Friday round-up: stocks, status spheres, standards, (my)space

The usual weekly round-up of links and posts of interest to social entrepreneurs….

– The Beacon Fellowship has announced its 2007 winners….

– SEC are starting up a BME social enterprise network, although it remains pretty fluid as to what it will look like / do currently, according to reports from the consultation

– This is an interesting blog post on New Start about "empowerment", and how it invariably stops in the offices of the local authority; same problem we were discussing in reference to this ‘triple devolution’ in a recent post about David Cameron, except I didn’t compare the problem to Chairman Mao….

Social stock exchanges: more than buzzwords?

– Is your business "Eco-Iconic"? Do you operate in a "Status Sphere"? No, well you should get trendwatching….

Social Enterprise Ambassadors update

Social enterprise kitemark being trialled: not the last we’ll hear of this, I’m sure….

– In a week where Beth Kanter and Michele Martin helped me with my blog / sharing posts on Facebook (see the footer of this post), MySpace’s Impact channel for non-profits kicks off with its UK wing, ImpactUK Haven’t had much chance to trial it yet….but let me know your thoughts…

– I got interviewed for an article on the Gateway 2 Investment site this week (London-based thing), which serves as good a reason as any to bring the site as a whole to your attention….

– The Northern Leadership Academy, despite me not being able to work out what it actually does, has an interesting list of the top 20 leadership sites….which has some gems and some things that look like random results from a search….

– I’ve been ploughing through the OTS-funded think pieces recently; and there’s more reading for the journey home now: Beyond the Cheque, a report from Rob John, on venture philanthropy and its potential value to social entrepreneurs

Have a good weekend…..

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Measurement and scrutiny of the third sector

As I mentioned in passing in a previous post, there’s been significant debate recently about the need for greater scrutiny and to hold charities / third sector organisations to account. It’s not a new debate, and it’s by no means unique to the UK (this is a hot topic in the US also, as you can see here), but has been kicked off afresh largely by a speech by Martin Brookes, head of research at New Philanthropy Capital, at the RSA, which was reproduced in Society Guardian: Measures of Success. It also then featured on the Guardian blog, and in a comment piece in Third Sector (and bits and bobs in the letters pages of both this week).

Brookes’ argument, in condensed form, is as follows: the performance of charities is not scrutinised and assessed (enough), with the Charity Commission only regulating / assessing whether they are ‘legitimate’ charities; this is because a) we don’t care (we’re assuaging guilt by giving), b) we see ‘charity’ as a big homogenous group, c) they are different / on a pedestal, or d) it’s too hard to do; assessing performance matters, because there are social needs to be addressed and limited money to address them; the status quo can’t stay as is; so we need a new, independent institution (alongside the Commission) to assess and improve the performance of charities…..

Reactions to this have been varied. NCVO’s Chief Exec Stuart Etherington gave a very strong critique (close to condemnation, in fact):

"This is a headline grabbing stunt by Martin Brookes, which is a pity as
he is blowing the hard won reputation of New Philanthropy Capital.
There is already serious regulation of charities and considerable
efforts have been undertaken by the sector to improve their performance
in this area. There is not a shred of evidence to support Mr Brookes’

Setting up such a body would be regulation gone mad and would
severely damage civil society in this country and have precisely the
opposite effect of his intentions. I hope that New Philanthropy Capital
will distance itself from such ridiculous proposals and focus on
assisting charities to have the greatest impact for the people they
support and serve."

OK, so I think we know where he stands. More measured (excuse pun) was Adam Sampson from Shelter who, in this comment, effectively said "yes, you have a point, but how it’s done needs careful thought". In a comment under the blog post, Colin Nee of Charities Evaluation Services agrees with the main points (need to improve measurement / performance), but argues that improvement should come from within (skills / training etc) rather than from without (regulation). Others have also tended to agree with the general thrust about performance, assessment and scrutiny, and disagreed more with Brookes’ suggested model. As one letter put it (quoting from memory), "Brookes has a touching faith in the independence of non-departmental public bodies from government", and others too have said that the thought of another quasi-governmental body fills them with dread.

SSE has a keen interest in this area for several reasons:  generally, because we’re part of this sector; organisationally, to provide accountability to funders/investors and to demonstrate the quality and impact of what we do more widely (see outcomes / impact); via the programme, to support  evaluation / measurement amongst SSE students; and, last but not least, because an SSE Fellow set up an organisation, Intelligent Giving, which operates in this space. SSE worked with the New Economics Foundation on its measurement work, and I now use their methodology to introduce evaluation to the social entrepreneurs we work with; this is on the basis that the earlier they can start to think about measurement, and incorporating it into their work, and understand how it works and why its important, so much the better.

