The trust society: squaring the public service delivery circle?

There’s inevitably more time for reflection during the
summer months, as people go on leave and take time out to review where things
have got to, organisationally and personally. One thing that’s come up in many
conversations for me is the challenge ahead given the inevitable cuts in public
spending (regardless of which party is in government), but the continuing (or
increasing) need to deliver services that reduce inequality and address social
problems and needs. This is particularly interesting in the context of the
Conservatives, given their clear support for localism and grassroots-led
change by individual social entrepreneurs and their wish to reduce the size of
the state and its associated bureaucracy.

Currently, this wish to reduce the size of the state (or,
more simply, to reduce costs) has tended to lead to bigger contracts, bigger
providers and a return to a simpler, output-based model (this much money in,
these outputs out) that may be less nuanced than is currently the case through
necessity. This is as true of the current government as it might be of a future
Tory one (see the consortia being created around the Future Jobs Fund, for
example) and, if you put yourself in those shoes, is pretty understandable and

But, of course, the local, grassroots social
entrepreneur-led organisation may struggle in this context. Diversity, reach
and multiple outcomes will still figure, but will power and money go upward
into bigger contracts that are inaccessible? Or will there be enough devolution
and freedom at local, regional or sub-regional level to work with new
innovators and approaches that may change things for the better?

It’s an issue that we wrote about in Social Entrepreneurs
and Public Service Delivery
(pdf download), and one that is becoming more and more
critical as time goes on, and the current outlook for public spending becomes
bleaker. So is there a way of encouraging and fostering more grassroots social
entrepreneurial activity, with new sustainable and bespoke solutions, whilst
also increasing value for money? The answer is yes, but may require a shift
from a trust-based to a contract-based society, and that shift may take much
longer than the current climate will take to clear. But the broader point is
worth raising now.

A recent provocation paper by SSE Chair Charlotte Young discusses the differences between a trust-based and a contract-based society and, more pertinently in this context, the potential roles for the social entrepreneur as initiators, intermediaries and role models & people developers. For those trying to square the circles in the public service delivery space, it's essential reading.

– Read Can Social Entrepreneurs Make This  A Better Society? (pdf)  on the SSE website.

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Ambassador becomes Chief Executive at SEC

Peter H

Great to learn of Peter Holbrook (CEO of Sunlight) becoming Chief Executive of the Social Enterprise Coalition. It must have been an impressive line-up of candidates from across sectors, so it's heartening to see an authentic, talented practitioner from this world step up to the plate and be given the opportunity.

I've got to know Peter a bit through the Ambassadors programme (indeed, you can visit his profile here to learn more about him and Sunlight Development Trust), and visited Sunlight on a couple of occasions. [See here for my reaction to one of the visits in a previous post]. I wrote at the time that, under Peter's leadership, Sunlight "is a professional outfit, but also remains passionate and personal(ised)". I am confident that he can achieve the same at SEC and provide leadership to the whole movement.

Exciting times ahead!

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SSE’s busiest summer ever: and where we are now

It’s been a fascinating, and busy summer, for SSE. In
addition to the franchises in Cornwall and Sydney (that started delivering in
the spring), SSE Devon, Hampshire and Yorkshire & Humber have each
recruited two staff, and are now recruiting students for their first programmes
which are set to begin shortly. In addition to helping actively in that
recruitment (an SSE-UK staff member has been on every panel), we’ve also
recruited three new staff ourselves…taking us to the heady heights of 11
centrally! A big welcome to Owusu Akoto (Sustainability Officer, focusing on
financial sustainability of the network SSEs), Cynthia Quek (Programme Officer,
focusing on supporting the London programmes and on supporting SSE Fellows),
and Emma Houston (PA to CEO /Office Admin, focusing on getting us into shape, and
managing the boss’s diary). Delighted to have them on board.

