Jolly good Fellows

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A couple of SSE Fellows were in the other day, acting as expert witnesses for a session we were doing with potential social entrepreneurs. As ever, they both had good news about the work they are doing.

– Diye Wariebi runs Digibridge, a social enterprise providing ICT support and training to families, individuals, communities and organisations that wouldn’t normally get the chance (low-income, disadvantaged etc). Great project, and Diye is massively committed to helping include people in the digital and technological revolution. Despite him not naming SSE as his best training experience (for which he was duly chastised), it’s well worth reading this profile of Diye and Digibridge in Regen and Renewal.

– Sheenagh Day runs Maison Bengal, who we mentioned recently….so won’t add to much, except to say that their new website is up and running

More stories soon….

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Page 3 shocker: social entrepreneur pleads with government

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Excuse the tabloid-esque headline, but I was a little shocked to find Camila Batmanghelidjh, erstwhile social entrepreneur-founder of Kids Company, on page 3 of the Sunday paper, pleading with government for money. Kids’ Company are widely recognised as a hugely successful organisation delivering exactly the kind of outcomes that society and government want: helping teenagers and children who have been neglected or abused, and helping them avoid getting into further trouble / into a cycle of crime and exclusion.

Batmangehlidjh’s desperation certainly comes across in the article, referencing her own personal commitment / risk (re-mortgaging her house twice, running the organisation for 11 years) and detailing how much she wants to return to the front-line of helping the children. As she puts it:

"The kids and staff want me back at street level. What am I doing,
walking around going to cocktail parties and doing handshakes and photo
opportunities for money?"

Which is something that scale / profile can bring to an organisation…problems as well as benefits. It is translating the higher profile and recognition (which Batmanghelidjh has raised incomparably) into funding and benefits to the organisation that is so important and, sometimes, so difficult. And using the media in this fashion is an interesting tactic: how will the government react to "a long-term funding package" being demanded of them in such a public arena? Particularly, as their spokesman puts it, "We are in the process of finalising the budget for the next three years. These concerns are a little premature." (aka, we’re pretty likely to fund them anyway). Given that countless charitable organisations are trying to close a deficit for the end of the financial year / next year’s budget, and they would all like a long-term funding package from government, some might ask why should Kids’ Company be a special case? Or, to be really cynical, is this as much about keeping the profile high?

You will get no disagreement from me that the organisation should be supported: its work and its leader are widely recognised as delivering effectively, and having a real, tangible impact. But will the Observer do a supporting editorial for every charity/social enterprise in a similar position, many of whom have nothing like the profile? Lobbying government is different from trying to badger or bully it and, as some of the comments underneath the editorial suggest, it could raise questions about the organisation, however unfair (is she the only person out of 181 staff doing any fundraising, and asking over 20,000 sources on her own?). As well as raising questions about this method of campaigning: as one comment puts it: "if this leader reflects the direction that the discussion is heading,
I’d advise fundraisers put aside their lottery application forms and
simply phone Max Clifford instead"

On the flipside, there will be those that argue that this is the most effective way for the organisation to translate its and its founder’s profile into sustainable funding, and that lots of charities use the media to campaign and challenge government on a regular basis. It’s also putting a very relevant debate on the table (fundraising / bureaucracy / complex funding sources / local vs central govt etc) for wider discussion and awareness. Which is welcome. And maybe the criticism comes from organisations which would love a similar profile and reputation?

Ultimately, we’ll see how it turns out; I’d imagine they will get another 3-year government funding package, particularly given their work hits one of the key priorities, and given the evidence from the evaluations that have been conducted into their impact. But I wonder if the long-term effects of this move might not be wholly positive.

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Friday round-up: tips, Balkans, stock exchanges, Elders, hedge funds…

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It’s Friday, and that can mean only one thing, a round-up of news, views and opinions:

Some top tips on starting a social enterprise…decent starting point for some thoughts

– Balkans blogging: Rod Schwartz finds social entrepreneurs in Bulgaria and across Eastern Europe

– Is Altruistiq (good name) the first non-profit stock exchange (or stock exchange for non-profits, rather…)? So it claims….

Community Champions, one of the few remaining (government) grant funds for individuals starting new projects, has closed….despite what New Start calls "a glowing evaluation"…

– …but there is £10m risk capital investment for those social enterprises a bit further on: have your contribution heard in the Office of Third Sector’s consultation

– Richard Branson is involved in the launch of the Elders and holds forth on entrepreneurship saving the world….

– Giving new lilfe to the phrase "hoary old chestnut", here’s an article entitled "Can Entrepreneurship be taught?"….very old ground, but fairly interesting if you are pondering ‘to MBA or not MBA’.

– As the stock markets collapse, check out the hedge funds creating new trusts/foundations….

– And finally, in a Family Fortunes-like poll of a 100 people, apparently social enterprise staff show more pride in their work than those in other sectors….our survey said that staff in the movement are more aligned with goals, and encounter less discrimination and harrassment

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Social enterprises: an un-Health-y advance?

