Catch 22: when big charities trample smaller ones

The third sector, in all its rich variety, needs big organisations and small ones addressing different needs in different ways to improve people's lives. And, as I've often said, I'm not anti-scaling, just anti- the fetishization of scale so that people feel compelled to, rather than choose to / do it when it's appropriate and in line with their personal goals.

But there are times when big charities appear simply not to bother. Rainer and Crime Concern were looking for a new brand when they merged….and they decided on Catch 22. And rewarded their branding agency no doubt handsomely for it. It's already drawn flak for what some feel is a puzzling name to represent their work.

What's angered many in the social enterprise world though (not least at SSE), is that social enterprise ambassador / SSE Fellow / all-round good guy Tokunbo Ajasa-Oluwa's early stage CIC is called Catch 22. I can't speak for the legal ins and outs, as I don't know enough detail (though it's interesting that this article says that the name cannot be trademarked because it is the name of a book, while the charity's new website has "The names Catch22, Rainer and Crime Concern and their respective logos are trademarks" in its terms and conditions).

What I have heard on the grapevine though is that, when Tokunbo brought his organisation to the attention of the CEO of the new Catch 22, they apparently said that they had known about his organisation but steamed ahead as he was small fry in this world. Appropriately the CEO is also a trustee of the Who Cares? Trust….

Good to see that the values of the organisation are so well represented by their action, hey? Particularly as Tokunbo's organisation also focuses on giving disadvantaged young people a break: who knows what sort of interesting partnership or collaborative deal they might have been able to do with a more thoughtful approach.

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Global Entrepreneurship Extravaganza Type Thing

The more observant readers will have noticed that the blog has been relatively quiet the last couple of weeks, for which sincere apologies. It feels like I've barely sat still for a fortnight, as a result of Global Entrepreneurship Week, Social Enterprise Day and all the associated events, travel and 'catching-up-on-work-you-were-meant-to-be-doing-when-at-events-or-travelling'…….

So, a retrospective look at Global Entrepreneurship Week is my first step along the way to clearing an enormous back(b)log:

– Probably the biggest event in the UK was Chain Reaction on the Monday and Tuesday. Check out the site for all the videos, pre- and post- gumph, and ongoing info. I wasn't there, but heard mixed reports: certainly the big name speakers were a coup (two Dragons: the very tall Peter Jones and the very chin-stroky James Caan; Richard Branson, Tim Smit, and Gordon Brown + Peter Mandelson), and I heard that the networking was good. Indeed our CEO found himself between several of the above big names over lunch. Others didn't like the dark nightclub vibe, though, and felt that some of the practical sessions suffered from scheduling. Add your comments below.

– At the same time, I was in Toronto at the Social Entrepreneurship Summit and the Social Finance Forum. I'll blog about it more fully in a day or so, but I thoroughly enjoyed getting the Canadian perspective on this world, and meeting some great people out there pushing the social entrepreneurship agenda.

– on Social Enterprise Day itself, there was a whole host of events and announcements; without being preferential, I'll start with the Social Entrepreneurship Forum in Cardiff, which I also spoke at…and where this support package was announced

– later that evening, I was on the panel for a discussion hosted by Westminster Children's Services in the House of Commons with Andrew Mawson, Chrisanthi Giotis (Social Enterprise Magazine) and Mark Sesnan (Greenwich Leisure), which was interesting; WCS were launching their new Enterprising Childcare Network on the day: check their news page

– Meanwhile, SSE CEO was at the Office of the Third Sector's event in central London, along with several SSE Fellows who are either a) young or b) work with young people. The Minister, Kevin Brennan, hosted the event, and Hazel Blears was also in attendance. OTS were also launching a new SROI project, which us evaluation geeks look forward to, and a range of different action research projects with different departments. Check it all out….

