Enterprising solutions awards 2008

SSE attended the Enterprising Solutions Awards last night at the V&A Museum, and despite our esteemed CEO being on the judging panel, we had no idea about the winners. Click on the previous link or read this article to see the full list. I was delighted to see Sunlight win an award (for best new SE), as I think they are a really credible organisation that delivers and has its values written through it; and was great to see lots of them enjoying the ceremony and the event to the full. The main winner, presented by new Minister for the Third Sector Kevin Brennan, was Phone Co-op, which is well deserved. I remember switching our broadband to them about 3 years ago, and they have our business on customer service and price as well as the added social value.

Most people around me were particularly taken with NMC Design and Print (check out the site) and they showed their entrepreneurial spirit by promoting themselves and their services wholeheartedly in the networking afterwards. Well done to Dan and Alan (who I chatted to for a while) and the rest of their team. They’re on our list for our next design and print job.

And, of course, well done to the team at SEC, especially Mamoona Shah who looked somewhat frenzied when we arrived (as is the nature of these things), but pleased and relaxed later on. The event went without a hitch pretty much, and there was a very good buzz at the networking afterwards. Difficult to get a dynamic energy going in such a grand, enormous hall, but the networking cut through the church-like atmosphere and the enjoyment took off from there (NB – this may be connected to alcohol consumption).  I stumbled across 3 SSE Fellows chatting away (and monopolising the hamburger canapes), chatted to the good people from the Westminster Children’s Society, and chewed the fat with several of the nominees and award winners. Also had great chats with Alex Bellinger of SmallBizPod and with Caryl and Vandna from Voice4Change.

Gossip was thin on the ground (though perhaps the after-party might have been more fruitful in that respect), but I was thoroughly delighted to be barely recognised by Liz from the OTS because I was wearing a suit…a definite compliment, I think.

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SSE Residential: Day Four and return

So, the final residential blog post for another year….and it was quite a finale, with each of the ‘Dartington sets’ (groups made up of students from across different programmes and schools) doing a presentation based on their SSE, residential and own project experiences. It was a fantastic display of creativity, teamwork and lots of laughs….and I’ll try and get some video highlights up as soon as possible. The exercise is much more about the working together with new people, coming to consensus, allowing everyone to contribute etc. but the end products were great as well, with the winning presentation giving a unique SSE-themed twist to a classic formula (Dragon’s Den). Congrats to all for entering into it with such gusto.

The night before was open mic night and disco, and once the students had recovered from the horrific sight of some of the staff’s dance moves, it was a great evening. It’s always pretty inspiring to get a sense of the amazing talent people have, be it Liverpool’s choir (ably directed by Bernadette), or London’s acapella and dancing efforts. This could well become a fixture at future residentials….although the bar has now been set pretty high.

Personally speaking, as I mentioned briefly before, the highlight for me was the conversation with the set I was facilitating following Vaughan’s witness session. The points they were raising after having heard Tim Smit and Vaughan speak, and from learning from each other’s projects, demonstrated clearly to me the effectiveness of the expert witness approach. Each had taken something different that was relevant to them personally or to their organisation, and the respect they showed each other in listening and building on each other’s ideas left me on an absolute high. A slug of inspiration to see me through the policy documents that await!

Here’s a slideset of photos that tell a bit of the story of the SSE Residential 2008, and below that a video from the first night where each person says one word that defines social entrepreneurship for them.

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SSE Residential: Day Three

As the week goes on here in Devon, and the breakfast:hangover ratio continues to rise, it’s been great to watch how the students from different programmes and different SSEs have been networking and building relationships with each other. Which, Eden Project + Dartington Hall aside, is really what these few days are about: sharing experiences, building networks and learning new skills and confidence.

