Fellowship and diversity

Four of us from SSE were at a PwC employee volunteering event last night, as we are one of the charities they work with: it was great to see some of those who've mentored students last year, and to meet more potential mentors for the two programmes of students just starting. The Community Affairs team had also invited one of our newest London Fellows, Jen Ruppert, to bring a selection of her recycled / unique jewellery from her Revamp Fashion collective…and she appeared to be doing a roaring trade.

An unexpected highlight was an SSE Fellow being on the stand next to us. Koko Bassey, who was on our  programme in 2006-7, is now working for Tomorrow's People…alongside continuing to make her own natural cosmetics on the side (the project she brought to SSE). Great to see Koko, who is a wonderful ball of positive energy, and to hear about the work she's doing…and to see her and Jen chat about their experiences at SSE and get to know each other.

Also yesterday, there was an interview in the Guardian with another SSE Fellow Roger Wilson-Hinds, the founder of Screenreader, which provides free speech-reading software for visually impaired people across the world. Roger is an inspiration, and it's wonderful to see his organisation, and its impact, go from strength to strength.

Three more different people and three more different projects it would be difficult to imagine; but that diversity, and making connections between such paassionate entrepreneurial people, is what the SSE (and SSE Fellowship) is all about. Such a good day.

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Interns, enterns and the ripple effect

Hamsterwheel One side-effect of the recession / rising unemployment might potentially be a rise in the number of graduates seeking work experience, as fewer will be going straight into work. Whether this begins to correspond to a rise in internships at different organisations will be interesting to see. Interns have been on my mind of late, since Jamie Veitch's excellent blog post over at New Start: "Interns: make tea for free, get a job (maybe)". The crux of his argument is as follows:

"It always struck me as ironic that an organisation devoted to social inclusion should perpetuate a system
whereby only those with the means to work for free could gain the
experience they needed to get a proper job in the sector."

I would pretty much agree with this. From an organisational point of view, though, as I commented on the post, the flipside is that if you hold rigorously to this value set (around social inclusion) you can actually lose
out on fresh thinking, additional capacity etc etc. in comparison with other agencies in the field.For an organisation like SSE, with a core staff team of around 10, one person can make a substantial impact. The person who's set up the interesting Enternships site (Rajeeb Dey) clearly agrees.

We've dipped our toe in the water, as regular readers of the blog will know, with an intern-ing relationship with a college in Minnesota, St Olaf….particularly with their Center for Experiential Learning, because it shared a focus on action learning, entrepreneurship and social innovation. For the last two Januarys, we've had an intern from St Olaf (Thor and then Hannah), and I think it's been a mutually beneficial experience in terms of learning, contribution to SSE, and development (on both sides). Both utilised the university's travel fund to make it happen.

As the person managing them internally, it's been great to maintain the relationship afterwards and to continue conversations about where they are heading job and career-wise. Both have influenced the development of things back at St Olaf, and also kept in contact throughout. Thor is coming back to work for us this summer for 3 months (and we're paying him this time…), whilst Hannah is applying to work with a large US non-profit financial institution, Thrivent Financial. Both of which I'm delighted about, and happy to support with references or advice or whatever.

Are we helping perpetuate disadvantage by taking internships in this way? I don't think we are in this case, and there is also the broader point that, as Matt Stevenson-Dodd has written recently, this movement also needs to attract the high educational achievers. But we similarly can't be complacent about using processes that reinforce advantage and inequality. Perhaps there is room for a supported internship scheme, or sponsored internship bursaries, in this sector to ensure that doesn't happen.

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Wednesday round-up: divide, diffusion, diversity… and DBERR

Innocent A quick round-up of posts, links, tweets (oh yes) and information, before heading up to Leeds this morning.

– First up, SSE Chair Charlotte Young has been awarded the Queen's Award for Enterprise Promotion for 2009. Charlotte has been involved in SSE since its inception, helping design the original make-up of the programme that has lasted till this day. Congratulations from all here.

