Friday round-up: audio, aggregation, and alltop

It’s been a while since the last round-up, and lots to link to and write up.

– Will write more about this shortly, but the Ambassadors have started to blog….and there is an uber-feed you can sign up to for all of them combined ( Early days, but starting to happen….

– Details of the next Social Enterprise Research Conference announced

– Free audio file from Stanford Social Innovation Review from their Social Entrepreneurship Day, which I shall be listening to on the way home…

– Podnosh has an interesting post on "Why should leaders blog?"; check comments also…

SSE graduation in London on March 14th (a week today); if you haven’t got an invite, and think you should have, then get in touch.

US article about entrepreneurship and social change (in the Tennessean, no less)

– Updated research from CAF on Social Enterprise in Practice; haven’t had a chance to read, but looks very interesting both on the challenges to the sector (quote from PR: "Social enterprises are unlikely to achieve financial sustainability and it is unreasonable to expect them to do so") and on what is needed in terms of measurement and support. Will follow up on this……

– Sally Reynolds is held in high esteem in the sector for her work leading Social Firms UK, and they continue to take an approach focused on quality and delivery; new trade directory of social firms is now online, and their Star Social Firm quality mark is also taking hold. Interesting to hear her discuss the other day how they could develop quality standards for social firms because they are more tightly defined / structured (see definition of What is a social firm?) than the diverse and varied spectrum of social enterprise.

– Related to that spectrum-like nature, NCVO are "unhappy with the government definition of social enterprise", according to this Guardian article on their new ‘civil society’ approach. I do hope we’re not entering a period of definition debate………

Social Enterprise Magazine has relaunched (more developments on website to follow), and, IMHO, looks a country mile better in design, focus and content. Massive congratulations to all involved in making it happen and promoting it so effectively: Tim, Claudia, Deniz and the team. Look forward to encouraging our students and Fellows to read and get engaged with it….

Greed offsetting. Really?

– Interesting Business Week article on the profits (social and financial) of CSR

– And finally, for all your non-profit blog needs, here’s; single page aggregation is the future?

Have a great weekend, one and all….

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Superheroes and celebritisation

Have wanted to respond a bit more fully to the article in the Guardian about Social entrepreneurs are not superheroes, written by Rob Greenland….who’s been doing some really great posts of late.Essentially, Rob’s take is that using case studies to explain the effect of social entrepreneurs has a potential downside, namely that they can become almost comic-strip like in their portrayal of an ‘ideal’, rather than a reality. This is reinforced by the consistent use of a few big hitters by politicians, which often bear little resemblance to the vast majority of the movement. To quote the concluding paragraph from the piece:

"Away from the glamour at the top end of the market, there are loads of
organisations that are working hard at changing internal cultures,
working with customers to encourage them to pay for services, and
battling with the public sector to get it to match its new-found
enthusiasm for social enterprise with an acceptance that someone
somewhere still has to pay for social benefits to be delivered. And
many of these hardworking organisations, like me, are starting to get a
bit distracted by some of the more exuberant cheerleading on the

You can read Rob’s original post on his blog here, which also attracted a great number of comments. One expands on Rob’s theme to talk about the ‘celebritisation’ of the sector, and its increasing corporatisation.

I find myself agreeing with large swathes of this. I don’t want to repeat myself too much, so will refer to some previous posts that intersect with this subject as I go:

The myth and truth of the heroic individual; see also here. Basically, our take is that successful social entrepreneurs create networks, build movements, inspire communities (and involve and engage them), establish teams and so forth: there are no superheroes who do it alone, and most social entrepreneurs you speak to will always emphasise their team and the many people who help(ed) make it happen.

But (and this is one thing I’m taking from Andrew Mawson’s book, review to follow), individuals do drive and lead change. Someone brings the group together, someone has the casting vote at the meeting, someone keeps things ticking over, and someone initiates things. There are risks in promoting individuals as the solution, but there are equally risks in endless committees, muddled partnerships, well-meaning talking shops and so forth.

The celebritisation point is an interesting one. I did a post a while back about recognition and celebrating success where I said that

"Recognition and celebration are key for raising social entrepreneurs’
confidence, their credibility as a leader of an effective organisation,
and an understanding of their own value (and the value of their work).
When this is recognised at our Fellowship events by politicians and
stakeholders, by the praise of funders or investors, or by their own
peers, the effects are substantial."

I think this is true, and I also think there is a need for aspiration (the Tim Smit big vision stuff). But there are some risks associated, it is true, with the VIP / celebrity social entrepreneur approach; namely, that a small, elite group of people get profile, support, resources, networks access and so on, but the vast majority don’t. This is something I’ve explicitly criticised Ashoka for in the past, for example, in that their "everyone a changemaker" rhetoric is not always mirrored in their selection of a few hand-picked already-successful social entrepreneurs creating huge change that many cannot even think of attempting. Core to the SSE methodology, for example, are relevant role models who provide inspiration and information, not unattainable vision. Often in our recruitment, we have to puncture myths about what a social entrepreneur is (people will often say "that couldn’t be me" until an example that hits home is put in front of them) to reach and engage those at the grassroots.

So why are we involved in things like the Social Enterprise Ambassadors programme, and the interviews for the first UK Ashoka Fellows? (to be announced end of March). It comes back to the long tail of social entrepreneurship argument: that we need to support and multiply the opportunities for social entrepreneurship at a local level to multiply the impact across a wide range of communities. But if we want those people to enter into the movement / sector, we need what are called ‘familiar points of entry’. In social entrepreneurship terms, this is your Tim Smit or your Muhammad Yunus: people know the thing exists because of the big examples. It gives them a context and an initial understanding. The head needs the tail and the tail needs the head.

