Is your website mainstream?

Noted today how the School of Everything (who live upstairs from us) blogged about how they hoped to see more people browsing on their website using Internet Explorer rather than Firefox, on the basis that this would demonstrate they are going ‘mainstream’. They then compare this to the Wikipedia breakdown of the average percentages of browser use.

This seems to me an eminently successful exercise, and a useful ‘finger-in-the-air’ assessment for whether you are just reaching white 30 year-old men who like reading Clay Shirky, watching TED video podcasts and twittering or friendfeeding every waking moment. You know who you are (he said, looking in the mirror). Wonder what the breakdown would be for all web 2.0 sites?

Not really applicable in SSE’s case, as we’re hardly web 2.0 (this blog aside), but happy to report that Google’s Analytics tells me we’re pretty much bang on the Wikipedia average: 71% Explorer, 22% Firefox, 6% Safari, a bit of Opera (so to speak) and then the odds and sods. Must attract more geeks to the site…. :0)

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Skoll Forum (part 2…)

Back and reporting after an exhausting final plenary session here at Skoll.

First to wrap up yesterday’s proceedings. I attended one of the ‘consultancy clinics‘: with a panel made up of Liam Black, Alex Nicholls (Skoll Centre, leading researcher), Jim Fruchterman  (Benetech) and Kevin Jones (GoodCap), I had high hopes. But the session never really took off: whether this was due to the ‘pitching’ projects (when a pitch ends after 5 minutes, and the panel ask what you do, it’s never a good sign…) or the format, I’m not really sure, but the fireworks never really happened. With the possible exception of the final project, the Big Give, whose business model (or lack of therein) got a bit of a savaging, before the panellists got a bit more constructive in their critique.

In the evening, the Skoll Awards were given out. Jimmy Carter was, by all accounts, very inspirational and the award-winners are a pretty amazing bunch of people, doing pretty extraordinary things. I must confess that I watched it this morning on video as well, having chosen instead to spend the afternoon with noted UK troublemakers (Black, Wilson, Kershaw) and others in a local hostelry. A good time had by all, as you can see from the photo below; an image I’ve found hard to dislodge:


Later, I went to the Social Edge (where you can see lots of blog and video footage of the Forum) dinner: thanks to Jill and Victor for the invite, and I’m looking forward to working with them in connecting the UK bloggers and podcasters into their great space for discussion and connection. Met some great people (again) from great organisations, like Tal from MBAsWithoutBorders, Mike and Omar from Berkeley, and Matt Flannery of Kiva, who was notably humble and unassuming, not to mention interesting company.

After reuniting with a dissolute UK bunch in a local Chinese restaurant, I headed home…..


DAY 3: I have to go and catch the train back to London to get to the Ashoka awards event on time, so I will blog about this soon. Suffice to say that whereas by the end of Day 2 I was in full, cynical curmudgeon mode, I leave inspired. The storytelling session this morning was worth coming to the whole forum, with Walter Mosley and James Orbinski…in fact, the whole panel were simply outstanding, and I have countless pages of notes on the risks of heroisation (obviously discussed recently on this blog), the need for relevant role models, the balance between truth and propaganda, perspective and resolution, the risks of empowerment, the role of humour and much more besides. Probably the best session I have been to in five years of coming to this event.

After that, the final plenary was going to struggle, but Paul Farmer (Partners in Health) almost did. He was fabulous and finally, on the Skoll stage, communicated the need for social entrepreneurship to include the disadvantaged, excluded and poorest to "allow them to be social entrepreneurs" rather than viewing them as beneficiaries, problems to solve, or markets to exploit. Amen and hallelujah to him, his work and his words. And he was so good that Al Gore, who followed, left less of an impression: indeed, he was moved to say to Paul Farmer, "I am not worthy".

I would really recommend going to Social Edge (link above), and watching the videos of those two sessions; worth making time for.

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Skoll Forum (part 1…)

First missive from here at the Skoll Forum; just thought I’d give a run down on yesterday afternoon’s opening proceedings.

Opening ceremony was in the Sheldonian Theatre, which is beautiful and old…but also pretty uncomfortable after a couple of hours. Nevertheless, pretty impressive surroundings to kick off in.

First up, after Stephan Chambers (Chair, Skoll Centre) welcomed us in his engaging, wry manner, Jeff Skoll spoke, and was very entertaining, noting that Al Gore and Muhammad Yunus both won the Nobel Prize after they had been keynote speaker at the Forum ("coincidence? I don’t think so…"). His theme was that this movement was now entering the mainstream: a case of "here we are" rather than "here we come" (he backed this up with examples from Bill Gates, Barack Obama and Oprah Winfrey: an alternative trinity to conjur with).

Next up was Lord Giddens who had an engaging style, no notes…and some half decent jokes. With the theme being "culture", though, it seemed strange to have him talk on climate change…it also felt a bit like a beginner’s guide to climate change. With a room of people who know those issues inside out, this seemed strange….and it kind of felt like he’d been booked for his speaking credentials, rather than his relevance to social entrepreneurship (occasionally, he’d seem to remember and say something like "…which why we need you, the social entrepreneurs"). His three key issues, for the record, that we need to tackle are: freeriding, hyperbolic discounting (not taking the future seriously), and "spending" the energy we save.

Phil Hope, the Minister for the Third Sector was next, and gave a pretty rousing speech. It was nicely structured, using Beveridge / welfare state / "stalking giants" as a frame for what is needed, and what has changed, 60 years on. He talked encouragingly of the need to "mobilise social entrepreneurs" who have a "vital and catalytic role", and also of the need to work with an engaged government, rather than ignoring the state altogether. With 700 people from 40 different countries, it did feel a bit domestically-focused (people near me were glazing over at the mention of social clauses, and other elements of government activity; as well as asking me who Harold Wilson was…).

