The transparency of social entrepreneurship

A little while back, I blogged about why the (increasingly tedious) political expenses scandal in the UK was relevant to the realm of social entrepreneurship [see What the expenses scandal means for social entrepreneurs]. My point, largely, was about the importance of trust and legitimacy to the work of social entrepreneurs, and the associated importance of honesty and transparency to achieving and maintaining that trust.

I think the same applies to the agencies operating in the sector to support social entrepreneurs and social enterprises as well, though. If we spin, overegg, over-heroicise and overplay the success of the people we work with, there is a risk of not giving the full picture. Particularly when, particularly in the start-up space, success can look very different for different people. Indeed, my stock answer when we are asked the question "What is success for SSE?" is to say exactly that: success looks different for different people coming through the programme. For some, the journey is primarily a personal one in which, it could be argued, the project or organisation forms a vehicle for learning and development; for others, the organisation flies and grows; still more thrive in the months immediately following the programme, whilst others find new employment or civic roles they wouldn't have accessed before.

[Or as NEF put it in their evaluation of our work, “For some, the SSE acts as a [place for] fine-tuning, giving them the
ability to move forward with their project in a variety of ways and to
create a greater impact than they would have otherwise. For others, the
SSE is nothing less than the difference between existence and
non-existence of their organisation and profound change within their
own lives"

But we have to be open that there are myriad and multiple outcomes, few of which can be "guaranteed" for each social entrepreneur. Not all create jobs and not all establish organisations, and some decide, ultimately, that this world is not for them. Others find they prefer to use their new skills + networks to work in (more secure) employment. Others fall out of contact or self-select out of being communicated with about where they are at. And the more honest and open we are about those in our communications and measurement work, the more people will trust the positives and successes we also talk about. That needs to be done sensitively, of course, but it's crucial to not set unrealistic expectations with the students, our funders and supporters and, indeed, ourselves. That's something I'm emphasising as we look forward to forthcoming research and evaluation projects.

We can get better at this, no doubt, and so can others. I attended a social entrepreneurship seminar at London Business School the other evening, hosted by Professor Michael Hay, and organised by Teach First for their ambassadors (I got a few SSE students a free place). It was an interesting case study, in the MBA style, of a South African organisation called CIDA, which I remembered from the Skoll Awards a few years back. Professor Hay was involved personally in the organisation, and (what turned out to be) the turnaround of it, so had great knowledge and insight of what had happened.

I think, largely, he doesn't want all the details spread around / broadcast widely and I want to honour that, but suffice to say that the original founder of CIDA is no longer with the organisation, and is now running the Maharishi Invincibility School of Management, and that the new board / executive team of CIDA has now developed personal development programmes for students that don't relate to transcendental meditation, consciousness-based education ™ and so on. Draw your own conclusions etc…

What surprised me is that I hadn't heard about this at all. Whilst acknowledging that this is a very high profile initiative (particularly in South Africa), there is an enormous amount of learning to be had frmo this example. Ironically, enough, transparency is a massive part of it (it wasn't clear what lay behind / what the ultimate motivations were), as is a blurring of the social entrepreneur with the organisation. The people present the other evening felt that this was forgivable in the early stages (when the social entrepreneur, after all, pretty much is the organisation), but that there needed to be proper governance, management processes, structures for stakeholder involvement etc when the organisation grew. Perhaps there are reasons why the full story can't be openly shared (I don't know), but the learning for the sector could be significant.

What a great session this would make at an event or conference, from one of the funders or support agencies who backed CIDA in its previous incarnation. It's now back on the rails on its original mission and is set, by all accounts, to continue to thrive….but would be fascinating to hear about a 'failure', be that a failure of due diligence, of governance, of blurring of individual with organisation, or of something different. After all, there's entrepreneurship in social entrepreneurship, so there's risk…and it's about being risk-aware, not risk-averse. But that awareness only comes from a willingness to be open and share examples, not through a head-in-the-sand approach.

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Thursday round-up: inclusivity, iPhone, impact investing

OK, round-up of recent news + links of interest time….

– Couple of great posts on PopTech about the inclusivity (or lack of) and MBA-focused shape of social entrepreneurship, particularly in the US. See Who's in the Social Entrepreneurship Club, and who isn't? and the following post, Coaxing ghost social entrepreneurs out of the woodwork. The posts were partly in response to Business Week's "Bull market for social entrepreneurs" piece, which was very MBA-centric, and led to a further piece on called Can Social Entrepreneur Groups be more inclusive?

Worth reading them all (and comments), and good to see that this debate is making it to the US, where our long-tail approach has often seemed anathema.

– Beyond Sport is an interesting initiative connecting sport and social entrepreneurs. You can vote for the London Legacy award, and we would strongly recommend a vote for SSE Fellow Ros Spearing's organisation, Ebony Horse Club

– Government-wise, there's a new central funding website called…er…Funding Central which will be an important place, given that it aggregates lots of funding opportunities. The Modernisation Fund is also open to bursaries of £1k and grants of £10k for small charities / orgs that need it most.There's also a new Cabinet committee on third sector:public service delivery which is important policy-wise….Did I mention we have a new minister as well?

– I met Linda Butcher, the great CEO of Sheila McKechnie Foundation at a meeting this week, and she was discussing both their new website CampaignCentral, and the fact that the deadline for the awards is the end of June. If you're a campaigner, check out the details and apply!

