Yes, we've been awarded funding by Bank of America under their Neighbourhood Excellence Initiative Awards, which is marvellous news. Bank of America are also really enlightened about the way they fund, making clear it is completely unrestricted and comes with a leadership / capacity-building support programme for two people in the organisation. So our Chief Exec Alastair Wilson and Development Director Ian Baker will be taking part in that, along with 40+ American organisations and one more London-based organisation (Trees for Cities). We're dead chuffed, of course, and it's been great getting to know Beth, Amy and the rest of the team at the bank. Kudos to Ian in particular who wrote our stellar bid. Which is why it's only fair that he got to hold the big cheque, receive the award, and make the speech! Good work!
Most excitingly of all, come January time, the part-nationalisation of Bank of America makes us funded, at least a little bit, sort of, by incoming President Barack Obama. What's not to love?
One of the best things about travelling overseas for work (and there are plenty of downsides too) is the people you end up meeting. Often, strangely, this is not the people in the country you are visiting, but the people coming out from the UK for the same event. Indeed, some of my best UK networking has happened overseas.
The same was true on the recent trip to China, where I was part of a delegation including people from the Young Foundation, NCVO's Compact Team, the Office of the Third Sector (including Anne McGuire, the new government adviser on third sector innovation), the British Council, and the Welsh Assembly. It was fascinating to learn over dinner (and the odd drink) about their various experiences which had led them to this point, which ranged from conducting research on doughnuts (and why they are big sellers in Colombia and Saudi Arabia), reading articles on the sex lives of armadillos, and seeing behind the scenes at crematoria. Not hugely relevant to social entrepreneurship, you might think (and indeed, you might be right) but there is something about freeing up your brain and getting outside experience that brings you back to the organisation with fresh eyes and ideas. And about other people (with equally fresh eyes) asking questions about your work and your organisation from different fields and sectors that challenges and causes you to think anew about your work.
And about death, sex and doughnuts, of course.
I've been in Beijing all this week working on a couple of practical projects and, yesterday, speaking at a Social Innovation and Third Sector conference organised by the British Council and the Ministry of Civil Affairs (or BC and MoCA as I'm learning to call them). There was some really interesting background statistics and information, not least the enormous rise in the registration of non-governmental organisations across the country: hundreds of thousands each year. The discussion of regulation was also fascinating, as new legal structures / processes have come into play, allowing for the creation of private foundations and also for very small local (primarily voluntary) groups to operate without the need for the full regulatory procedure.
Of course, small and local is all relative in this field: one conversation we were having about the importance of a social entrepreneur being connected / engaged with / from the community they are aiming to serve led one government-official to note that some of his neighbourhood leaders might come under that definition….and the neighbourhood they worked with and served? 125,000 people. Whatever one thinks of the Chinese government, they are practically the only route to scaling or replicating any sort of solution across this vast country.
But what inspired me most, given that we are in development with the Fuping Development Institute and the British Council about potentially bringing the SSE methodology to China, was the similarities between the social entrepreneurs and their voicing of the various barriers and challenges they face. There were some great examples and practitioners there: like the entrepreneurs who established Shining Stone Community Action and the 1+1 blind / radio project. In our breakout session (when I was still trying to gauge response to my presentation: always tricky to see how something has been received in translation / with a 10-15 second delay), such practitioners mixed with support agencies, government officials (some of whom were also extraordinarily entrepreneurial: overseeing pilot subsidies / exemptions for NGOs, increasing procurement from the third sector by 300% etc) and business leaders in heated and pretty open discussion.
And the key issues / barriers / challenges? Funding + earned income, personal/business support, government regulation / legal structures (on which people were split between they need to be heavily involved…and they need to get out of the way), connecting with each other to share information…and so on. Sound familiar? Absoutely. And while the UK is further along the line in many of these areas, and has learning and knowledge to transfer (including what hasn't worked), and while the constraints and challenges are different here, there is a huge amount of common ground. And what shone through, as ever, was the passion, dynamism and purpose of these social entrepreneurs doing extraordinary things in an extraordinary country.