Should third sector leaders be non-executive directors?

It's crazy time here at SSE….having recruited two new staff in three new regional SSEs, we're now mid-recruitment of three posts at SSE-UK here in East London. And we have been rewarded with our largest pile of CVs ever……

Whilst thinking about recruitment, I thought I'd draw attention to a different area of recruitment that has a broad relevance to the third sector. As many have pointed out, the failure of our financial institutions is also a failure of corporate governance which is, in turn, a failure of non-executive directors (NEDs). David Walker's recent report on corporate governance acknowledges this, and suggests doubling the number of days that NEDs contribute to a company per year.

This does seem an inadequate response, though. As The World of GingerbreadGirl points out:

"if you use the same people you will have the same answers, the same
approaches, and the same problems – whether or not you cut their pay,
double their pay, cut their days, or double them. If you always do what
you have always done, you will always get what you always got.

She suggests that every board should have to have one NED that has never been an NED before…in order to cut down on the cronyism, (old boy) networks and lack of variety that has affected the ability of non-execs to perform their role over the last few years. Matthew Cain follows on from this with some sensible questions that should form a basic check on whether a person can be an NED who will bring value to the corporate governance process. And points out that NEDs aren't a panacea to this problem, which is surely right.

But that doesn't mean it shouldn't be addressed.

So how does this relate to "our" world? Well, firstly because the same applies to charitable boards: as Eleanor at NPC points out in her post (with the does-what-it-says-on-the-tin title of Networks aren't the answer for boards: get some fresh blood for a change),

"Trustee boards in the charity sector in the UK face remarkably similar
problems. Most (around 80%) recruit new board members from their
networks. 'Word of mouth' is great for getting people who you know and
trust, but it means that you are looking in a very small pool of people"

This is surely true. We work hard with SSE students (and Fellows) to think hard about different types of governance structure, and about the make-up of their boards (if they have them). And that challenge of being aligned to the mission, but not too close to it; of being trusted, but not uncritical; of being a good mix of skills, but also a good team… etc

Secondly, and to return to GingerbreadGirls' original point about widening the pool of talent, surely there are people from the charity and social enterprise sectors who would add credibility, acuity, insight and experience to some corporate boards? This is something we've been looking at on the Social Enterprise Ambassadors programme and was called for at an event the other evening by leading charity lawyer Stephen Lloyd, who was reported as saying:

"that at least one non-executive director of all quoted
companies should have extensive experience of the social/voluntary
sector to add a new perspective to board discussions

Again, getting leading charity or social enterprise directors as non-exec directors is by no means a panacea, but it would surely bring a fresh pair of (credible) eyes to the table, combined with experience of running a significant organisation. And would also foster better understanding in both sectors about the differing demands and natures of each.

[Writing this post as part of Bloggers' Circle, an initiative to share posts cross-blog and get interesting posts more widely-read.]

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SSEs recruit, SSE Fellows win awards, SSE recruits…

Just a brief Friday SSE news update to point out that:

– Our Liverpool SSE is recruiting social entrepreneurs (see Activities and News), and our Hampshire, Devon and Yorkshire and Humber SSEs will soon. Keep your eyes peeled. Overseas, our Australia SSE is recruiting for its block programme in Sydney to start in September. Get in touch with the local/regional SSE in question for more info in each case via the links above.

– SSE Fellow Chris Dabbs's organisation, Unlimited Potential, has become the first organisation (and I believe the first SSE Fellow) in the North-West to win the Social Enterprise Mark. See the full news story. Unlimited Potential provides innovative health and wellbeing services, and was given the award by Social Enterprise Ambassador Daniel Heery (who's been blogging like a demon of late)

– Congratulations also to SSE Fellow Ros Spearing, whose organisation Ebony Horse Club won the Beyond Sport London Legacy Award this week. Which means not only recognition at a prestigious global event, and a presentation from Mayor Boris Johnson, but also £60,000 over 3 years

– Finally, SSE is currently recruiting 3 posts at its centre in the UK. So please check out the adverts and job specifications via the newspage

More on Beyond Sport, the new Social Enterprise Live website, the Social Earth video page and much more soon…..

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Social media for social impact (for social entrepreneurs)

A new handbook was released yesterday called Social By Social which is a great and practical guide to using new technologies to deliver social impact. I'd thoroughly recommend having a look at the book online, or ordering a copy for you own use. Check out especially the Pioneers section, which includes two SSE Fellows, Nathalie McDermott (SavvyChavvy) and Paul Hodgkin (Patient Opinion), and the essential tools, resources, and what this means for you sections. Congratulations to all involved, especially SSE Fellow Andy Gibson and supporter David Wilcox: I think it's a great and useful resource.

In the latter, I've written the "what this means for social entrepreneurs" section. I've posted this before, but thought I would re-post again to celebrate the launch, to celebrate its use of a creative commons license, and for the various new followers / subscribers of late. Enjoy….all thoughts + links + comments most welcome.

Social media for social entrepreneurs

"While entrepreneurs in the business sector identify untapped commercial markets, and gather together the resources to break into those markets for profit, social entrepreneurs use the same skills to different effect. For social entrepreneurs, untapped markets are people or communities in need, who haven't been reached by other initiatives. But while they may read from a different (triple) bottom line, social and business entrepreneurs have a lot in common. They build something out of nothing. They are ambitious to achieve. They marshal resources to meet their needs. They are constantly creative. And they are not afraid to make mistakes.