– We're beavering away on a re-brand / re-design of the Ambassadors. In the meantime, there's some good new blog posts up from Matt Stevenson-Dodd (75% want definition) and Daniel Heery (Digital Britain + Social Enterprise NW conference) which are well worth checking out.

– The CIC consultation about dividends and caps has ended: most people seem to think there will be changes, as this article recommends .More on this soon, no doubt.

– Social Edge has done a list of the top Tweeps (that's people who Twitter) in Social Entrepreneurship to follow. Delighted to find that yours truly (@SchSocEnt) is not only included but is essential. *blushes* etc. Great place to start if you're interested in this world and are thinking of entering the Twitter-verse, or whatever it's called.

– While we're in tech-ville, interesting fundraising app has come out on the iPhone that encourages you to Givabit

– The shortlist for the Bank of Scotland Social Entrepreneur Awards is announced. Winner finds out tonight. List best described as eclectic….

– Good q&a on impact investing with Kevin Jones

Echoing Green announced their 2009 Fellows. The best round-up of this was probably on, so check out Nat's post on the Fellows, which includes several videos of the winners

– Alan Sugar as enterprise Tsar; too many jokes etc…Rob Greenland dissects what this means for us all on the Guardian blog

– Couple of decent recent podcasts on Social Innovation Conversations: Premal Shah of Kiva and Jacqueline Novogratz of Acumen Fund.

That's all for now; will leave you with the video of my favourite from thenew  Echoing Green Fellows, Dhruv Lakra of Mirakle Couriers:

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Leaders of all ages

The blog has been a little quiet of late as I've been travelling around, establishing some sort of weekly record of combined air and rail miles over the last week or so (Belfast, Beijing, Penzance and Nottingham). Highlights have included meeting the first cohort of students at SSE Cornwall (they survived my evaluation session successfully), hearing Nigel Kershaw talk in Stormont about how he first met our CEO Alastair Wilson at SSE ("this snotty, spotty young Scot rambled on to me….and now he's the boss!") and meeting the SSEI alumni, and hearing about the expansion of the Skills 4 Social Entrepreneurs taster programme to four tier 2 Chinese cities.

In between all of that (and there's much else to catch up on in a forthcoming round-up), I hosted a London Business School delegation of international business / government leaders, along with two SSE Fellows: Kiran Nihalani (a recent SSE Fellow) who runs Unspent Convictions CIC, and Andy Walker, who runs Southside Young Leaders Academy. We always like to showcase Fellows with different projects from different backgrounds and, in the case of Andy and Kiran, different genders and ages as well. It made for a fascinating session: Kiran's focused passion and energy borne out of her frustration with the work she had been doing and the status quo; Andy's renewed vigour and commitment at having found a new passion after a career of work. I'd urge you to check both their organisations out, and contact them; in a sense, both are working with young people excluded or marginalised from society (or at risk of being so), be that young boys aged 8 causing trouble in class, or young offenders not being given the chance to apply their resourcefulness in positive ways.

A particular hit with the delegation was the video from Andy's project, which hears from some of the boys his organisations works with; check it out:

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International social entrepreneurship

GIBideas Our focus of late at SSE has been pretty relentlessly on our existing and planned activities in the UK; following the government investment in the national network back in February, our Network team have been working hard with our regional partners to get everything in place for the expanded delivery: staff and student recruitment, match funding, agreements with partners, marketing materials, etc etc And the fruits of those labours can be seen in the list of regional schools down the side of the website, which now features Devon, Hampshire and Yorkshire (NB – so new, they don't all have full details up yet!). Hugely exciting and even more so as we recruit students and start the programmes later in the year.

And that UK work and track record over the last decade and more has given us a robust replicable package to work with and created a great deal of interest in the methodology abroad. As regular blog readers will know, our SSE programme in Sydney is our first international pilot, and it has been very rewarding for all over here to see significant time and effort pay off with the first group of Antipodean social entrepreneurs gaining support and development. And to get practically involved: I'm Skype-ing the programme manager over there about an evaluation session tomorrow morning, for example. And we have learned a lot this side in the process, both for our ongoing, current UK work, and for any further international SSEs.

One thing I think is most interesting about our franchise system (I never thought I'd start a sentence with that) is that it is rigorous enough to deliver consistency / quality assurance, but also has enough flexibility to be tailored to different local, regional or national contexts. So what excites us here is learning and adopting new innovations and improvements from our international (and UK) partners, and sharing them back round the franchise. In this way, I hope that, whilst gaining maximum impact from our central expertise and experience, we are not doing so in a neo-colonial type way (UK knows best etc), but in a mutually-beneficial one. Then we can avoid the worst of what Rod Schwartz has been highlighting in his Social Edge debate: Are the only innovations in social entrepreneurship Anglo-Saxon?

And it's exciting to see how social entrepreneurship is spreading into different contexts and more mainstream institutions. Take today's announcement of the British Council planning to boost 10,000 social entrepreneurs worldwide, focusing particularly on East Asia, China and south-east Europe. I'm delighted because we've been working with BC in various guises, including helping on the design of a pilot skills for social entrepreneurs programme in Beijing, and they've now got buy-in centrally to push the work on. Which can only be good news for those of us who think that social entrepreneurship is part of the solution, regardless of your background or which country you're in.

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