Today’s witness session was from Vaughan Lindsay, the CEO of Dartington Hall on strategic planning, using Dartington itself as a case study. Always a great session not only because of Vaughan’s practical and pragmatic approach, but also because it provides such a useful counterbalance to the Tim Smit model of leadership as witnessed yesterday. Not to say that one is "better" than the other, but that there are different role models out there with different approaches to achieving success, creating momentum and making change.

I’ll try and get Vaughan’s powerpoint to share, but the key nuggets for me today were:

– the dangers of poor governance, and the importance of the relationship between a CEO and a Chair of trustees (or of the board)

– clarity is key for engaging and inspiring people to join you on a particular journey; if they don’t know where you are all heading, why should they come?

– process is for a purpose, not procrastination (when Vaughan joined Dartington, there were 42 different sub-committees that reported in to him….)

– the assumption that great ideas only come from the young should be resisted: the combination of wisdom and not caring what people think can lead to a new wave of "silver radicals"

– strategic planning can galvanise people, focus resources for most impact, and help gain clarity of mission

– talent is hugely important: one rule is to make the most ambitious appointment, rather than the safest

– consider governance, or a board, as a management task, rather than as an entirely separate entity outside day-to-day work

– engage with ideas that have nothing to do with the day-to-day job

What’s interesting to me is that though Tim Smit and Vaughan are incredibly different people, with different styles, there was much in their content that was similar:

  • both pointed to a good relationship with their chair
  • both talked of going outside the day-to-day (every 3rd invitation / engaging with other ideas)
  • both talked of the importance of people: of recruitment, of management, of mobilising and galvanising them (be it samba drums or clarity of mission)
  • both used positive and negative incentives to achieve change (future truths, scaring the board)
  • both talked about employing the best people possible (not being afraid of employing people better than you / making ambitious appointments)

And so on. Much for our students to ponder and reflect on, and apply to their own projects. Which, at least from the gorup that I was facilitating, led to some great conversations and insights.

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SSE Residential: Day Two (live at Eden!)

A bit of live blogging: I’m sitting at the back at the Eden Project, listening to Tim Smit along with a bunch of SSE Fellows……..here goes (see if I can keep up, and apologies if this page gets long):

– starting on importance of networks + being resourceful… (not always the networks of the powerful that can achieve things); different types of alliances and allegiances are important: people more important than money….(“money dulls the senses”)

– aiming to puncture the myth that ‘good luck’ happens to other people; skill in identifying talent + building networks between them….+ the capability for us all to do extraordinary things

– importance of knowing what you don’t know as half the battle; combined with employing people who are better than you…and people who haven’t made any mistakes (who are either lying, or take no risks, or have no idea what to do when the chips are down)

– nice nugget: “losing sharpens up the celebration when things go right”

[warming up to his autobiographical story]

– from dole cheque to a £275,000 royalty cheque as an (extraordinary) turning point: making him think about why he wanted things….or not (only vices are books, wine and crappy cigars)

– importance of being convinced about what you are doing: easier to sell something when you believe in it / are passionate about it

– “instinct as a code of conduct” which revolutionised his life….+ not giving yourself exit strategies (energy wasted on fear and managing risks….rather than just doing it)

– lose your fear of being disliked (without being a bastard)

–  great work is about frankness, people pulling their weight…

–  importance of having your own measure of success….who provides your benchmarks (you should)

–  moving from “busking” (trying to get away with hiding what you don’t know) to simply “trying to be the best you can”;  concentration of intent

–  gone off  beam here: given a pig called Horace, who became desirous, so he bought a pig called Doris….who had a baby called Liquorice [things I didn’t think I’d learn today: “pigs can’t reverse”]

– pigs led to interest in rare-breed animals….which led to interest in land….which led to Lost Gardens of Heligan, and going round that with a machete, and falling in love with plants

– “if you love something, and you’re not a complete freak, other people will love it…which means your only problem is a marketing problem”

– learning by doing, when a TV programme forgot to mention that Heligan wasn’t open yet……which led to people paying to come in and working on the garden (a great business model)