– Elsewhere, UnLtd had a big Social which answered two burning questions: how much taller IS Peter Jones than the whole UnLtd team and, most of all, how many UnLtd staff members does it take to put up a marquee? Answers: a lot and 6 (for an hour and a half). More seriously, I heard the social caused a real stir and had several high profile figures attending during the day…

CAN launched their new Mezzanine, with funding from Triodos and Charity Bank. Big congrats to Andrew Croft and the whole team for doing this in the current climate: a real success.

– Changemakers, UnLtd et al launched the Big Challenge for young people….looks interesting, and something we'll hear more about as the year goes on, I'm sure, as they build on the success of Big Boost.

– And a couple of health-related things: the Department of Health (with Social Enterprise Coalition) published their guidance on "Right to Request" (that NHS staff can request to run services as a social enterprise). That led me to be sitting opposite the Chief Exec of the NHS on Wednesday morning and I had the simultaneous pleasure of sitting next to Victor Adebowale of Turning Point who made much sense all morning. So I'm sure their handbook, Elements of Success, aimed at people entering this sphere will be full of good advice.

I could, needless to say, go on, but these struck me as the highlights. A final word for a current SSE student, Stephen Gyasi-Kwaw, who pretty much singlehandedly ran Entrepreneurship Week in Ghana! Check his work out at /, in Trailblazers magazine [pdf] (along with another SSE student Max Graef) and, drum roll, on Ghanaian TV. Nice one Stephen:

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What the Iraq War can teach you about strategic planning

Just as optimism reigns in the US, I've been reading about arguably its darkest days of recent times in the Iraq War. Fiasco by Thomas Ricks (a US journalist on the Washington Post) details the build-up to the war, the invasion, the insurgency, and the reconstruction efforts in fascinating detail. It's not an easy read and has left me, by turns, angry, frustrated, depressed but also uplifted, inspired and amazed. So what relevance to this blog and the world of social entrepreneurs? Well, a couple of things really stood out to me:

1) The first is the emphasis the military in the US places on learning (from mistakes). That may sound a bit bizarre, given that Iraq is largely viewed as a Vietnam repeat and, at least to start with, a case study in how not to carry out a counterinsurgency. Time and again, though, senior military figures give realistic assessments of what is happening / going wrong, and highlight what needs to be done to change this: and much of this is done publicly in workshops / publications / speeches and so forth. This happens throughout the first five years of the war, and the military's ability to be honest with itself, to highlight errors (and successes) and incorporate those into its future operations has been crucial in improving (eventually) its performance there. This doesn't apply to all, of course; some of the most senior figures involved consistently made out that Iraq was in a better state than it was, and continue to delude (or contradict) themselves to this day.

2) The second was about strategic planning. Ricks argues that the failure in Iraq was primarily one of strategic planning (or the lack of therein). Firstly, there was a lack of realism (if only their goals had been SMART) and a lack of consistency: their grounds for going to war were based on a worst-case scenario (i.e. Iraq has loads of WMD, Saddam works with Al-Qaeda, the US is under threat) while their plans for the occupation / reconstruction were based on a best-case scenario (we'll be welcomed as liberators, and the country's in an alright state etc).

Secondly, there was a lack of clarity over the actual objective of the invasion: was it about finding WMDs, was it about removing Saddam, was it about regime change, was it about introducing democracy to Iraq, or to the wider Middle East? (some would add, of course, was it about oil?) and so on; and it shifted as the politics demanded it. This was hugely confusing and bewildering for the troops on the ground, because each of these goals requires different operational activity, different tactics and so on. If you are unclear about your mission, how can you decide how you are going to get there and achieve it? How can you make decisions between where you apply resources (and how many are needed)?

Thirdly, there was a lack of planning in and of itself. Phase IV (the reconstruction) didn't have an overall plan in place when people arrived in Baghdad to start, whereas Phase III (the invasion) had been planned and war-gamed to within an inch of its life. 

Fourthly, the US Army had not done its homework on insurgency and counterinsurgency as a whole (though individual commanders had knowledge of, say, Vietnam or Algeria, and applied it appropriately), nor on experiences of occupation. They only started to bring in this learning 2-3 years in, in a formalised way (via pre-Iraq training etc).

