Growing pains: scaling social innovations

SSE were present at the launch of a new report from our neighbours/landlords the Young Foundation on ‘the challenge of growing social innovations’. The report, titled In and out of sync, draws together eleven case studies and a fair number of academic studies, evaluations and articles into a coherent and cogent whole. It provides a useful introduction and guide to the whole issue of scaling up.

Obviously, it’s something that SSE has discussed often, both with particular students / organisations at phases of development, and also more generally from our own experience and the way the debate is framed. See previous blog posts on Scaling your replicable pilot franchise (which pointed to one of the YF case studies actually) and the Long Tail of Social Entrepreneurship for example. The latter, particularly, covers some similar ground, in that it talks of scaling up a movement and a network, rather than a small number of organisations [brief slideshow here]. There’s obviously much else been written in this field as well, from classic founder syndrome analysis (see John Bird / Big Issue in the report) to flawed business model (see Aspire) to the need to marry up supply and demand (see every successful innovation…), and, for sector-heads, there’s nothing hugely revelatory.

What’s interesting to me is that coverage of the report ( Third Sector for example), didn’t pick up particularly on the fairly direct critique of the social enterprise organisational model; more generally, it picked up on the need to share ideas, rather than scale an organisation in a difficult, flawed attempt to achieve significant social impact (which is also nothing new: it’s an oft-spoken mantra that "it’s amazing what you can get done if you don’t mind who takes the credit…"). These two paragraphs, for example, give a flavour:

"there are many reasons for being sceptical about the assumptions that social and economic goals can easily be integrated and that growing organisations is the best way to achieve social impact. Although in some cases social and economic objectives have been combined in a single organisation (as, for example, with Language Line or The Big Issue) there are often sharp trade-offs between the goals of social impact and the goal of achieving a financial or reputational return. For example, economic imperatives may point organisations towards rejecting difficult clients, avoiding risk and avoiding radical advocacy. By contrast, social objectives may mean chasing down hard problems and taking risks that others will not consider. Also, when it comes to deciding on an optimum scale, economic and social considerations can point in opposite directions. Economics provides one lens for thinking about scale as a balance between economies and diseconomies of scale (and scope). But social returns to scale may point in a different direction…

There can be no doubt that many social innovations have been associated with pioneer organisations (e.g. Amnesty, OU, Greenpeace, BRAC). However, there are surprisingly few
examples of major social innovations that are strongly associated with organisational growth
(e.g. the many innovations associated with human rights, ecology, feminism, disability rights, micro-credit or intermediate technology emerged from a huge diversity of different organisations). Indeed it sometimes appears as if innovators themselves, and their funders, sometimes risk an illusion of control, believing that this is the best way to achieve impact when often it could be achieved through looser approaches to diffusion."

Interesting stuff. As an organisation which is itself a franchise (which the report categorises as ‘directed diffusion’), it’s good to read that the wider influencing role of SSE should be recognised as growth of a social innovation in this context as well. Even if such influencing / advocacy is more difficult to measure, it’s important to track and understand (such as other organisations taking up the action learning approach for third sector leaders). And as we’ve long contended, the approach to social entrepreneurship we back is one that focuses on the outcomes, not the organisational model; on the impact, and not the methods; with each social entrepreneur choosing the structure, governance, financing most appropriate to them achieving their mission and, should the time come, the most appropriate form of diffusion / replication. As well as one that incorporates personal as well as organisational development, multiplying the potential benefits.

This report also throws down a challenge to those investment bodies and funders whose focus is on scaling up organisations and achieving a return (social or financial) based on clear metrics. In a small number of cases, this may be possible, but more innovative funding and investment may well be required…something that may look less like commercial investment than is currently the case.   


Share Button

Anita Roddick: a true social entrepreneur (1942-2007)

Was shocked to hear last night of the sudden death of Anita Roddick, Body Shop founder and campaigner extraordinaire. She was a true pioneer in this field, providing inspiration, time and support to countless other organisations and social entrepreneurs. Amongst those she supported directly were the Big Issue and also the visionary founder of my old organisation, Nicholas Albery. She was a consistent supporter to the Global Ideas Bank (or the Institute for Social Inventions as it was then) and helped Nicholas produce the marvellous Book of Visions, an encyclopaedia of social innovations, in the early 90s.

