Clearing your head, and getting headspace

This great, rambling (in a good way) post from Sam Conniff, one of the Social Enterprise Ambassadors got me thinking about how a de-junking process can both bring things to light (that document halfway down the pile with URGENT! scrawled on it), spark ideas, and help clear the decks for a new beginning. The irony of this is that I am perennially awful at doing this, so my desk usually looks like an explosion in an origami factory. When I do clear it, it’s inevitably more beneficial psychologically / mentally than in any improved administrative efficiency.

[my desk at its neatest; large piles to left and right obscured in photo]


Anyway, Sam’s post is entitled "So I spent the day today clearing seven years of shit out of my office", but you could also end that with "….out of my head", and there’s some great (and very funny) stuff in there:

– "now we have the case studies, the client base and proof of the business and social benefits of our approach, seven years ago we just had some really crazy folding, flapping cardboard props we’d produced in a moment of madness"

– "whilst there was no mention of ‘Social Enterprise’ in any of the old papers I was going through, the ideals, the ambitions and the emphasis of everything we were trying to achieve was clearly all heading towards the place we know are in"

– "to start a charity [the Livity Trust] that opened it’s doors with £50k in the bank from the UK music industry to fund disadvantaged kids to take on work placements at independent record labels was yet another seven year lesson that being ‘flexible’ makes business sense"

When I wrote "SSE will co-ordinate the Ambassador blogs" in our project proposal as one of the partners in this scheme, this is exactly what I hoped would be the result. Unfettered, direct, passionate, insightful communication from someone who wasn’t much known in this world a year ago. And for Sam (who I’ll ask in a few weeks time), I hope it’s been equally beneficial: as an archive, a place to communicate freely, and as a way of clearing headspace.

And for me, I’m inspired…and off to tidy the desk.

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Friday round-up: Coca-Cola, Clay, Causes

Another week passes, and for your Bank Holiday reading, we present… the Friday round-up:

– Some good recent posts from some of the Social Enterprise Ambassadors: Matt Stevenson-Dodd, Daniel Heery and Chris Allwood; all well worth a read

– I’ve banged on a lot about the need for blogs to be authentic and honest; Stephen Bubb’s blog, whilst he divides opinion, continues to deliver on both fronts: entertaining, name-drop-tastic, frank posts that feel like a conversation: how many ACEVO members will follow his lead, I wonder?

– This is a useful intro on using Social Media for Social Change

– And, as a nice foil to that, here’s a piece about how Facebook Causes don’t tackle root causes: or how social media is only useful if it impacts in the real offline world….

Clay Shirky video that discusses where we find the time to watch TV, blog and the like…. [hat tip Beth]

– Interesting article on developments in Chinese philanthropy of late (post-earthquake)

–  Edge Upstarts Awards are happening on June 18th at Lindley Hall (near Pimlico); keynote speaker is Ed Balls….and the Enterprising Solutions Awards are also open for nominations / entries (till July 1st). Don’t be put off by our CEO Alastair being a judge for both!

– The 9 myths of fundraising diversification is quite interesting: for those who need to do it (in these times of credit crunches and the like) to ensure no over-reliance in any one area; it’s been a key part of SSE’s strategy over the last few years, and this is good on stuff to consider before you start

– Simon Berry, CEO of the mighty Ruralnet, has been pushing an idea about using Coca-Cola’s distribution system to help send out rehydration tablets in the developing world; support the campaign by joining the Facebook group or viewing the website here

Have a great weekend…..

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Innovation Edge 2: overall thoughts + Sir Bob

The rest of Innovation Edge was….OK. Great turnout, great venue, but caught between a few stools I think: neither a trade fair of new innovations, nor a genuinely interactive forum, nor a traditional conference (keynotes + seminars). Networking was good, though not enough time for it….and the expert seminars (at least the ones I attended / heard about) were average at best: meandering was the word.