Finally, there was also confused leadership / ownership between the State Department (Rumsfeld et al) and the military in Washington, and between the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) and the Army in Iraq. From Ricks' account, this caused untold problems at every level of operations.

So, lessons from the Iraq disaster?

– do your research (it may not involve Vietnam or Algeria, but is necessary)
– a plan is important (entrepreneurs are prone to action, but a thought-through plan is crucial)
– get clear on your overall objective / vision and ensure it is clear to everyone else involved
– be realistic in your planning, rather than overly pessimistic or optimistic
– be clear about leadership and autonomy over particular areas (and who has the final say over what)
– be open to learning, honest about mistakes and constantly try to improve

Not a bad checklist for a social entrepreneur, or for the new US President to insist on the next time someone suggests a military invasion…..

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The Big Vote…

…was, of course, on which photos were going to win the Social Enterprise Day photo competition. Rarely has an electoral college vote been better used inside the Coalition…..

….or was it about which CAN founder gave the best speech at their 10th anniversary (well done to all at CAN by the way: particularly enjoyed the London Gay Men's Chorus singing Stand By Your Man; a fixture at all social enterprise events next year I hope?)….

OK, just kidding. Obviously, it's all about Obama today. Particularly with our next door neighbours Operation Black Vote having the biggest and best Obama party in town: what a shot in the arm for their work, as well. Amazing.

I'm off doing interviews for Ashoka UK for their second round of Fellows the next couple of days, so not much blog-time. So I'll just link to this in the interim, which was well worth being awake at 5.30am for.

Barack Obama victory speech (17 mins / BBC website)

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Monday round-up: Observer, organisations, opinion, Obama

Round-up of recent news, views, links and opinions; at the start of the week for a change….

– Interesting article by Simon Caulkin in the Observer on EAGA, a partnership that works on fuel poverty and green service: Hot prospects for a company with a conscience:

"The company could be a poster-child for post-crunch capitalism, the
embodiment of Peter Drucker's definition of the socially responsible
business, turning 'a social problem into economic opportunity and
economic benefit, into productive capacity, into human competence, into
well-paid jobs, and into wealth'."

– More on the SROI vs. social auditing brouhaha, in New Sector magazine. Although there are many similarities as well as differences of emphasis. As Jeremy Nicholls put it, the aim should be to "keep credible, keep practical"

– Good overview report of the Social Enterprise World Forum

– This is an interesting discussion (on something called Social Velocity: nice!) here on scaling and communication, focusing on the US example organisation, FORGE…

– ….which also gets a mention in this post on clear, honest communication in the field of social entrepreneurship

– Pamela Hartigan, who co-wrote The Power of Unreasonable People, is writing a 5 part blog on Harvard's Center for Public Leadership on social entrepreneurship

– Am also a fan, US-wise, of Kevin Jones, and he has an article in Stanford Social Innovation Review laying out the landscape of social capital on the back of SoCap08

Free photocopying for charity? What's not to love?

– Can social entrepreneurs really have work-life balance and succeed? Social Enterprise Ambassador Craig Dearden-Phillips thinks not

– Back in 2004, in my previous job, TheyWorkForYou made the shortlist of an award I was running. MySociety, the organisation behind that site (and many others), recently celebrated its 5th birthday. David Wilcox has a good overview here, whilst founder Tom Steinberg looks to the future here

– We were also delighted to hear SSE Fellow Amanda Roberts on Radio Five Live Breakfast this morning, standing up to the smug-tastic Nicky Campbell about why her organisation's therapeutic services were right for the children of Lambeth; I can't find it in the 3 hours of Listen Again (!), but I can point you to her website: Bud Umbrella

– And finally, looking ahead to the big event of tomorrow which is of course…..CAN's 10th Birthday, joining us in reaching a decade in age! Congrats to all current and previous staff involved.

Oh, OK, here's a post for the Obama fans amongst you:
Barack Obama and the Spirit of Social Entrepreneurship

Enjoy the late night coverage…………..

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