Monday round-up: capitalism, Cumbria, kilts, confusion

OK, so this was meant to be a Friday round-up, but Capacitybuilders expressions of interest defeated me. And what a sunny weekend it was, unless you work at a bank / building society, or use one….or prefer watching telly.

– And starting on that subject, after my contributions, a cavalcade of apocalyptic now-is-the-chance-for-social-enterprise-in-this-time-of-capitalist-collapse articles and posts from the social entrepreneur blogerati: Craig Dearden-Phillips, Rob Greenland and Rod Schwartz; would love to hear your views on whether this is challenge / opportunity….

– In connected (ish) news, the European Venture Philanthropy Association had its fourth conference in Frankfurt last week. Philanthropy UK’s report included a call for philanthropists to "keep the faith", and the interesting comment that "In the current economic climate venture philanthropists may need to
help charities merely to survive rather than to grow or replicate"

– ECT update news from (a first for this blog) from the law firm who helped dispose of its various subsidiaries, after what they call a "disastrous diversification". Ouch

– Can the effectiveness of third sector organisations be measured and compared? It’s an old chestnut, but that doesn’t mean people will stop trying to crack it….see Intelligent Giving’s take on a new US initiative, the excitingly-monickered Portfolio Data Management System.

– Social Enterprise Ambassador news: Daniel Heery of Cybermoor fame is also heavily involved in using technology to improve healthcare in Cumbria with some really innovative practice. See this piece on Alston Healthcare

–  Every blog in the world is covering this, but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t: Google’s 10 to the 100th, a call for ideas to change the world

– Social Enterprise Magazine, currently mid-refurbishment at their new offices, have a good overview of the goings-on at the Social Enterprise World Forum in Edinburgh a couple of weeks back; with only a couple of mentions of kilts.

– Co-operatives UK have released a new publication on community investment by sector expert Jim Brown; it is, the blurb tells us, "The most comprehensive guide to undertaking community share issues to date"

FOOTSEY no. 7 is taking place in Yorkshire this October 16th. Promises to be the biggest ever and, based on last year’s event, I’d say it’s well worth a visit. Unfortunately, it coincides with SSE’s residential, but I’d encourage all those in the area (and outside) to attend.

– How is social enterprise like a mammoth with no memory? Because it’s "woolly and confused", of course, according to the sector press’ take on the OTS research I reported on previously. There may be momentum building behind the South West’s Social Enterprise Mark….though SEC has started its own identity project. No mammoths involved as yet.

– And finally, following Alex Bellinger of SmallBizPod calling Shine 08 "one of the best entrepreneurship conferences I’ve been to all year" and exhorting people to attend Shine 09 (now being planned), there are also some more photos and videos emerging from the event.

More Shine 2008 Flickr photos:

And check out the Dutch Kaos Pilots video of their trip over….

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Estates of mind: the relationship of place & people

Lynseyhanley I finished reading Estates by Lynsey Hanley last night. I’ll admit that it isn’t the most alluring title, but it’s been hugely interesting. I first came across the book when responding to an exchange in Society Guardian between Lynsey Hanley and Andrew Mawson (who wrote the Social Entrepreneur). In a nutshell, she felt that Mawson was claiming that his people-led approach was the key to regenerating areas, whilst she felt that, ultimately, this had to be placed in the context of government intervention and place-based changes to the physical space. My letter, in response to her response, was that grassroots social entrepreneurship was not a panacea, but also that it should not be thrown out with the bathwater…and that it was the combination between government intervention, place-based stuff AND people-powered action that would work best.

[And I’m delighted to celebrate the launches of The Hub at Kings Cross and Shine at Harehills: congratulations to all involved; more on these soon]

I did have some empathy with her words, though. And, having been raised as a good middle-class boy in various semi-detached places in suburbia, thought that it would also give me a level of insight that I wouldn’t (couldn’t) otherwise have. Although, as Hanley points out towards the end of the book, ultimately you can never understand unless you’ve lived / been raised on an estate.

