Shining in Leeds: a capital investment

Lots to catch up on from various travels around the country. On Wednesday, I did a session with some UnLtd Awardees in Leeds (on policy and lobbying as part of our Office of the Third Sector Strategic Partner work), which gave me not only the opportunity to deliver this exciting powerpoint, but also to meet up with the Camberwell Project crowd at the amazing building at Shine.

And what an amazing building it is. Formerly a school in the Harehills part of Leeds, the building was nearly demolished for good at the turn of the millennium but saved by the intervention of Yorkshire Forward (the regional development agency) who put up £1m. Over the past year or so, the building has finally been transformed from a derelict building into high specification offices and conference facilities (and I've watched enough Grand Designs in my time to know high spec). But that was only possible because Camberwell had spent the three previous years getting the money together: £4.5m from public and private sources.

It's a massive achievement and, best of all, the building was busy and in-use with kids running around, office space in use, meeting rooms full and so on. What better place to hold an event in Leeds, or to site yourself as a new social enterprise in that area? I've been a fan of Camberwell since meeting Todd and Chris way back when (and now Chrissie and Dawn as well…), but it was great to personally see the fruits of all their labours, and the scale of their ambition being realised.

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There’s no poor people in Denmark (and other learning)

It's been a gallivanting around kind of time of late, and much to reflect on, not least meeting up with Peter "Sunlight" Holbrook and Jonathan "The Hub" Robinson in the last week or so, two very different but passionate social entrepreneurs. I felt like I learned a great deal from both….will blog on this soon.

SSE was also invited to lecture on Roskilde University's MA at its Centre for Social Entrepreneurship, so I headed out to Copenhagen this weekend (Roskilde is just outside the city). It was an amazingly huge campus: reminded me a bit of Warwick University with its vast swathe of concrete buildings (the taxi driver and I had some fun finding "pavillion 10"; he was also responsible for the "there's no poor people in Denmark" comment, btw) but it was also completely empty (it being a Saturday), so all a bit freaky at first. Thankfully, I found the group I was speaking to (along with Roger Spear from the Open University, who was a welcome and friendly face: we had an interesting chat about different pieces of research) and ventured forth.

Always a bit strange as a practitioner 'lecturing' on a course which is primarily academic and theoretical in its approach. I got the feeling that they probably knew considerably more than me, but hopefully my thoughts (on where new entrants to social entrepreneurship come from + how to engage them; and, separately, on future trends) were useful. It was useful for me to crystallise and build on some thinking we have been doing recently around this, and to draw together some work from OTS (their COI research report on Social Enterprise at the Crossroads segments where new entrants/actors might come from), some recession-focused tools for Fellows, some thinking on future trends and other policy work. It's a little hodgepodge, maybe, but here's the slideset that went with the words / workshops etc:

It was great, also, to chat to, debate with and meet some of the Danish social entrepreneurs (because there are genuine social entrepreneurs on the programme as well), not least a guy called Thomas who set up the Danish version of the Big Issue and has been hugely involved in the Homeless World Cup and Homeless Football League in Denmark. Inspiring guy: and good restaurant recommendations as well ;0)

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Leadership development in Los Angeles (and Bethnal Green)

[Guest post from SSE's Development Director Ian Baker….]

As you may have seen, SSE was one of only two British organisations to have been recently awarded the Bank of America Neighbourhood Excellence Initiative 2008 Neighbourhood Builder Award. The other organisation was Trees for Cities. As well as £110,000 of unrestricted funding, this award comes with leadership training for two employees (the executive director and an emerging leader) in the US. As SSE's Development Director I was lucky enough to have been chosen as the emerging leader to attend this US training. I've recently come back from the first of three weeks in the US, for leadership training run by the Development Training Institute.

Before going to LA I'd been advised by people, as one of only two Brits, how to survive a room full of 90 Americans (from US non-profits who have all been awarded $200,000, making a total commitment from Bank of America in 2008 of around $20million). I think my colleagues thought I wouldn't be robust enough, loud enough or extroverted enough. So I went there with some expectations of cultural difference. But the most striking thing I'm taking away is just how similar we are, especially those of us working in the non-profit sector. Our motivations are the same, the issues are the same and the problems/challenges we face in our organisations/sector are uncannily similar. The diversity of organisations is probably narrower than the range of student projects we see at SSE, though. There were many more housing focused organisations, providing both physical housing and support services for different groups, ranging from the homeless, through low income families to people on moderate incomes. There were also a lot of counseling and advice services for people facing foreclosure (repossession).

We visited one project in LA's Skid Row – a large area of downtown where the city's 50,000 homeless population are centered. LA is the US's homeless capital and the number of homeless people on the streets was shocking; made more stark by the close proximity of downtown's financial district. I was surprised that a whole area was actively called Skid Row. I wondered how much this in itself provided barriers to the aspirations of people in the area. We visited Skid Row Housing Trust, which is doing excellent work at providing modern, well designed homes for some of the city's homeless population. Their biggest challenge was how to sustainably fund the healthcare and support services they provide to their tenants, especially now that their income from development activity has been cut by the financial crisis. In groups we offered solutions to this sustainable funding challenge, many of which relied on in-kind support and various kinds of fundraising activity, especially capitalising on the city's celebrity dollars. A few social enterprise solutions were offered but my impression was that philanthropy was a much bigger part of non-profit income in the States than here in the UK. I sensed that social enterprise and entrepreneurship may be higher profile in the UK, which surprised me, but perhaps I am just seeing this from a skewed perspective as I am so embedded in the sector here? Another difference that I noticed was the worrying number of US non-profits in the room who were having to make redundancies due to the financial crisis.

So there are some differences when you start to delve into the detail of the sector. But my main impressions are still of the similarities. And yes my American peers were generally louder, more extroverted and more positive than me. But on reflection I think some of my British peers can sometimes be too negative and reluctant to celebrate their successes. Perhaps somewhere in between is a healthy compromise.

As for the leadership training itself, I think the proof will be in the pudding of any changes in my own practice. The part I found most useful was 360 feedback from my colleagues about my leadership practices, or lack of them! Using the Kouzes Posner Leadership Practices Inventory, my colleagues rated my leadership practices under five broad headings: modelling the way, inspiring a shared vision, challenging the process, enabling others to act and encouraging the heart. Many people, myself included, seemed weaker in inspiring and encouraging. I'm coming away with a shifted attitude towards leadership and work; realising even more that investing time in building relationships and effective communications is key to effective leadership, and it is still work! Also, it isn't just the responsibility of the CEO to model the way, inspire, challenge, enable and encourage; this can (and should?) be done by anyone/everyone in the organisation.

Roll on Philadelphia in May…

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