[As an aside, it’s interesting to note that Lisa from NEF also had a piece in the same Society Guardian last week, There’s little profit to be made from savings which discusses their work with Camden Council on outcomes-based commissioning as well as the perils of the efficiency agenda. She connects the two by saying that "any longer-term view of efficiency in terms of services for people must
harness the skills and assets of local people, rather than purely
relying on market-based contracting of professionals to "do" services
"to" people"
. Well worth reading and important to boot.]

My opinion on the Brookes-stoked debate? Well, I think performance and assessment is an area of vast importance; not just for charities but also, as we’ve consistently argued, for social entrepreneurs operating across all sectors, in order to demonstrate the quality of what they are doing, prove its impact, and improve their own ways of working. As sector boundaries become more blurred, knowing this information/data and communicating it clearly is all important: for differentiation, for accountability and so on. For those who trade, it is consumers / contractors who will use this information as much as funders/investors.

Whether this requires another public body is more questionable. Funders and (more slowly) individual donors are increasingly demanding evidence / evaluation, and this is only set to continue to grow. Whether consistency can ever be brought to the massive variety of metrics involved, even within sectors, is the big question. NPC’s own techniques (largely brought with them from commercial financial services / Goldman Sachs) have been criticised by some for not being nuanced / cognisant enough of the differences between the third sector and the commercial business sector. And that’s from a position where they currently don’t say whether any charity is "bad", but only recommend those who are "good".

Of all the positions/reactions above, Adam Sampson’s makes most sense to me. There does need to be greater scrutiny, and greater performance assessment. But we should be realistic about the limitations of what such auditing can do; it is rare that any evaluation/assessment gives "the whole story" of what an organisation does / how it operates. Sampson also draws attention to the role of the third sector in innovation, and that recognition of "honourable failure" may be as important as "worthy predictability". This is particularly relevant in our world, where social enterprise is judged a) by its enterprising nature (innovative, entrepreneurial, risk-taking etc) and b) by its sustainable model (earns income, less grant-reliant, endures etc), without any seeming realisation that the two are sometimes in conflict. Such conundrums are what makes this area such a complex one.

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Social entrepreneurs: Fellows’ news Nov 07

There’s lots going on to discuss at present: the private sector: social enterprise debate is ongoing on a previous post, and the issue of scrutiny and measurement is causing a bit of a ruckus too (see Guardian article here); will discuss soon. From an SSE point of view, though, lots of news from Fellows to report as well. So here we go:

Roger Wilson-Hinds, of Screenreader fame, featured on David Wilcox’s excellent blog here (includes video interview) when they met at an e-democracy conference

– Jude Habib’s SoundDelivery has been spreading the web 2.0 love to non-profits; sign up for the newsletter…recent activity includes work with Breast Cancer Care, a homeless charity, and they are now on iTunes in the podcasts section

SSE is working with the Bain consultancy (via CAN) on a business plan competition; at least a dozen Fellows from around the SSE Network are entering (will report on this soon), with the prospect of bespoke 1:1 mentoring on offer….

– Diye Wariebi at Digibridge continues to go from strength to strength; he was in recently (giving IT advice to a current student), and said that, amongst much other activity, they now have a partnership with West Ham United….

– Michelle Baharier, at Cooltan Arts, is having a festive fair: good Xmas shopping…..

– Mike Felse, at Proud City, has let me know about the funding they have gained from v (the volunteering commission) as part of the vinvolved strand. The ACE Project (Active Citizenship Empowerment) will help 200 16-25 year-olds to take part in the iPAC programme (accredited by City and Guilds). Congrats to all there.

– Merlin Matthews at Re-Cycle is having an Xmas bike raffle to raise funds. More details on the SSE facebook group, or on Re-Cycle’s website.

– Ola Onigbinde’s Faith Action C.I.C were on Revelation TV last weekend…

and Ann Cotton’s CAMFED featured at the Clinton Global Initiative

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Social Enterprise Day 2007: aftermath / round-up

Just a quick list of links to some of the activity associated with that day (in addition to previous posts here and here):

Business link guide launched on "why social enterprise?"
Department of Health pack launched, signposting to support and guidance on setting up a social enterprise in the health and social care sector
– Five ‘think pieces’ commissioned by the Office of the Third Sector were published (authors include Jeremy Nicholls and Andrea Westall). See OTS website for the list + downloadable pdfs of each. I’ll try to give reaction to these as and when….
– OTS also gave an update on one year since the social enterprise action plan.
– The Welsh Assembly also got involved: announcing that it "is committed to strengthening the framework of financial and asset related support available to new and expanding social enterprises" in this press release

[NB – no credit to me: these are culled from the mighty VolResource newsletter]

Other related news / links?
– More health/social enterprise-related powerpoints from the Social Enterprise – A World Class Solution? event on the 15th.