The example he used of a social entrepreneur creating an opportunity and movement seized by government also seemed strange: the anti-plastic bag movement started in a town in Devon, then picked up in the media, then rolled out by government. The Irish government didn’t need the Daily Mail et al to pick the issue up to ban them 5 years ago, and was government taken by the idea…or by the media coverage?….Overall, though, I was fairly impressed, and he had some nice lines ("real change cannot be financed by small change") and powerful delivery.

The final part was a panel of women who’d worked in cross-cultural projects and initiatives. The one who stood out for me was Jody Williams, who I confess to never having heard of before. She won the Nobel Peace Prize for pulling off the treaty banning landines in 95 countries, and was just outstanding: on respect and trust for partners, on communication and sharing of information, on not worrying who gets the credit: "nobody was more important than anybody else". Really inspired by her, particularly given our international initiatives.

Finally, Stephan Chambers wrapped up, reminding us of the forum theme of culture: shared experience, behaviour, habits… and that "behaviour isn’t geology" (i.e. it keeps changing). But he was brief because, as he pointed out, "I’m the only thing standing between you feeling your legs again and getting a drink". Nice touch.


Then we all packed off to Trinity College for drinks in a marquee (the heavens opened as we left the theatre, ensuring that I networked heavily with people with umbrellas); all good stuff, and met some interesting people from Israel, Latvia, Russia, China, as well as some more familiar faces from the UK and Ireland. Dinner followed on with the Social Entrepreneurs Ireland team, Nigel Kershaw, Yasmin from Lovells et al….

All of which made getting up to deliver our presentation at 8am a little challenging. But it went well, and have just missed the first scheduled session because of the continuing conversations afterwards (which I think is a good sign: all the good stuff happens off the programme!)….but will try and get back on track with one of the new ‘consultancy clinics’ (dreadful name, but good people by the look of it) this afternoon.

Over and out.

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Busyness is business

It’s been a busy few weeks here at SSE HQ: on top of our biggest graduation event ever, it is reporting season (aka the end of the financial year), which means spreadsheets and outcomes till the cows come home. It has been nice to look back at one three-year grant and see how closely we have delivered on what we said we would (it helped fund network development / franchise package)….though I am pretty much in the fifth circle of box-tick, form-fill hell by now. Still, worse to have no funding to report back on, so I’ll cut the carping.

Alongside that, I’ve presented to Finnish and Chinese visitors, delivered a policy and lobbying workshop up in Birmingham (and re-found an SSE Fellow: hello Parminder), and put in motion the changes to our extranet. Also, preparation for the Skoll World Forum of Social Entrepreneurship. Alastair, our CEO, and I will be presenting on the ‘fringe’ at 8am on Thursday, I am led to believe. Those who’ve suggested we deserve our place there for comedy reasons should know that there is nothing funny about an 8am presentation….ever. If you’re coming, come along and see how much caffeine I’ve managed to down.

I’ll also try and write up some thoughts here as the event goes along. This will be my 5th forum (yes, I’ve been to every one), and it’s certainly changed a bit over the years. For a start, it was free the first time (thankfully, as I was running a tiny non-profit at the time), but is now a price that would make Rob Greenland blanch. And after Ben Kingsley, Robert Redford and Al Gore in previous years, ex-president Jimmy Carter is making an appearance this year. SSE is going, largely because of networking, particularly in relation to potential international partners; and because there’s a lot of interesting thinking to get a handle on (if I can follow it). It’s useful, particularly, to get a sense of how people view what you’re doing when coming to it completely fresh with none of the baggage and politics (i.e. from abroad)….and also for us to remind the ‘scaling up’, systems-changing brigade that social entrepreneurship is also about inclusion, opportunity, and grassroots, local, sustainable change. (I will be taking the soapbox).

So, no time for now to review Andrew Mawson’s book, the Social Entrepreneur (teaser one line-review: lots of Mawson, but also lots of passion and insights, + is very readable in snappy, bitesize chunks; worth buying), or to look forward to the first UK Ashoka Fellows (announced / revealed on Friday), or to tell all about the forthcoming Shine unconference (Facebook grp).

And no time, indeed, to discuss how SSE was present when Stephen Bubb (chair of Adventure Capital Fund, taking over Futurebuilders) met Richard Gutch (outgoing chief exec of current Futurebuilders) at the recent ACEVO conference for the first time since the surprise switch was announced….though I can confirm that hell did not freeze over, and the four horsemen of the apocalypse did not appear….

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On a list of things I thought I’d never link to, a site with the name SavvyChavvy would probably feature. But it’s not a micktaking site or a spoof online joke: it’s a serious initiative to connect gypsy and traveller communities in the UK who are, by their very nature, often particularly isolated from each other. It allows young travellers in particular to connect to their peers, which is often as much about connecting East European Romany to their UK counterparts.

Does this section the community off in itself? Well, possibly, but providing them with a safe space to connect and communicate away from the excesses of Facebook groups and comments (there have already been ‘spoof’ profiles set up within the site, prompting new culturally-specific questions) seems like a sensible thing to do, especially when coupled with on-the-ground internet training. You can only join the community if you’re part of the traveller community at (it’s a social network built with Ning) but you can see some accompanying video clips here, and how the local South East TV news reported it.

Hopefully it might also go some way to reclaiming, or repositioning, the word ‘chav’, given that it is largely thought to come from the Romany word ‘chavi’ for a young person.

Congratulations to Jake Bowers and SSE Fellow Nathalie McDermott on a great initiative.

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