Gordon Brown gave an engaging, concise, warm speech (without notes…with jokes), but the highlight for me was definitely Bob Geldof. [you can hear audio etc of lots of the speakers here]

It sounded very much like he’d been reading John Elkington and Pamela Hartigan’s book,The Power of Unreasonable People, as he used the same George Bernard Shaw quote (unreasonable people shape the world around them… etc) to frame his address. Without notes, he was passionate, coherent, fluent, intelligent and engaging: really impressive. A few excerpts that stood out for me (make of these what you will):

– "Desperation is the father of necessity, just as necessity is the mother of invention"
– [on Britain being more risk averse]: "We so fear failure that nobody dares try anymore….we need to celebrate the attempt at trying"
– "in a world of hyper-democracy, the notion of leadership comes to the self….decisions will increasingly be made locally"
– "co-operation and interdependence must be the way"
– "we need our social entrepreneurs to consider [ideas of a different world], to be innovative and progressive"

He then ended with a quotation from W H Murray, which he said should be written on the chests of social entrepreneurs, politicians and changemakers in the world; certainly a powerful call to arms, to the doers of the world:

Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back,
always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative (and
creation), there is one elementary truth the ignorance of which kills
countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely
commits oneself, then providence moves too. A whole stream of events
issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of
unforeseen incidents, meetings and material assistance, which no man
could have dreamt would have come his way. I learned a deep respect for
one of Goethe’s couplets:

Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it.
Boldness has genius, power and magic in it!
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Innovation Edge: some live blogging from opening plenary

Am at Innovation Edge, NESTA’s big innovation event / conference at the Royal Festival Hall. Sitting in on the plenary session, so will blog a few highlights as we go. Highlights to come? Bob Geldof, Tim Berners-Lee, Gordon Brown and lots of other interesting people. Chair and chief exec of NESTA to kick us off with some opening thoughts…..

[NESTA chair] Chris Powell: key themes are that this is a growing movement, + a broader view of innovation than before…importance in global context re. problems / challenges / UK:world…

– innovation as iterative and incremental process…
– need to embed innovation / make change systemic
– relationship to government (procurement, DIUS, DCMS etc) / demand

(slightly boring this: basically stating why NESTA is needed…..)

[film interlude about innovation…which I think is meant to be funnier than it is….a few sniggers in the audience]


Jonathan Kestenbaum: (detailing progress since last event 18 months ago…seed funding, public service innovation, new tech funding, source of authority and expertise….); key point is that they have built dozens of partnerships, which have been crucial.

– NESTA has learned 3 things:

    – NESTA at best when taking risks; + importance of risk-takers
    – extraordinary power of partnerships and collaborations (innovation coming from creative combinations)
    – huge national appetite for innovative solutions + "not an elite activity"

[now going to film about NESTA’s work / stories; quite the production budget they have… ;0) lots of people saying nice things: Geoff Mulgan, David King, Richard Lambert etc…but also some neat case studies]

Final bit emphasises ‘misson-driven’ nature of NESTA, + praises staff etc. Quotes Robert Kennedy on the future belonging to those with "passion, reason and courage"…

[another film! with Andrew Marr, no less; from his modern history of Britain programme, I think] ———————————————————————————————————————————-

Now Jonathan Freedland interviewing Sir Tim Berners-Lee. Live by videolink from Bristol…unfortunately slightly out of sync.

T B-L: my boss "didn’t exactly say yes, but didn’t say no either"; importance of long leash + generalising specific solutions they have found…."give people space…don’t micromanage";

"if you tell them what you want, you’re giving them the old ideas…not enabling them to come up with new ones"

[quotes Einstein?]: "if we knew what we were doing, it wouldn’t be called research"…..importance of not restricting with outcomes + measuring return on investment….

"I hope that the internet will be ‘responsible’ as it grows" alongside experimenting with "new forms of society, science, democracy etc"

[question about incivility online]: blogs, wikis etc are ‘social machines’ and are new, so people are finding their way with these new tools of interaction; views these as "growing pains"….

