrepreneur?

So the SSE blog is on tour at present in China. Having acclimatised a bit to Beijing (first lesson: ‘lane discipline’ doesn’t translate; second lesson: the green man doesn’t necessarily mean you are safe to walk), I met up with the good people at the Fuping Development Institute (currently in Chinese only: English version coming soon). Big thanks to Jaff and Hu for finding me in a taxi by a bridge looking lost, and for a good chat about what they do at FDI. Looking at their work with migrant workers, grassroots NGOs and environmental leadership (to name but three projects) is enough to induce a healthy batch of humility and not a little wonder. To achieve all this in a country moving so fast, which is raising so many problems and challenges…and to do it retaining a sense of normalcy and humour; inspiring stuff.

Their work, and that of other local organisations they support, embodies the attitude of the social entrepreneur who sees an opportunity for change where others see a problem or obstacle. There’s also an amazing buzz and dynamism about the place, with hutongs full of small stores and cycles packed with fresh fruit and vegetables being pedalled (and peddled) along the way. Harnessing that entrepreneurial spirit and determination, and seizing the opportunities amidst the change could mean social entrepreneurship has a big part to play in the future here.

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Ann Cotton: CAMFED video

There is a great video of Ann Cotton, founder of CAMFED, and SSE Fellow, over at the Social Edge forum. Ann, now also a Skoll Fellow, has achieved a huge amount with CAMFED over 14 years, but remained humble and unassuming throughout. And still as passionate about her social mission as she was to start with, as the video makes clear.

Ann has said of us that "SSE provided a forum to test ideas and draw on other people’s experiences. This enabled me to analyse the key ingredients and factors that had led to success and make conscious choices about when and how to grow."

It’s wonderful to think that this organisation played a small part in helping Ann and her team at CAMFED achieve what they have, changing the lives of hundreds of thousands of African girls and women (check out their ‘impact’ page for more).

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20 questions: advice for social entrepreneurs

Craig Dearden Phillips, CEO of Speaking Up and general all-round wunderkind, is not content with running a leading social enterprise and winning awards…, so is also writing a book to be out later this year. As part of the writing process, Craig has contacted lots of social entrepreneurs / people who work in the field and asked them to answer the following 20 questions. I thought I’d post up my answers (please note that Craig asked for brevity, hence the one-line responses):

1. Why did you take the plunge and set up on your own?
[answering for previous org I used to run]. Exciting, own boss, lots of different areas, challenging.

2. What are the best and worse things about doing what you’ve done?
Best is seeing people thrive and succeed. Worst is seeing organisations doing good work fail for eminently avoidable reasons.

3. What is your one golden nugget of business advice for people during their first year of their new venture?
Focus and communicate. Focus on the next action that moves you along the road to where you want to get to each time. And communicate that journey as honestly and positively to as many (relevant) people as possible.

4. How do you cope with setbacks?
Generally, with humour (defence mechanism!)

5. How do you get funders or investors interested in your organisation?
By bringing them in to see what we do, and building relationships.

6. Is there anything you’d advise new social entrepreneurs NOT to do?
Be late for meetings with funders / stakeholders.

7. How has your role changed as the business has grown?
Widened into more areas + more responsibility

8. What have been the challenges of scaling up your business?
Franchising SSE has been tough, but rewarding. Biggest challenge for scaling up (which we’ve seen in students/Fellows as well) is communicating the ethos and culture, which is much more difficult to codify and write down than simply ‘what you do’.

9. How do you maintain energy during the hard times?


10. How do you go about finding the right people and keeping them motivated?
Spotting them some time before, and (again) building relationships. Keeping them is through an open work environment, and culture of honesty and trust.

11. Who inspires you ?
SSE students.

12. What are the key qualities in a successful social entrepreneur?
Vision, passion, persistence, pragmatism, relationship-building, self-awareness.

