Friday round-up: Bubb, Hub, Club, and… Forces for Good

As SSE prepares to head off to Devon for its annual residential (are you ready, Totnes?), and launches in Cornwall, the rest of the world continues to go absolutely haywire….

– And where else to turn at such times than to Stephen Bubb, who was already calling for the sector to be given £500m to help it through these troubled times, and that was before we learned that a load of charities have lost millions in their Icesave accounts (up to £120m according to the Guardian);

– And if you’re wondering who has all that money stacked away, why not check out the Charity Commission’s new website, with its groovy pie charts and punitive red and green borders (if you submit your accounts late). A vast improvement on before, and on Guidestar.

– It’s fairly rare that this world makes it in to the mainstream press (apart from when it’s losing buckets of cash apparently), so good to see a bit on the BBC website about social entrepreneurs including Colin Crooks who we are big fans of here at SSE, and the Hub making it into the Telegraph (seemingly by pretending to be a gentlemen’s club!)

– This is an interesting Q&A on Stanford Social Innovation Review’s site with David Gergen, who’s a leading pundit / activist in this sector in the US. Worth a read, even if I found myself disagreeing as much as agreeing….

– Heard of Tribes, and how ‘everyone’s a leader?’ You will soon….

– The Social Catalyst blog asks us, "People or Structures?" and answers "both" or "neither": values….

– SSE was at the Listening to the Social Entrepreneur Event yesterday: kudos to the organisers for choosing a community-based venue, and for assembling a decent mix of practitioners (not enough!), support agencies, and academics. There was a good mix of ‘classic’ SE debates, but also some more thought-provoking debate as well.

– Am reading Forces for Good at the moment, and it talks about how the organisations that have really big impact have a "network mind-set" that is not controlling, competitive but recognises that (if they don’;t care who takes credit), working with and supporting other organisations and being open and distributive leads to greater overall positive social impact. It’s something we’re passionate about here, both through our ‘flat’ franchise approach and through initiatives like chairing the Social Entrepreneurship Policy Group. Full review to follow, but this certainly chimed with me and experiences with organisations that have an "organisational mindset"…..

– ……seems to chime with Craig Dearden-Phillips as well; here he blogs about an example of exactly that network mindset: How to build an empire without taking slaves

– Finally, as it’s been one of those weeks, here’s some advice and tips for avoiding information overload! Hopefully we’ll be updating the blog from Devon all next week…..

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The Hub: a great space for social entrepreneurs

So SSE attended the launch of the Hub’s new building in King’s Cross last night, which was great. As you can see from the website photos, the building’s a really beautiful open space (from floor to ceiling), and has a great vibe to it. It’s intended to be different from the first Hub: less hot-desking / shared office, and more event, bar, cafe, meetings type of space. And, arguably, more aspirational and ambitious in feel.

Which fitted well with founder Jonathan Robinson’s address, which focused on the possibilities for social innovation, social business and social entrepreneurship that are opening up as a result of what he called "system failure" in the commercial world. I’m a born cynic to Jonathan’s idealist, but it was inspiring to hear him speak with such passion and purpose. Particularly, as I remember working with him in the pre-Hub days, and remember visiting it when the floor was being sanded down……to see the development since then is amazing, and I know that SSE will be keen to use the space, informally and formally. And the next Hub, and the one after that. Indeed, I may be heading out to Canada soon, and intend to meet up with the people from the Toronto version (the Center for Social Innovation, aka CSI).

A big congratulations to Jonathan and his team, and a big hello to all those I was chatting to last night (including Nick Aldridge, whose name label ingeniously just read ‘CEO’: there’s a man unafraid of responsibility above and beyond MissionFish; Richard (Alderson) and Pooja, who run UnLtd India and Careershifters; Alex Bellinger from SmallBizPod; Jason and Dave from SE2; Ceri from SEC et al).

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Charity loses Hope in shuffle

OK, so that could be officially my final Phil Hope-related punningly-titled post. He’s been promoted to take over the Social Care brief in the Department of Health (formerly run by Ivan Lewis), which will at least ensure he is still involved in working with the third sector, including social enterprise, as that all comes under that remit in the DoH. Congrats to him on the promotion.

So, who’s our new minister? Step forward, Kevin Brennan, MP for Cardiff West, who’s previously been at the Department for Schools, Children and Families. More biography here and here.