It’s a great book: a mix of memoir, sociology, history, politics and solution-seeking, and I warmed to her authorial voice as it went along. She’s exceptionally good at drawing a vivid picture both of what it was/is like to live on an estate geographically, but also psychologically. Indeed, the central section of the book is the one where she talks of how the physical barriers (poor location, poor quality building, poor transport links, poor schooling on site, poor design) create psychological barriers in the person’s mind. Or, as she puts it (borrowing from East / West Germany), it creates a "wall in the head". It was here that I found myself moved and provoked:

"To be working-class in Britain is also to have a wall in the head, and, since council housing has come to mean housing for the working class…that wall exists unbroken throughout every estate in the land"

Breaking through (or climbing) over that wall is about combating isolation, about gaining aspiration, about learning about what’s possible (or even exists) from the people you know….which chimes hugely with our recent report, Sustainable Paths to Community Development which talks of the crucial need for social ‘linking’ capital, for the connections to different networks to be made. Contacts that are outside of the family or the estate, and that provide knowledge, information, opportunities, resources and role models. Hanley says that "Social capital is more important for people who live on class-segregated estates than for anyone else", and our experience would back that up. Otherwise, the kind of entrenchment and isolation that Hanley details in the book becomes dominant.

What the book has helped me understand, though, aside from how council housing and council estates have ended up being where they are and looking like they do (it’s fascinating to trace the history through various governments right up to the recent housing associations), is the sheer difficulty of scaling the wall. Much of this, it must be said, is to do with the architecture, design, quality, siting, spacing and heights of the buildings involved; there is some evidence here of lessons learned (tenants involvement, high quality, mixed design and so on), but there is vastly more to be done. As Hanley details with passion and frustration, estates are paved with good intentions as well as concrete, but many of the slum replacements have effectively become new slums.

But a central part of scaling the wall, at least for individuals, is about personal support, development and opportunity. People who ask why we need to support people for a year, or why they need high levels of personal support, or why we mix cohorts of different backgrounds and educational qualifications should read this book. Without support, confidence, inspiration (for aspiration) and connections, it remains incredibly hard to make the change….hard, to a degree, frankly, I don’t think I understand or can communicate. So here are the final words of the book from someone who does, and can:

"Breaking out of [the estate] was like breaking out of prison. For all its careful planning and proximity to the city and the country, the estate was ringed by that invisible, impenetrable force field: the wall in the head. That may say as much about the closed ranks of the working class as it does for the failures of town planning. But I know that I will never scale another wall quite so high"

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Credit crunch analysis part 43

Last week, I discussed whether the credit crunch would have an impact (positive or negative) on the world and field of social entrepreneurship. In a post before that, I’d asked if CSR would be the first thing to be cut in times of trouble….

And the analysis continues to flow: on the one hand, there are those who claim the credit crunch will encourage more social entrepreneurs to look at their financial viability first; on the other, reduced business spending on this sector is described as ‘inevitable’ by Business in the Community, whilst others point to the lack of available credit for any type of enterprise.

Is there a ‘perfect storm’ coming for social entrepreneurs where public sector spending will be cut (due to national debt, downturn in economy, new government) and private sector credit / sponsorship will be radically reduced, and trusts + foundations will give less because of the declining value of their endowments….oh, and the public will have less to spend on retail if that’s your model.

Or has the movement made enough traction in enough areas for the majority to make it through and access the funds and support they need? Will the persistent, committed, resourceful, innovative, dynamic social entrepreneurs survive and even thrive in the hard times? Possibly….and it is they who will benefit if (and when?) this holed tanker starts to turn round. It is the time for the hard-headed side of the social entrepreneur, not just the high-minded side.

Interestingly, as Servane from Ogunte points out in this comment, it may well be those who (contrary to efficient bottom lines) invest in leadership, in soft skills, networking and communication that do best. Never has there been a greater need to differentiate and communicate why it should be you / your organisation, and never a greater need for leadership, or strong relationships. Or, to continue the laboured ‘storm / tanker’ metaphor, for inspired captaincy on the bridge to hold it all together.