–  openness and engagement with the process was something he brought to Eden + people enjoy an interactive experience (they have actively contributed)

– importance of communication: not just a case of ‘transmitting’ and letting the information go, but about thinking about it from the point of those being ‘transmitted’ at

–  lessons about what really engages children (plants that poison stomachs and turn tongues black)

– importance of storytelling + truthtelling….and cooking the food, and breaking the bread, about the relationship to community and family

– visionary bit was not the actual vision (domes, plants) but to persuade 300 cynical professionals that this was something they could engage with and be part of….and would succeed; building relationships with people and effectively saying “do you want to be the person to say no?”

– there is nothing that people fear more than dying without having achieved anything….

– usefulness of trying to strip away what you know to find solutions and insights (good example of how the Leaning Tower of Pisa was saved); not letting professionals get in the way

–  the classic 3 Smit theories:

– last man standing (if you have charm, and don’t go away, people will pay you money)
– tinkerbell (if enough people believe in something, then it will happen)
– telling future truths (if you commit yourself to something, even if not yet true, you’ll have to do it)

– which is about bravery, and gaining the “courage of pure desperation”; what is the worst thing that can happen? that you end up saying “I wish I had” rather than “I’m glad I did”

–  fire negative people…..but don’t confuse caution with negativity!

– another classic this: accept every 3rd invitation…try and take the ones that aren’t your mates or the big glamorous shtick….judging dog shows or opening old people’s homes….trust your luck and your instinct (story of how speaking at an obscure Somerset event led to Eden getting £12.7m European funding)

– Eden about realising that we are a part of, rather than apart from, nature

– country been led too long by pinstripe suits, and there is nothing “hippy sh*t” about what you, social entrepreneurs, are doing; there is an opportunity potentially opening up

– need to write another story, that is about us owning resources, and becoming a more resilient society…

– need to be good enough to run anything; nothing wrong with profit; “you don’t have to eat gruel!”

–  need a different language to not be guilty about achievement and profit; don’t sell yourself short….

–  monkey business approach to management…ok, I can’t keep up here…. importance of community, of face-to-face…

– all important decisions made over wine under candlelight (whole person comes to the table)

– and finally, bringing people together over samba drums……”when a group of people are doing something together, it is more difficult to go out of time than it is to stay in”….message is about adding up to the sum of your parts, and building momentum through teamwork (something you could have never done on your own)

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SSE Residential: Day One

So SSE is in Devon for its 3-day residential. There are 70-odd of us here at Dartington, from London, Liverpool, Cornwall, Ireland and Australia….arriving by almost every conceivable means of transport, and all in similary good spirits.

We started off with a brief intro from Dartington CEO Vaughan Lindsay, who put the place and the organisation in historical context, and made a direct link between the work of social entrepreneurs and the work conducted here in these amazing surroundings in Devon. Namely that both are about the application of new ideas, about experimentation, and about a restlessness with the status quo. It was interesting to reflect also on the Elmhirsts’ (the philanthropists behind the renovation of Dartington in the 20s-50s) belief that too much money was actually something of a curse on ideas, as they were therefore not encouraged to stand on their own two feet. Ultimately, people knew that there was always money there if things went awry.

Alastair Wilson, SSE’s CEO, then introduced a short excerpt of a DVD featuring an interview with SSE founder Michael Young (who became Lord Young of Dartington, went to school there, and was, as Alastair put it, "informally adopted" by the Elmhirsts). It was interesting and encouraging to hear such an eminent social entrepreneur confessing to his lack of confidence at times, and to starting things with little more than an idea and a hope (and little money).

After dinner, SSE Fellow Claire Hodgson, of Diverse City, used forum theatre techniques to get everyone interacting and working together, which went excellently. I’ll try and post some video of this tomorrow if I can find a better wireless connection…..in the meantime, you’ll have to make do with photos…..here’s a slideshow. Tomorrow is all about the Eden Project…..

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