Voice 08: initial thoughts

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Am out of office tomorrow, so thought I’d try and capture some initial brief thoughts on the last day and a half at Voice 08 up in Liverpool.

The reception in the evening was great networking, and was fantastic to arrive and see our Liverpool SSE cohort mingling with more familiar and established names and faces. Feedback on Young Voice, which had been happening during the day, was mixed….on the positive side, the sense of dynamism and energy was definitely there (of which more later), and several people I spoke to enjoyed the interaction and chance to engage with a younger audience. On the negative, several people said it lacked a bit of direction, and had occassional mismatches of tone (legal structures and returns on investment to 14 year-olds etc). The Liverpool SSE lot, in their inspirational igloo, were generally positive, and felt it was an innovation definitely worth pursuing.

Gossip from the reception? Two well-known chief executives in the sector asked me to work out the restaurant bill, as they were slightly tipsy (they’ve obviously progressed through delegation); our hotel bar was still packed at 2.30am, few of whom noticed the earthquake beneath their feet; oh and, of course, all the best conversations and deals took place.

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On the morning, there was a fairly uninspiring plenary session; standout was the video from the Scojo Foundation (genuinely amazing), and possibly Hazel Blears’ revelation that she’d serviced a Volvo recently (and signed it off: government accountability and transparency in action); by the magic of video, Gordon Brown announced an extra £27 million to the existing £73 million social investment in health fund and the £10 million risk capital fund that’s been bubbling under for a while. The cavernous venue seemed to slightly suck the life out of everyone, and there were also the first teething problems with sound as a squall of feedback punctuated a missive from Baroness Glenys Thornton (outgoing SEC chair).

Things improved for me with a walk around the open exhibition area, visiting the ‘igloos’ (more igloo-like than I suspected) and stands, and chatting to people from all around the country.  I then listened in on a debate about a social stock exchange which was entertaining, and occasionally thought-provoking; having Rod Schwartz (who once stood as an MP) and Jamie Hartzell (who once came 2nd in a debating competition) involved certainly made for good arguments….

Lunch was fine, and more good conversations round the tables: SImon Taylor from Nottinghamshire, Rosemary Kay, who’d been so helpful in setting up the Liverpool SSE, Nigel Lowthrop from Hill Holt Wood and Craig Dearden-Phillips who was pushing his forthcoming book with an admirable gusto and persistence.

Having skipped the next plenary (Francis Maude, Conservative MP + Reed Paget of Belu Water, the only comment about which I heard was that they’d wished they’d heard more from the latter than the former…), I carried on my merry way round the stalls, took part in a laughter workshop at the SSE igloo (which was, as you’d hope, very funny) and avoided the fishing rod flying past my ear. I liked the open-planness of this area, although the venue is so huge, as to overwhelm slightly all the activity, which included a fashion show and musical slots. Some innovations worked particularly well: the grab a placard, call a meeting seemed to be responsible for some of the more vibrant get-togethers (and possibly also for the lower attendance in some of the agenda-d breakout sessions).

Last plenary (a q&a) which I was particularly looking forward to, was again plagued by persistent sound problems….which became incredibly frustrating, not least for the speakers involved. But there was an interesting cross-section of speakers from across the movement, and some encouraging (if beamed-in) words from Phil Hope, Minister for the Third Sector.

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More soon, and links and reaction to coverage elsewhere, but it did feel like a different event to previous years in many ways (in a good way): real efforts to innovate and promote interaction. But some of this was either hamstrung by sound problems, or overwhelmed by the hugeness of the venue: the dynamism on display at some of the stands and sessions seemed, therefore, like occasional sparks, rather than an event taking light.

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Continuity and VOICE 08

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Having lectured the ambassadors recently about the need for continuity in blogging, this blog has been largely dormant for a week. Mostly because this blog has been hotfooting it around (Cumbria, Belfast, Cornwall and, today, Liverpool) and is therefore succeeding only in collecting information and not filtering it into digestible form.

Today we’re off to Voice – will try and blog whilst there, or afterwards…..looks like it could be good. What with our Liverpool SSE in an inspirational igloo and all.

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Nonprofit blog exchange: King Jason

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Sporadically, I take part in the Nonprofit Blog Exchange Virtual Event, which basically involves nonprofit / third sector blogs writing about each other to create networks and promote the movement more generally. This time I’ve been allocated King Jason’s blog. No, not a little-known monarch operating as a trustee, but a web designer and IT specialist working in the nonprofit sector over in Australia. Called Jason King.

It appears that Jason used to be in London, not unlike myself, and given that SSE is also looking Australia-wards currently, this seemed all too appropriate. Having overseen the redevelopment of SSE’s website last year, these types of resources can be invaluable…particularly when there is little resource / capacity / knowledge within a (relatively) small organisation. It’s amazing how important IT is to an organisation these days and yet, how often little attention (and money) is given to it. Jason has a good example on his blog of an organisation whose website went down overnight: Quick decisions when a charity’s website went walkabout. I’ve seen even large organisations in our sector be undone by things as simple as domain name renewal, never mind the complications of DNS, MX records and the rest (which I seem to spend half my time sorting out).