[question about current project: Web Science] thinking of the web as "humanity connected" rather than connections between computers / web pages….; need for ‘cognitive science’ of the web: "we have a duty to understand the web"

[question about web being fragile] As much about "will it be a force for good?"…in the realm of scientific / drug information…etc

[question about innovation : collaboration] hopes innovation will be "collective, rather than individual"; ‘common language’ gets built up between groups and teams; web can make these collaborative spaces "transparent"; need for collaboration across disciplines to solve the big problems. "That’s why I made the web" (good sentence to be able to be say!)

And break!

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Concept and practice: Charlie Leadbeater and Peter Holbrook

I’m never at my finest on Mondays, but today was a really stimulating and interesting one which revolved around two very different individuals: one more conceptual, and one very practical. [apologies for length of post]

First up was Charlie Leadbeater at the Hub for breakfast (two coffees necessary before I could form sentences, needless to say), talking about the ideas and issues which inform and underly his book, We-Think. Leadbeater has been an innovator and ideas pioneer for many years (in 1997, for example, he wrote ‘The Rise of the Social Entrepreneur’ at the same time as the SSE was being founded). We-Think is about the rise of mass, creative collaboration, and how this is changing society, employment, and traditional systems.

Some interesting tidbits I took from his talk this morning were the five themes in the book:

– the move from marginal to mainstream can happen much more quickly these days
– creativity is a social and collaborative process
– the world is cloud / swamp-like; organisations are box-like….
– a different approach to ownership and control is emerging (sharing animates the economy….)
– these are old systems re-emerging in new incarnations (peer-to-peer, the commons etc.)

He also posed two key questions about this movement: How do you make money from it? (the financial q) and Can we be trusted with this stuff? (the political q). The discussion was interesting, particularly for me around how to make best use of a distinctive piece of intellectual property (don’t keep it in a darkened room…think counter-intuitively), about  the importance of relationships (could we see SSE through a lens of creating relationships that motivate, support, trade and inspire?) and the three principles of (self) governance in this area, which again seemed very much related to what we do:

– the need for these connected networked communities to have leadership that leads by values/purpose and tends to come from within that community
– the community needs motivation to contribute and left options to decide why and how they will do so
peer-to-peer becomes much more important for accountability, review, resources, credibility and so on

Much food for thought.


I was then straight off, via a swift clear-up of my desk (we’ve moved around in the office), to visit Sunlight Development Trust in Gillingham. Peter Holbrook, who founded the trust (the building was an old Sunlight laundry factory that they got the funding to renovate), is a social enterprise ambassador, and it’s been a pleasure to meet and work with him on that programme.

Sunlight is an inspiring place, and is growing really fast: a network of cafes is stretching through the Medway Towns in Kent, and, most recently, they won the contract to provide all the catering in the new Medway Council building: so there is a social enterprise serving up all the lunches, coffees etc in the heart of the local authority. The original Gillingham site is also piloting a range of other initiatives, including a music studio, a radio station, parenting workshops, community gardening and so on…..

It’s hugely impressive and a good kick up the arse for those who become occasionally jaded and cynical (this is my arse I’m kicking) about what these types of organisation can achieve. Whilst Peter and I agree that it is about the people, leadership, quality of service, transparency of operation etc that brings success, the CIC model clearly has brought Sunlight benefits; with freer governance, but also the badging / recognition that it brings.

Peter himself is one of those genuinely inspiring blokes; not only because of his energy and enthusiasm, but also because he is fired up and passionate about Sunlight being the best it can be, and about making a difference in what is a hard, tough business. It is a professional outfit, but also remains passionate and personal(ised)…which is a great achievement. Though he made me feel like he’d done more that morning than I had done in the past two weeks, I left inspired: take the concepts and thoughts, and start to deliver.

Charlie Leadbeater referred to a headteacher friend of his who labelled himself a ‘pragmatopian’, in that he had kept his utopian ideal of the power of education, but had had to do inspite of (and weaving through) the national curriculum, Keystages, league tables etc. It’s a horrible neologism, but I think Peter is one too: pragmatic and entrepreneurial, but with values written through everything he does.

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