– And, to further get the SSE news out the way, SSE is the lead partner in a social entrepreneurship consortium that has been awarded £500k from the Department of Communities and Local Government's Empowerment Fund over the next three years. Other partners involved in the delivery are CAN, Changemakers, Training for Life and UnLtd, with Ashoka UK as advisory partner. All power to the network mindset…and congratulations also to Social Firms, Bassac, Operation Black Vote, Urban Forum and the Young Foundation

– The social enterprise summit announced at Voice 09, between Peter Mandelson (of DBERR) and Liam Byrne (of Cabinet Office) and assorted social enterprise luminaries, is happening on May 12th, with four regional roadshows beforehand for people/organisations to feed into; here's to concrete outcomes!

– Other aspects of the OTS Recession Action Plan are coming to fruition also; the Modernisation Fund website is now up and running for interested orgs (in partnership / merger / collaboration): check it out here

– Third Sector reports on the ongoing divide between Liam Black and Jonathan Bland / Social Enterprise Coalition. Interesting article and interesting quotes from other commentators also, which summarise many of the debates in this field in microcosm; SSE naturally sits on the, to quote Matthew Thomson, "social enterprise is a state of mind, not a legal form" side of things, but welcome the (public) debate

– Business Week agrees with Liam, anyway; it's selected some leading US social entrepreneurs, and every one of them has a for-profit structure….some great organisations here, regardless of your viewpoint

– I met Margaret Moran MP yesterday, who chairs the All Party Parliamentary Group on social enterprise, and we discussed the need for diversity in the movement; see this article in the Times, Race to diversify social enterprise, for more

– Some good conversations about scale and replication been happening on a couple of US blogs. Nat Whittemore has an excellent round-up: Scale vs. Diffusion redux

What return do philanthropists look for in a recession

– Nice interview with social enterprise ambassador Tim Campbell in the FT

– It had to happen….Twitter goes mainstream: should your non-profit jump on board? (though there is something a little stalkerish still about "x is now following you" appearing in your inbox….)

– The financial crisis is killing philanthropy in Ireland, apparently….with some notable exceptions

– Great post on the inequalities of internship by Jamie Veitch at New Start

– And finally, along the line of stories that say "ethical businesses sell out to scale up" (cf Body Shop, Green & Blacks, Ben & Jerrys), Innocent smoothies have sold a stake to Coca-Cola; read the founders' letter here; it was interesting to read on Rob Greenland's blog that one of them had recently said that, as Rob reports, "they're more innocent-like than they've ever been –
because they now have to work hard at making the values mean something.
 When they were small, it just happened.  Now they have to work at it."
Which is an excellent point, I think; presumably that working hard just got a whole lot harder as well (check the 348 comments to date on this post). Although their transparency / response is still impressive (see Innocent Investment video Q + A).

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Where social entrepreneurship matters

As a London-based, web 2.0-liking, policy-focused, event-attending type of person, I’m aware that at times this blog might appear a little divorced from the frontline: from why SSE does what it does, and why I think social entrepreneurship really matters. Which is not, primarily, about big organisations, delivering solutions to (at?) the developing world, putting heroes on a pedestal, infighting over definitions, buzzword jargon, or consultations about legal structures.

Over the past couple of months, along with colleagues, I’ve visited parts of the UK where SSE is potentially seeking to expand / work in partnership / understand the area more. Today was in Peterlee (in the North East, between Hartlepool + Durham), a couple of weeks back was the Black Country (in the West Midlands: Wolverhampton, Walsall, Sandwell, Dudley), and slightly before that was Rhyl (North Wales).

In bald terms, these are areas with significant challenges. Easington (nr. Peterlee) has the highest incapacity benefit %ages in the UK; Rhyl has 3 of the top 5 most deprived wards in Wales; and the Black Country has pockets of deprivation to match both (and, despite a collective population to rival the city of Birmingham, not the same level of investment / focus). And in each, pretty much as we visited, the rate of JSA (job seeker’s allowance) was increasing significantly…as factories and retail outlets reduced hours or made redundancies. They are amongst the areas (for which, read people) being hardest hit by the recession.