I met her when I was doing a piece on BBC Radio Five Live about death (long story: see Natural Death Centre); she was doing the subsequent phone-in on ageing. While the news was on, I said which organisation I was from, and how Nicholas had appreciated her help for the organisation. She said to get in touch and she’d be happy to help out. Normally, you’d take that with a pinch of salt, particularly from someone so high profile. But when I got in touch about the possibility of doing a foreword for a publication I was putting together (Setting the World Alight), she couldn’t have been more generous with her time and support. The same was true for a later compendium of social innovations we did for Collins, called 500 Ways to Change the World; not only was she generous with what she wrote ("This magnificent project is a monument to human creativity and generosity of both mind and spirit") but also, again, with her time, writing the foreword herself and getting in touch personally to show support.

More widely, she has had an enormous influence on the rise we have seen in the intervening years of ethical consumerism, fairtrade, social business and social entrepreneurship. It is easy to forget how radical the Body Shop was in the early days in its combination of a political / campaigning agenda with commercial retail. To think now about properly sourced natural ingredients, fairly traded goods, non-animal testing and the like is to think of the norm or the standard. That is the extent to which the world has changed in those 25 or 30 years.

And she also changed the world of business through her unwillingness to compromise: she was not controversial for the sake of it, but because of principled stands. Principles that led her to sell her business to focus on campaigning for human rights and, more recently, hepatitis C. Her website still lists her most recent blog posts from the 6th of September, campaigning for justice for the Angola 3, political prisoners in the US. Still lobbying, pushing for justice and for the things she felt were right.

Her passion and dynamism was palpable, and has been communicated to many hundreds and thousands of people. It is that passion, which she was so brilliantly able to channel and communicate, that will prove her greatest legacy, inspiring others to make change, to change lives and to enthuse and empower others; to demonstrate to others what was possible, and give credence to their dreams and aspirations. She will be sorely missed; let the next generation be inspired to fill the vacuum.

Share Button

Social entrepreneurship and enterprise news round-up (Aug / Sep)

As the long gap between posts would suggest, all has been hectic in the house of SSE. Amongst the normal activities and programmes, I’ve also been on the panel for the Social Enterprise Ambassadors programme which has been exhausting, rewarding, inspiring and challenging in equal measure. Quite an amazing three days of interviews (group interviews of 6 at a time), and an amazing snapshot, as someone working in this movement, of what is out there. That’s as much as I can say (I could tell you, but I would have to kill you etc.),  but suffice to say that all the consortium partners are very excited about the people involved.

Anyway, in the interim, much news and views and opinion to report, so here’s the traditional "haven’t-blogged-in-ages-have-a-backlog-of-information-to-share" round-up:

– First up, Gordon Brown’s first big speech referring to the third sector since he became our erstwhile Prime Minister…and choosing a sector venue for a big policy keynote. Check it out here. Much of it was broad brush but reference to the long-touted social investment bank and reaffirmations of campaigning and three-year funding were largely welcomed

– Capacitybuilders has knocked the criticised hubs structure on the head and replaced it with 9 programmes…generally, this will be welcomed, particularly the move to direct commissioning rather than grouping under strategic themes….

Enterprising Solutions shortlist is out there…..SSE chief exec Alastair Wilson is amongst the judges…

– Something I hadn’t come across before: Disabled Entrepreneur of the Year, founded by the unlikely partnership of established charity Leonard Cheshire and EasyJet founder Stelios….

– NEF, who SSE commissioned to do its evaluation, have a DIY guide to Social Return on Investment available for download….they are the leaders on this stuff, so well worth a look if it’s something you’re considering or are interested in…

– Other well-respected people in the field are REDF, who pioneered the concepts of blended value and the like. There’s a podcast interview with their new president available

– SSE Fellow Paul Hodgkin is up for an award as an international "disruptive innovations in health" competition and is the only UK representative…..go Paul, break a leg etc.

– I like the comic strip Doonesbury. And now it mentions how to use the web to do good, I like it even more (via Beth’s blog and others)

Pilotlight have launched in Scotland; they are a like-minded organisation and am glad to say that SSE helped a little in advising their replication plans….

– If the sound of a transparent ethical stock exchange sounds interesting, so might this report from Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship and Jamie Hartzell of the Ethical Property Company.

Finally, just to return to the Ambassadors interviews, we asked all the interviewees / candidates who inspired them, and it was great to hear the answers from people who are hopefully going on to be role models and inspirations themselves. Names mentioned ranged from those you might expect (Gandhi, Martin Luther King) to those you might know (Tim Smit, Liam Black, John Bird) to family (husbands, fathers, children) and to the unexpected (Joe Strummer, Hugo Chavez, the Pied Piper). Most, though, said they were inspired by the people they work with and for….and, at the end of an exhausting couple of weeks, that’s a useful reminder of why we all do this stuff and what it’s all about. Inspiration, empowerment, change, and bringing people with you on the journey.


Share Button