– the Youth Social Enterprise Commission began, and has a blog

– the Social Firms Make Your Mark single went on sale (buy it from Wippit here)

Make Your Mark in 60 seconds chose its winner

Social enterprise is the new easy listening (?) according to the Telegraph; surely punk rock? :0)

– the Social Enterprise Coalition has its round-up

– and Ed Miliband poisoned Liam Black

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Will the private sector discredit or absorb social enterprise?

These (discredit / absorb) are two opinions of the private sector: social enterprise relationship I’ve read recently.

The first was from Cliff Prior, CEO of UnLtd, who was reported (in this Third Sector article) as making the point that "social enterprises are in danger of being discredited by private sector imitators" (aka profit-making businesses adopting a social enterprise model). Nigel Kershaw (of Big Issue Invest) rebutted this with "if you are transforming society, it doesn’t matter what you are".

The second was from Julia Meek on Catalyst’s Social Business Blog (Social Businesses: Victims of their own success?). In this post, she discusses the trend for mainstream businesses to adopt the approaches of social businesses, and then adopt them wholesale at a much bigger scale. Or, as Julia puts it:

"These supermarkets, electricity suppliers, market leaders and others
have been able to watch the market and let social businesses prove the
effectiveness of their various approaches. On observing a successful
one the companies have been able to leverage their infrastructure,
human capital, market positioning etc. to adopt it quickly themselves,
marketing ’social’ products and services to the same target audience
and at a lower price than can feasibly be offered by smaller, social

This is partly a conversation about scale: can social businesses ever break the ‘ethical glass ceiling’, as Julia’s colleague puts it, and get the necessary investment to compete on more equal terms with the big boys? Does it mean that the best way for social businesses to make change is to pioneer/prove and hope for adaptation by the mainstream? (an approach often seen in the public sector and web 2.0 alike). She then posits 4 potential approaches, around quality, brand, partnerships and acquisitions. Well worth reading.

On the first, I partly agree with Cliff, in that just adopting a model / particular legal structure proves nothing, and this is a problem. This is as true for PCT’s hiving half of themselves off into a CIC (excuse acronym-itis) and then commissioning that ‘new’ half, as it is true for the private sector. Unless the primary mission of an organisation is a social one and the initiative is driven by a social entrepreneur / team of socially entrepreneurial leaders, then its motivation can always be called into question. But we see social entrepreneurs operating across all sectors, and that is where I agree with Nigel: ultimately, moving forward, there will be this increasing blurring of boundaries, and what will matter, as I’ve posted before, is:

– the quality of the work/activity/product
(reputation / measurement / evaluation / provenance etc)
– how well this is communicated
(brand / voice / connections to stakeholders etc)
– the transparency with which the organisation operates
(mission / finances / governance etc)

Regardless of the legal structure chosen, these will be key things for all organisations operating across this field; from enterprising charities through to socially-responsible companies.

It’s interesting to relate the second post to the ‘six practices of high-impact non-profits’ (which I mentioned here), in that one of those practices was to ‘serve and advocate’. If the pioneering role of social business in getting ethical / fair / green / social practices adopted by the mainstream is seen through this lens of advocacy, then maybe that helps place it in a slightly different context. Also, as I am bound to say in this context, the assumption is also there that social enterprises and the like want to scale up. As the Small Business Blog posted the other day, "69 percent of small business owners said that they prefer to have their business remain small.” If that is true in the private sector, surely the same can be said of the third sector / social enterprise movement as well? (If not more so, as ‘small and beautiful’ is a mantra to some).

And surely the movement should be proud to be influencing and changing the mainstream in the way that it has: how satisfying, however imperfectly done, to see big supermarkets pushing fairtrade coffee, to see Fiji water pushing its carbon neutrality, to see M&S put out its Plan A…none of which would have been achieved without hundreds of activists, campaigners and social entrepreneurs, and none of which we could have said even one, two, three years ago. Where we are strongest is in demonstrating, through quality practice and delivery, that things can be done differently….and that they are better done that way.

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