What was inspiring was the sheer amount of work being done by good, impressive people to change these situations. Take Chris Ruane, the Rhyl MP, who comes from the town and is passionate and energy-fuelled (to say the least) in his desire to change it for the better, and the organisations he’s helped draw together in the Rhyl City Strategy who are working together in a genuine operating partnership to make things better. Or centres like the All Saints Action Network in Wolverhampton (which runs a Green-Works franchise, and heats its community centre by biomass) and the Savoy Centre in Netherton, run by Black Country Housing Group. Or organisations like Breathing Space (in Walsall) and Acumen Development Trust, under Kate Welch, which are relentless in their drive to empower, raise aspirations, create (sustainable) employment, and build confidence and self-belief.

Social entrepreneurship can’t, of course, solve all the problems in these areas, particularly not in the midst of the current economic crisis, and is never a panacea. But the triple win of personal development (of skills, knowledge, networks, + confidence), of job + volunteering position creation, and of addressing social needs can provide real, tangible impact in these areas…over years to come. And it is, as SSE has seen in other areas, an impact that can ripple out, inspiring others in the community, providing a local multiplier effect, and also connecting that community and its work to other ventures across the UK and beyond.
It is about people-centred sustainability; people-powered change; and adding to and complementing the excellent work already going on.

I’ve come away with greater understanding and knowledge, with renewed passion and purpose for expanding what we do to people who cannot currently access the opportunities, and a fair bit humbler.

One day, maybe, an Ashoka Fellow will come from Rhyl, a Skoll Awardee from Dudley, or an Enterprising Solutions Award-winner from Easington. That will be a sign of change, but the real signs will be in the communities themselves: that’s why social entrepreneurship matters, and where it matters most.

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Tuesday round-up: ClearlySo, CIC caps, Craig, credibility

So it's been a while since the last round-up, and much to catch up on….

– Matt Stevenson-Dodd asks if Blackpool might be the first Social Enterprise Town?

– There is a consultation about dividend and interest caps in relation to CICs; incidentally, Soc Ent Mag reports that the number of CICs are 'snowballing' at the moment…

– On the subject of legal structures (which we'll move swiftly on from), here's a piece on Triple Pundit about the L3C structure in the US

– Enjoyed this: "Why defining social entrepreneur is a waste of time", from which I could have pulled a load of quotes, but this was a highlight:

"Ultimately, I think we are focusing on the wrong part of this issue.
I don’t care if more people are becoming social entrepreneurs, or,
according to someone’s definition, falsely labeling themselves as such.
I want more participation because I want greater scrutiny. Greater
scrutiny (from credible institutions on the inside and the outside)
will lead to greater transparency and more effective evaluation of
companies in the sector overall.

I do not, however, think this filter should be applied on the
front-end by determining who can be called a social entrepreneur. We
should encourage broader adoption of the term-the broadest possible
adoption of the term, actually-and then focus on finding a way to
classify and evaluate social entrepreneurs according to outcomes."

– Check out the new version of SocialInvestments.com: ClearlySo, now packaged as an online marketplace for social business, enterprise and investment; nice new brand and layout too

– Lately on US blogs and sites, you can't move for mention of Jacqueline Novogratz's book, the Blue Sweater; the founder of Acumen Fund also features in an excerpt / video interview on McKinsey's website

– Nice start up social entrepreneur story: Polly Gowers at Everyclick

– We introduced PWC to SSE Fellow Roger Wilson-Hinds, and now they are making his Screenreader software available via their corporate website. Good news!

Recession support from ACEVO; recession resources from NACVA; beating the recession from Craig Dearden-Phillips

– Enough from Skoll World Forum already, but here's a couple of final things: some general round-ups, a great interview from Nat Whittemore, and the undoubted highlight of the event: the landmine-seeking rats

– Finally, my highlight recently was the SSE London graduation (OK, slightly biased). David Wilcox did some great snapshot video interviews; check out this one with Amanda Trought who uses art to work with dementia sufferers, and posts it online as a feedback loop to their carers:

Amanda Trought from David Wilcox on Vimeo.

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