The other major news in the reshuffle for the sector? Probably Ed Miliband moving to take on the new energy / environment department (which can only be good news for environmentally-focused third sector orgs, surely?) and also the arrival of Liam Byrne as Minister for the Cabinet Office. I was always pretty impressed with Liam Byrne when he was at DoH and then in charge of immigration, so that bodes well for that department, within which sits the Office of the Third Sector.

Oh, and some Mandelson bloke came back, apparently. Don’t know if you saw that in the papers….

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There’s no triple in this Bottom Line

Listening to the first edition of the new series of the Bottom Line on podcast this morning, and my hackles rapidly got raised (not what you want on a Monday morning). I like the Bottom Line a lot: simple format (3/4 CEOs, Evan Davis asks them questions), and useful insight. This week, they had on both a hedge fund manager and the CEO of CafeDirect (Anne MacCaig), and, needless to say, much of the discussion was about the current financial crisis.

If you want a concrete example of why we’re in the current mess we’re in, I’d advise you to download the episode and listen to Hugh Hendry, the fund manager in question, who puts on a quite extraordinary display of immodesty, smugness and self-satisfaction. I can only assume they invited him on to wind everyone up, and provoke a response….in which case, they’ve succeeded here.

So, why am I so "Disgusted of Bethnal Green" about it? Well, firstly, he criticises the banks for leveraging and irresponsibility, before revealing that his hedge fund is, er, leveraged (to a degree he can’t admit) and that they indulge in consistent, and some would say irresponsible, short-selling (which played a significant part in bringing those banks to their knees). Secondly, he calls himself the ‘guard dog’ of capitalism, before mixing metaphor midstream to describe himself as a ‘sharp pencil’ jabbing at the spine of businesses. Hedge fund managers as guard dogs? Warning and protecting? Er…ok. Looking at the current scene, one would suggest they haven’t done a great job as a guard dog, and have ripped the spine out of several businesses, rather than jabbing at it.

Finally, and most unbelievably, he then attacks the business model of CafeDirect, which is, by all accounts, a sustainable, fair, transparent, honest, ethically-run organisation (Anne MacCaig gets a good plug for Triodos in there). There’s no sense that this may be more sustainable (and profitable) because it invests in its producers and provides what its customers are looking for. Or that, gasp, greed is not good. How depressing to hear someone at the heart of a collapsing financial services system to have no sense of what real people are feeling, or any sense of how things ought to change. Quite how, in the midst of a crisis/crunch that has been largely caused by the financial services, this programme ends up with a hedge fund manager giving a fair trade coffee organisation a hard time over their business model, is utterly beyond me. (And Davis does little to turn this around; kudos to the man from Waitrose for doing so).

I’m not absolving the banks from blame, or saying that this is representative of all hedge fund managers, or pretending that CafeDirect is perfect in every way. But this broadcast should be a wake-up call to those saying that the current climate could be social enterprise’s greatest opportunity / a chance for a fairer business system. On this evidence, there’s a remarkably long way to go for that to even be on the horizon.

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A decade of success celebrated tonight at SSE reunion

So SSE celebrates 10 whole years since its first programme commenced tonight with a small dinner for the original cohort, staff, trustees and some current students. SSE was founded in 1997 and started its first programme in early 1998, with 20+ individuals in the student cohort (including our current chief exec Alastair Wilson, who was working on a homeless project at the time). Next year, we’re aiming to have an event for all the Fellows to celebrate 10 years since the first programme’s completion (and the first students becoming SSE Fellows).

It’s a celebration tonight not only of SSE’s work over the past decade (and a bit) but also of the work of the SSE Fellows themselves, particularly those in the original cohort. In our recent-ish evaluation, 67% of those who replied (which was about half of the 98-99 group) told us that their original organisation was still in existence, which is a pretty stellar survival rate over a decade (compared to normal business survival rates).

It’s always remarkable to me how little SSE’s core offering has changed: refined, improved, amended, added to, and so on, but actually very similar at its core; it will be hugely interesting to chat to some of those original students, and hear about their individual journeys on the programme and in the years afterwards. And there will be cake…….oh yes, there will be cake (kudos to Gayle for keeping it intact).

For your delectation, here’s a selection of photos from over the years:

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