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Friday round-up: Shine, school, summer, sloths…

Basking in the Indian Summer here in Bethnal Green: here’s to it carrying on all weekend. And, of course, what better way to prepare for the weekend than with a round-up of news frmo the world of social entrepreneurship and enterprise….

– First up, there’s a downloadable pdf of the OTS "Is social enterprise at a crossroads?" research that I posted about yesterday: check it out on their website: Social enterprise: where next?

– Way back when (May), SSE was involved as a founding partner in the Shine Unconference; one interviewer who was there on day 1 was Alex Bellinger of SmallBizPod, and you can download and listen to the podcast at Social Entrepreneurs shine at Shine; it even features an interview with yours truly, but don’t let that put you off….

– If you prefer reading to listening (or you don’t have as long a commute as me), then this Harvard Business School article, the Coming Transformation of Social Enterprise might be interesting. Coming very much from an elite business school point of view, obviously, but some provocative stuff worth browsing about the "imagination deficit" in the sector…

– On a related theme to our recent monograph, Sustainable Paths to Community Development, the Development Trusts Association and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation have been looking into the question "What role for community enterprises in tackling poverty?"

– Who are the leading entrepreneurial speakers? Find out (an opinion) here

– Andrew Mawson, author of The Social Entrepreneur, has been spreading the gospel in Australia

Do you know how your council works? Urban Forum’s guide will tell you how….

– Some good recent Social Enterprise Ambassador posts by Daniel Heery and Chris Allwood

– Finally, I enjoyed this post by Rob Greenland about the "sloth"-like organisations working in regeneration, and the challenges of partnering with them. It might be familiar to some of you………..

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Is social enterprise the solution to the credit crisis?


Ok, so I should expand on that a little. This was one topic of conversation that came up today at the unveiling of a big bit of research commissioned by OTS on what’s needed to get social enterprise and entrepreneurship into the mainstream. The title of the presentation was "Social Enterprise at the Crossroads?" (no, not that Crossroads, although that wouldn’t be a bad thing: a social enterprise on a soap), and it looked at different audiences, their awareness, how to reach them, who are most likely to become involved etc….

Nothing massively shocking for anyone from the sector or who works in this sphere, but was interesting to see it laid out by an independent agency in a strategic and thought-through way. My only major point of disagreement was that one of the target groups (disengaged / disenfranchised young people) were kind of discounted as a potential source of new social entrepreneurs….because they didn’t have the requisite confidence (interestingly, confidence + conviction were highlighted as central to the whole thing) and skills. But of course they can gain that confidence and learn those skills. And what they do have is, often, a greater (and more personal) understanding of the problems….which the research also highlighted (those living in an area with social problems were by far the most likely to engage in setting something up…).

That aside, there was much of interest: talk of brand identity and a unifying mark, for example, seem set to dominate the autumn and winter. I’ll take it all in, digest, and try and make sense of what was a long presentation. When split into groups (to answer questions like "what is the one thing social enterprise should do?" and "what is the one thing government should do?" etc), the banking crisis came up a few times. At the idealistic end was the thought that maybe there would be a reframing of capitalism to be more "sustainable" (in all senses: i.e. including social and environmental more) from here on in. At the more pragmatic end was the thought that there were a lot of fairly well-off Lehman Brothers traders looking to do something with their lives that might have a bit more purpose: how do we get the appeal out? Although we should remember that there are secretaries, cleaners, catering staff and lots of others at such organisations who haven’t built up a war chest of cash over the intervening years….not everyone who worked there was on 6 figures.

It does feel like this time could be an opportunity for the movement as much as a challenge. Clearly, access to finance from banks, and squeezes on forms of funding (both public and private) will have an effect….but maybe there is a chance that some social entrepreneurship will prove enticing to those looking to increase their psychological wealth in line with their financial wealth, or that a slowdown will cause a bit of a stocktake (excuse share-related pun) about what is important, and about seeing friends + family, rather than getting pleasure from buying the next product or keeping up with the archetypal Jones’s. We’ll see.

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