13. What do you look for in people who work for your ventures?
See above!

14. What do you think is the most effective way to lead a new organization?

Getting people to buy into a shared vision/ strategy, and inspiring them to do so, as well as putting in the hard graft.

15. What do you think people need to think about most when they are starting up?
Governance – legal structure – funding / investment. (All interlinked). + "Do I really want to do this?"

16. How have you gone about building a reputation?
Primarily, through consistency of message and behaviour.

17. How do you go about planning for the future?
Strategic planning, awareness of staff / recruitment issues, discussions with board etc.

18. How do you balance your social and financial goals?
Through measurement and evaluation, and debate and scrutiny internally on key decisions.

19. How do you know when its time to move on from a venture?
When you are bored of it (and vice versa).

20. What was your biggest mistake?
Ever agreeing to be part of a three-person leadership team!

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Coffee time: Black Gold and Ethiopia

I’ve been meaning to blog about coffee for a while, ever since I found myself in Cafe Direct‘s cafe just off Oxford Street. I was reminded to do so this morning in a queue for the good stuff by the person in front of me who ordered a ‘soya latte with sugar-free hazelnut syrup….two shots’, to which the barista even smirked. Having wisely resisted the temptation to ask "and would you like some coffee with that?", I got thinking about coffee, how much I like it…and how guilty I should feel about drinking it.

One interesting post about this fairly recently (ish):
– Britt Bravo on Oxfam using flickr to advocate for Ethiopian farmers which is in turn connected to the film Black Gold (which I’m yet to see: any good, anyone? Or a TV documentary masquerading as film?), itself sponsored by none other than Cafe Direct. Britt’s post also mentions Green LA Girl, who previously set up a blogosphere Starbucks Fairtrade Challenge in which people asked Starbucks to live up to their promise of making any coffee with fairtrade coffee if you ask. Try it today….(congratulations to Shepherd’s Bush branch, who didn’t bat an eyelid).

More recently, she’s blogged about the extraordinary Starbucks vs Ethiopia trademarking stuff. Worth a read, particularly if you’re sitting over a fresh brew currently.

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Hope and Charity: new minister appointed

So there is a new minister for the Office of the Third Sector, and it is: Phil Hope, who was previously at the DfES (with a focus on vocational education). Ed Miliband moves upwards (succession planning in action) to be Minister for the Cabinet Office, which is being interepreted mostly as good news for the sector, given the continuity it should bring: Miliband will have overall responsibility for the third sector as part of his role. Other relevant reshuffling information can be found here (including Hazel Blears to Communities, John Hutton to Business / Enterprise, and so on….). One interesting appointment is Dame Julia Neuberger as a special advisor on volunteering.

Phil Hope, a hurried glance at Wikipedia has told me, used to be a youth policy advisor at NCVO before working at the National Youth Bureau. He’s also written several publications on youth-related matters, and has strong co-op links. On his appointment, he released the following statement:

"I am greatly excited by the new role I have been asked
to undertake. The third sector – voluntary groups, charities and social enterprises – plays a critical role alongside the public and private sectors to build economic success, create social justice and develop stronger communities.

I look forward to drawing upon the experiences of voluntary and community groups in Corby and East Northamptonshire as I take on this new task. Having worked in the third sector for many years before entering Parliament and chaired the All Party Parliamentary Group for the Voluntary Sector when first elected, I hope I can bring firsthand experience to the job of promoting voluntary and community groups and creating successful social enterprises."

What else can I tell you? According to his own website, Mr Hope likes to relax with tennis and juggling. According to Wikipedia, he can also tap dance as well as juggle, whilst he also apparently appeared in Z Cars in the 1970s. More seriously, he was recently diagnosed with cancer, and has recently come through radiotherapy / chemotherapy treatment successfully (good, open account on BBC Northamptonshire).

And I hope I have staked the claim to be the first person to use the Hope and Charity gag. I look forward to a faith-based third sector conference for the chance to really nail the obvious headline pun home….

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