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There’s been an interesting debate kicked off recently about social enterprises being created to provide services that would have previously been done by the state/NHS. It seemed to kick off with a report by the trade union Unison, entitled "Social enterprises and the NHS: Changing patterns of power and accountability" (pdf). The essence was captured in the NHS Improvement Networks headline, though: "Clarity needed on ‘stealth’ social enterprise bodies".

The core of the report is that "the social enterprise
movement is changing, and that bodies are ‘becoming disconnected from
their roots in the co-operative movement, community-focused businesses
and regeneration activities’. Increasingly, they are being more widely
defined as organisations that reinvest surpluses into the health
community, such as foundation trusts or even private healthcare firm
BUPA, it says. The study claims this has led to confusion and a
reduction in public accountability.  And financial concerns could be
overtaking social enterprise’s original social mission".

This was then followed by several subsequent reports in Healthcare Republic (Study questions PCTs’ ability to commission social enterprise), Third Sector (Alarm as public sector forms new social enterprises) et al. It’s interesting to me having sat on a health/social enterprise roundtable recently where precisely these issues were being discussed: that if the primary motivation is responding to a contract/procurement opportunity (or advice from central govt), rather than a personal/social mission, then problems may lie ahead. Certainly, as SEC pointed out, the legal structures chosen often imply or demand community engagement / stakeholder involvement, and there is no doubt this happens in many cases. The question of the underlying motivation seems to be the issue for Unison, ACEVO members and others, though.

Certainly, SSE has always argued/advocated for a people-centred movement of social enterprise and entrepreneurship, and supporting those people to create and lead organisations to achieve their goals. We’ve also always emphasised that other must be open to the fact that such social entrepreneurs exist within the NHS (and the public sector) as well as outside of it / in communities and third sector orgs. Nor that opening up services to non-state providers is unilaterally "a bad thing": I met someone from Sunlight Development Trust recently, a community-founded, owned and managed organisation that is delivering increasing number of health services from its centre with success: surely something to celebrate (and replicate?).

But the concerns being raised do have some validity….what distinguishes social enterprise / entrepreneurship from enterprise and entrepreneurship is the ‘social’ modifier: the social mission that is primary. Generally, it has been feared that social enterprise will ‘allow’ the private sector to enter into public service delivery much more; this could prove to be true in future, but it seems that it is the public sector itself that is the biggest challenge (The public sector by another name?). Whether this proves the case in other sectors as well as health remains to be seen. Social entrepreneurs have much to give, as Cliff Prior of UnLtd makes clear in this New Statesman article, but a blanket approach to commissioning or delivery mechanisms will not help them. [Nor a gap between rhetoric and reality: see previous post]

There are no easy / clear answers here and, just as the sector boundaries are increasingly blurring, so this debate is not black and white. I am reminded of Dave of Busy Nurse  who left the following comment on another health-related post; Dave both left the NHS to found a social enterprise, but also had strong views on others considering that particular move:

"We left the NHS to form a social enterprise about 4 years ago and
there have been a small number of other SEs that emerged from the NHS
or were created to support the NHS. There has been nothing stopping NHS
organisations or teams forming into social enterprises for the last
dozen years but very few chose to.

Now there are hundreds of senior NHS managers interested in creating
social enterprises who had little or no interest in this a year ago. I
beleive that these are not all people who have had a "damascus like
revelation" but who are responding to organisational and political
pressures. As I said in the piece I think there are 3 drivers for many
of these and I am not sure that becoming an SE is the right solution if
they are motivated by "Looking impressive to political masters / Trying
to stay one-step ahead of the next organisational restructuring / Pure
cold-blooded knee-trembling fear".

When we meet up with other social entrepreneurs they seem to be
"real evangelists for the cause" and seem driven by the desire to
change the world, the desire to do things differently and a passion
about their local community or stakeholders. I believe that there are a
few like this within the NHS and I hope there will be more, but the
majority of senior NHS managers I come across are not like that at all."

To end positively, though, and for those who are keen to set new third sector organisations up in this field, the ever-reliable and well-informed (SSE Fellow) Chris Dabbs and Mo Girach of NHS Networks recently posted up a concise guide, entitled "Ten Steps to Starting A Social Enterprise in Health and Care" which can help steer people through the minefield….

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Craigsfoundation and grant proposal advice

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Well, you learn something every day…and today’s is that Craigslist has a foundation which "produces events and online resources that help emerging nonprofit leaders". Don’t get too excited, it doesn’t do direct funding, and the events seem to be of most use if you are in the San Francisco area, but there’s plenty of stuff worth sifting through here, particularly (as you might expect from such an organisation) in the online resources.

The NonProfit Boot Camp Online is particularly good; obviously, US-focused, but still useful podcasts to download and listen to. There will be more coming, because there are two more ‘boot camps’ coming (see Britt Bravo on this, and the Foundation in general).

Britt also links to a post, via a Craigslist event, about the "10 Flaws That Doom Most Grant Proposals to Failure". It provides a useful checklist even for those with a huge pile of applications / investment proposals under our respective belts….

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