But there are some great resources out there, if people get to know about them. Primarily, I’d mention the ICT Knowledgebase in the UK, and Idealware and TechSoup in the US. But it’s useful to get a more grassroots-y, personal view of things, which is where blogs like Jason’s can come in. Particularly as the format lends itself more to interaction and asking questions. If you’re working on a third sector website, or on a redesign, then checking out Jason’s post on Give your website a health check is a good start to ensuring accessibility and its status for search engines, for example. And commenters have left some extra tips as well.

Certainly I’d recommend it to anyone with responsibility for their charity or social enterprise’s website, especially if they are in Australia, as he’ll inevitably be more connected to events and resources in that location. Keeping informed and keeping connected are what it’s all about in this sphere, and anything that helps you do that has got to be valuable.

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Friday round-up: Newman, NCVO, NVQs and Neuroscience

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Swift Friday round-up of all things socially entrepreneurial and enteprising:

– Hot on the heels of Liam Black leaving Fifteen (see previous post / here), another leading CEO of the sector, Penny Newman, has announced she is leaving CafeDirect and is, ‘open to offers’. Form an orderly queue. We’re yet to hear whether her leaving do will feature as many Brazilian dancers as Mr Black’s….

– OTS launches its Grassroots Grants programme, being administered by the Community Development Foundation, who are now seeking local partners. It’s an interesting scheme (matching philanthropist money to create endowments etc) and badly needed given the dearth of early-stage, grassroots funding; read Phil Hope speaking about it here

– More on John Elkington and Pamel Hartigan’s book, The Power of Unreasonable People, on Social Edge

– The piece above talks a fair bit about failure in this context, and this is a good article in the New York Times about failure and its relationship to (successful) entrepreneurship of all types.  Why is failure not (always) a bad thing? "Failure underscores the need to take chances…Success can breed complacency…and Failure can force you to rethink every assumption".

NCVO have launched a new third sector jobs site: NCVO JobShop 

I love a bargain, and I love buy one get one free (the BOGOF staple), but I never thought it would apply to laptops. And now to houses. Is this some sort of embedded giving? CSR? Philanthropy? Something else entirely? Do we care as long as it works?

– Muhammad Yunus has a new book out, called "Creating A World Without Poverty: Social Business and the Future of Capitalism", promoting his concept of social business, a kind of reasoned, philanthropic, patient investment model.

75 tips on becoming a better networker. Particularly enjoyed no. 12: "Walk like you know where you’re going". True in life as well as networking…

– Enjoyed this post by Mike Chitty about  learning / development. He quotes a manager he’s working with, who said "All of our managers have been through the NVQ level 3 in Management –
but they are still unable or unwilling to recognise and manage
under-performers"
Mike goes on to add comment that seems spot-on to me:

"This shows the dangers of pursuing qualifications – rather than
pursuing performance. We seem to be trapped in a public policy for
vocational education and training that puts qualifications above
practice. We are getting a more qualified workforce – but not necessarily a more able one."

– A bit of light relief (ok, not) in the form of this article, the Neuroscience of Leadership, which is more interesting than it sounds: basically discussing how our growing understanding of the brain and cognitive functions can help us manage and lead organisations better.

– An international database of eco-labels to help the consumer navigate their way through the chaos…

– Harvard Business School on "Putting Entrepreneurship in the Social Sector" which is very good, methinks.

– For those in the health sector, Entreprenurses is likely to become a good and useful resource, if a terrible neologism. Dave Dawes speaks sense on this stuff.

– And finally, in honour of yesterday, a cartoon from Hugh at Gaping Void (click to open up):

Iloveyou

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Eco-friendly office printing

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Inspired by Greenpeace’s new EfficienCity, I have been trying to cut down on my printing in the office; although we do all the stuff you’d expect (double -sided, re-use of one-sided, recycling cartridges), my big problem was with widows and orphans…the unwanted few lines + images which cause you to print another page.

Delightfully, I can recommend GreenPrint World, a free bit of software (endorsed by a whole range of US eco non-profits) which you select as your default printer. It basically introduces on extra stage between pressing Print and the printer starting to whirr; at this stage it offers you the option of cutting off extraneous pages, removing images (great for website ads) and removing unnecessary text. Best of all, it keeps a running total of how many pages you’ve saved, and how much money this has saved you/your organisation. You can use it in your office if it’s not for ‘commercial’ purposes, and use it at home as well.

Takes a bit of getting used to, but very useable once you get going. Their special font, on the other hand, I’m not quite as sold on….but you can’t have everything.

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