The marshalling of resources is particularly important in this context, as start-up and fledgling social entrepreneurs often have little spare money (or money at all) for key parts of their work, namely marketing, promotions, communications, fundraising, events organisation, and community-outreach. This is where the development of web 2.0-type tools is playing such a significant role; where two or three years ago, we would get the question “do you know someone cheap who designs good websites?”, the questions now tend to be “what’s a blog and how do I start one?” or “should I pay for this or is the free version OK?”. The costs of podcasting, blogging, uploading video, starting an online network, promoting your project on Facebook or specialised networks like UnLtdWorld, fundraising online etc have fallen so far as to completely democratise it: for social entrepreneurs now, the big question is no longer “what can we afford?” but “what should we use?” and “how do you use it best?” In some cases, SSE Fellows (like Nathalie McDermott of OnRoadMedia or Jude Habib of SoundDelivery) take this a step further and make it their mission to empower communities / other organisations to speak up or better achieve using new tech.

Our message to them is a simple one: work out what you want to achieve and then work out whether technology can play a part in helping do it. It can be all too tempting amidst a rash of “twitter is the cure to all ills” headlines to leap in, waste time and lose focus. But if building a community of like-minded people who support and engage with their idea is important to moving it forward (and those people can be found online), then fire away using Facebook groups, twitter, blogs and whatever is most appropriate. Such tools are often a cost-effective means to an important end: building a following around an idea or a new enterprise. Tools such as blogs and twitter also allow for a more direct form of communication that, when done with consistency and authenticity, will better engage and inform that following. That builds trust, credibility and loyalty to an organisation in the medium to long term.

What is particularly interesting for social entrepreneurs in this space is that tools like Twitter and Facebook have blurred the line between the personal and the organisational, between the life and the work. But this is already the case for social entrepreneurs in many cases, so fits naturally with the way they are and the way they operate. Alongside the fact that networking is key to their success (particularly when they can feel isolated and disillusioned on their journey), it’s clear why such tools can be not only useful organisationally (for communications, community-building etc) but also individually (to make contacts, build relationships, find support, bookmark sites of interest etc).

However, whilst not wishing to end in Luddite fashion, it’s important that we also remember that many social entrepreneurs work in real, geographical communities that can’t be reached online; that e-mail remains the primary communication tool for the vast majority; that ‘slacktivism’ will tend to reinforce the idea that people can solve problems with a click of a mouse (and keep a healthy distance from all that nasty poverty and disadvantage); that online approaches need to be measured for their social impact if resources are put into them that could go elsewhere; that Facebook status updates aren’t a substitute for meeting people face-to-face; and that doing things is more important than talking about doing things.

Ultimately, social media tools provide amazing opportunities and resources to facilitate change, to network effectively, to communicate directly, to fundraise innovatively, and to build communities swiftly. But in all but a very small minority of cases for social entrepreneurs, they are means to an end, not the end in themselves."

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Consumerism gone mad

Recently, after coming back to SSE as an intern for a few months (info at the bottom), I came across The Story of Stuff, a 20 minute web documentary hosted by "American critic of excessive consumerism" Annie Leonard. In the video Leonard goes through the process of consumption in five steps from extraction, production, distribution, consumption and then disposal. Though the video at times seems meant for younger age groups, perhaps a straightforward approach is what we all need; mixed in between the jaw dropping statistics Annie's message is clear and obvious: ever-growing consumption has become a dangerous force in human society.

As Leonard explains, this didn't just happen. In the 1955, economist Victor Lebow prophesied a version similar to our contemporary environment: "Our enormously productive economy … demands that we make consumption
our way of life, that we convert the buying and use of goods into
rituals, that we seek our spiritual satisfaction, our ego satisfaction,
in consumption…. we need things consumed, burned up, replaced, and
discarded at an ever-accelerating rate."

What does this have to do with social entrepreneurship and our current financial environment?
As Leonard amply points out, environmentalism affects us all, in all sectors. It is a timely reminder that while 'going green' has become a fad of its own, there is still much to be done. Here SSE Fellows like Becky Barrett at Love Eco and Dave Miller at Bikeworks play crucial roles. That being said, they are continuously dependent on you, the consumer, to purchase products strategically. It is no longer about finding the cheapest price, but rather the locally produced, environmentally friendly, and sustainable product.

That's easier said than done, particularly with the economy down the tank. Thus, we must not only buy smart, but also defy Victor Lebow and his theory of an ever-accelerating rate. Here is where the economic crisis may help us all, by forcibly slowing down our rate of purchasing. However, as we have seen such a change will lead to a slow-down in production, higher unemployment, higher prices. So what do we do? Leonard is brilliant in her analysis, but not so much in her aim. Next time I would like to see a video where she debates and convinces a parent who is fighting to keep his or her job, to shop more sustainably. Until then I won't hold my breath for a new type of consumerism.

Thor Steinhovden currently interns with the School for Social Entrepreneurs in Bethnal Green, London. He recently finished a BA in Political Science and History at St. Olaf College in Minnesota. This fall he will embark on a MSc in Comparative Politics (Nationalism and Ethnicity) at the London School of Economics.


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