The second thing is that, through our involvement, we can widen the pool of people getting access to these opportunities. Gill Coupland, Ken Orchard, Saeeda Ahmed, Jean Jarvis, Trisha Lee, Kresse Wesling, Sam Conniff and so on: the Ambassadors group includes familiar names, but also many like these whom were little (or less well) known and run smaller, more local/regional enterprises. (Indeed, Rob  works with Gill in Leeds). Similarly, though the Ashoka Fellows will include at least one very familiar name, I would guess that people would be hard pushed to pick the other three (and none of the four are ambassadors, either). And that must be healthy: more examples reflecting the diversity of the movement, and how it delivers social change at all levels, and in manifold different ways.

Finally, the corporate side of things does carry risks. I worry when politicians talk of the ‘independent sector’ (which groups the third and private sectors) for public service delivery, and worry about the emphasis on scale of organisations, rather than movements and ideas (see the long tail piece again). But again we shouldn’t dismiss all corporate involvement; this is a spectrum that runs from unconstituted voluntary groups through to for-profit businesses with strong social/environmental objectives. Should we be intoxicated by business and see it as the answer to the inefficiencies and lack of impact of this sector? No. Should we close off and learn nothing from them (and vice versa)? Also no, in my opinion. And people should judge organisations by their transparency, the quality of what they do, their stated governance and so forth.

As I wrote in a recent response to an article, "Social entrepreneurship should not be construed as something
"exclusive", or something imposed. Indeed, it should provide an
opportunity for people from all backgrounds in all areas to contribute
to a wider change.
" This continues to underpin our work, our approach to franchising (to avoid London-centricity, amongst other reasons) and, most importantly, the programmes we deliver to social entrepreneurs. It’s important to be reminded by Rob and others about this, to be challenged, and to keep it real, because we don’t always get the balance right.

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(A little) more on Voice 08: links and opinions

Just wanted to point out this post on the Guardian blog today by Patrick Butler, which is spot on in terms of the gap between rhetoric and reality; he draws this point out by contrasting what was said on the main stage at Voice 08, and what was emerging in the breakout sessions / informal conversations. This national:local relationship seems central. Indeed, I just came out of a meeting about the Compact, much of which revolved around the need for genuine understanding and buy-in at a local commissioning level….which is, at best, patchy. I loved the story in Patrick’s post about social enterprises doing better than charities because they were "sometimes mistaken for private enterprise". Says it all, really.

The blog also kindly points to my previous blog post on Voice 08 here and also to Rob Greenland’s blog: Rob’s given some really interesting thoughts on the event here and here. Well worth reading; partticularly liked his stuff on corporatisation….

Other reflections on Entreprenurses, the Telegraph, and coverage everywhere about the government committing to £37million more (I thought my maths had deserted me, but then I realised the £27m more for health had been added to the £10m for risk investment) and the new social enterprise unit in the DCLG.

In more conversations at the launch of UnLtdWorld (of which more shortly) the night before last, there was general agreement that

a) the venue had a lot to answer for….(massive sympathy to the evidently frustrated SEC team on this)
b) some of the innovations worked and gave it more dynamism and energy (NB – not the fold out cardboard loudhailer!)
c) it remains a very useful event for what might be called "social enterprise professionals"
d) it remains a sporadically/intermittently useful event for social entrepreneurs

With reference to c and d, I had an interesting chat with Liz Liston-Jones from OTS (who stood in for Phil Hope at the aforementioned launch) about the event. We both agreed it had been hugely useful for us in terms of our work and wondered if you could also make it useful for practitioners at the same event? I do think it was probably the best and boldest Voice so far, from my point of view; and I’m increasingly aware what a demanding bunch we all are….

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Top 5 most popular posts and other stats

A navel-gazing blog post: I was a late convert to Feedburner, so it took me 6 months in to sign up to it, and I’ve been hooked ever since. Also a fan of MyBlogLog, but Feedburner is great for keeping tabs on subscribers, posts, reach and all sorts. Scarily, I realise I’ve been blogging since April 2006 for SSE, which means it will be two years worth’ of blogging some time soon. So, some stats:

– 252 posts
– 26,000 page views (according to Typepad); average c. 40 per day since the start (though currently 70)
– c. 350 feed subscribers or so (according to Feedburner).

Check out the graph of slow, organic, audience growth (the big spike was a glitch, sadly):




And here’s how the subscribers break down (click on the image for more detail). Google, followed by e-mail (FeedBlitz), followed by Bloglines….etc…

Which is all heading in the right direction, though I think I need to pay more attention to Beth Kanter’s advice on How to build your blog audience.

Finally, a list of the top 5 posts on this blog (drum roll please):

1) Social entrepreneur and social innovation blogs
2) Corporate social responsibility and inflection points
3) Why the third sector shouldn’t fear blogging
4) Virtual social networking: a blessing or curse? (score one for our intern, Thor)
5) Measurement and scrutiny of the third sector

I’ll be tyring to group and theme some of the older posts in coming weeks (bit of retrospective indexing).

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SSE Fellows make the news

Always happy to find SSE Fellows strewn across various media, particularly when it’s stuff I’m reading anyway….so:

– Nice work from SSE Fellow Diye Wariebi of DigiBridge, who featured in this article in the Guardian; great project, great article.

– In NESTA‘s annual report, which came through the post the other day (doesn’t seem to be online?), Paul Hodgkin and Patient Opinion are featured in the innovation / health section.

– Finally, Roger Wilson-Hinds, of Screenreader fame is featured in UnLtd’s annual report; Roger’s an inspiring individual who came through the SSE programme three or four years ago, but remains a role model to many.

Good work all….

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