We spent 2 days recruiting the 3 roles, involving the whole
team, and taking a different approach which involved observing candidates
whilst they were engaged in group tasks (on day 1) and then having brief
interviews and practical tasks (on day 2); the whole team were involved in
observing and in the decision-making process, which has certainly led to an
easier integration and induction for the new arrivals. It’s also allowed us to
feel confident that we are recruiting those who can do the job and add to the
team, rather than those who can do CVs and interviews….on the flipside, the
candidates also got to know us all better, and sense whether it was the right
kind of place for them. It’s certainly the only interview process where I saw
candidates say they’d really enjoyed it, then swapping e-mails and going for a
drink afterwards! But also tough to go from nearly 300 applications to 3
people. [thanks to Happy for the inspiration / advice]

So: more SSEs, more staff, more social entrepreneurs
supported; and more social impact achieved (and to be achieved); all good news.
And, looking ahead, the next few months should be interesting too: we are
currently organising what will be by far our biggest SSE residential ever
(about 150+ social entrepreneurs)…which is effectively a small conference
now. Should be a fabulous and exciting few days of networking and learning down
in Dartington in mid-October. And we will be helping the new SSEs recruit their
first cohorts of students throughout the autumn, as well as working closely
with them to ensure their sustainability into years 2, 3, 4, 5 etc. We’ll also
be welcoming our new SSE Australia CEO, Benny Callaghan, over for a full
induction here in the UK. Oh, and there’s all the programmes already going on
in London, Cornwall, Sydney and elsewhere….

Arguably then, one of SSE’s most successful periods, but
we’re also looking ahead to what may be one of the most challenging times in
terms of available funding, investment and resources. In many ways, our growth
has also led to our biggest challenge: to maintain and sustain where we are
now; to continue to deliver the highest quality support; to achieve outcomes
that we achieved with half the number of people going through programmes; and
to build on what we’ve achieved, in new locations (East, North East, Wales) and
in a different political and economic environment.

Challenging but exciting times ahead, methinks…..we'll keep you informed!

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People-powered change in Thailand (and Bethnal Green)

[A final blog post, for now, from Thor who has been working with us the past couple of months, and will be sorely missed!]

After 2 months with SSE
and a second tour abroad with the organisation, I am now leaving for a
much-longed for break in Thailand. One cannot truly make an exit without some
wise words though – and I wanted to share with you a story from the country to
which I am travelling to.  


I think the most
profound educational experience I have gained from SSE is one that (ironically)
did not take place in Bethnal Green. Having travelled to a country like Thailand
before, I have become acutely aware of the fact that social entrepreneurship and
social enterprise is needed in most countries. In Thailand there is a desperate
need for improved sanitation, basic health care facilities, and most profoundly,
help for those who fall outside the system.


Recently a friend of mine made me
aware of a particularly heart-breaking example. Two years past, a small group of
students from my college in Minnesota spent a summer volunteering at the
McKaen Rehabilitation Center, an entire village where men and women who
either had leprosy or struggled with recovering from the many side effects of
the disease, could live together and exist without the fear of being rejected.
In Thailand many are ostracised from their homes when they get the disease,
leaving them with no support to recover. McKaen had developed a large area for
the village inhabitants, who supported themselves through farming and creating
various products that were sold at the local market. The roads were paved, each
patient lived comfortably in a small house, and people were allowed to be
themselves, despite appearance or disability. However, as times got rough,
McKaen began to struggle and had to move the centre (which was later turned into
a retirement home) and was forced to ask many of the recovering patients to


Where would you
go, if your family, home and medical facility all rejected you?
Most of the
recovering McKaen patients (recovering most times mean learning to live with a
severe disability for the rest of your life) had nowhere to go, so they decided to stick
together and attempt to find a new home. After a local teacher donated some
land, and two former McKaen employees joined them on a volunteer basis, the
group decided to create a new home on their own. In a way they were all social
entrepreneurs, but sadly not by their own choice. When my friend returned to
help again she was shocked and moved to tears by the new conditions, only to
find out that one of the patients had taken his own life in despair. Living
together in a couple of small huts, the patients share a small plot of land and
are not able to produce anything to support themselves.   Their
caretakers volunteer, but without any support or training, are unable to improve
the conditions for their severely disabled


Despite these
challenges, these men and women smiled, and they went about their day as best as
possible. When a man can help build his home while missing half of his body, he
must possess a true drive to change his own life. What him and his fellow
co-habitants need is not money, but skills-training and help to facilitate ways
of creating sustainable income. If only there was an initiative that could
empower the former residents of the McKaen Foundation.       


In the last few weeks I
have often pondered if I would want to aim for a career in the third sector.
Having heard the story from Chiang Mai I am reminded more than ever that if
there ever was potential for a movement to grow on a transnational basis, it is
social enterprise. As obvious at it might seem for SSE staff, students, fellows
and other affiliates that development should focus on people and
skills-building, this is not necessarily yet a widespread notion.

In other
words, I am very happy to have worked for an organisation that gets it.

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