Starting up as a social entrepreneur (at Skoll Emerge)

Dragged myself out of bed this Sunday morning to speak at the Skoll:Emerge conference in Oxford, along with leading luminaries like Ben Metz, Charmian Love, Rod Schwartz and Cliff Prior. Good turnout from the students from a range of universities, and much good learning, sharing and inspiring took place methinks.

For me, the standout was Caroline Casey, CEO of Kanchi + founder of the O2 Ability Awards, who was a truly fantastic, insightful, self-deprecating and very funny speaker. Pearls of wisdom from Caroline included:

– Too much analysis is paralysis
– Why am I a social entrepreneur? Because I'm finding myself
You can't control the circumstances, but can control how you respond + react (positively)
We don't all have to be Bono or Nelson Mandela. All of us have the capacity to make something happen

and her 5 rules for social entrepreneurs:

1) Get used to being a duck (calm on top, paddling furiously underneath)
2) Embrace + love failure (learn by doing)
3) Don't give up (take 'no' as motivation)
4) Friends matter (you can't do it on your own, ever)
5) Be self-aware (and honest, and open)

Good stuff.

Much less inspiring, but a packed and participative hour nonetheless, was my session on starting out as a social entrepreneur. Here are the slides (don't think all the animation works, but you get the gist):

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Global Entrepreneurship Week: why it matters (or does it?)

A brief note to reflect on last week. It was certainly a full one for us: attending the launch in the British Library, speaking at a Westminster briefing event, organising a networking videoconference for our Sydney / London students, speaking at an event in the Black Country, and going (with half a dozen current students) to Downing St for a reception there (see pic).

At times the week can feel a bit like preaching to the converted, or at least meeting with the converted (several times), and there was little sense of this permeating mainstream media to any degree. Enterprise UK might prove me wrong on that: there were certainly thousands of events, so I'd imagine that there was a huge amount of cumulative web + local news coverage. Nevertheless, social entrepreneurship and social enterprise are a small world, so it can sometimes feel a bit insular.

To a degree, though, I think that is part of the value of the week, and social enterprise day in particular. Though this might not be the remit or core objective, there is a "rallying the troops" feel where people can get recognition for the work they've done (see here on the importance of recognition in this sector) and get re-inspired about why they are doing it. Some might pass off the reception at number 10 as hob-nobbing and schmoozing, but the students from different SSE programmes who were there got the chance to network with leading practitioners, civil servants, politicians, and sector media, got a sense of what was achievable (given the award announcements), got recognition for the work they do, and got a slug of inspiration to keep doing it. And my role was (not always successfully) trying to introduce them to as many relevant people as possible.

My favourite part of the week was the international networking video-conference we organised (article in Social Enterprise Mag about it) not only because it was 'global', but also because it was practically useful, about entrepreneur-to-entrepreneur interaction, and because the people involved were amazing in their openness and energy. And they are what the week is really about.

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Why Jedward are social entrepreneurs: fact

Jedward On the way back from a full day of Social Enterprise Day events (which I'll round up next week), was delighted and amused to read an article in the Evening Standard, by the CEO of Blastbeat (which you should check out: amazing organisation). In the context of the interview, he said the following:

"Jedward have all the attributes we look for from social entrepreneurs: belief in themselves, determination, vision. They have a social conscience, having climbed the four highest peaks in Ireland for charity last year, and they know what it is to struggle, having been born two months premature, and being bullied in school."

And what better way to end Global Entrepreneurship Week than that? :0)

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Social Enterprise Day: from the Black Country to Downing St

Happy Social Enterprise Day everyone. It's been a busy Global Entrepreneurship Week already, with SSE at the British Library launch event, a Westminster briefing event, our own Sydney-London video-conference event (check out the write-up for top 10 networking tips for social entrepreneurs), a Learning Launchpad speed networking event, and an UnLtdWorld breakfast event this morning. Oh, and I wrote a guest post about scaling for the Shout Out for Social Enterprise series, which you can read here: Scaling social entrepreneurship.

In about an hour, we'll be attending the Downing St reception, which is exciting not because we're going, but because the winning team from our recent residential will also be attending, which is a great opportunity for them to get access to an exciting and interesting bunch of people who'll be there. It's also exciting because the Social Enterprise Awards winners for England will be announced, in which SSE has interest: two SSE Fellows, Chris Dabbs and Dave Miller, are nominated with their organisations (Unlimited Potential + Bikeworks) in the Social Enterprise / New Social Enterprise categories. And if that's not enough, our Liverpool SSE has been working with St Cuthbert's in St Helens who are nominated in the schools category. Here's hoping for all 3….

Meanwhile, our CEO Alastair Wilson and Network Director Suzanne Creasey are speaking at an event in the Black Country in the West Midlands this morning, meeting a range of partners and supporters in the area to see what we can make happen. After all, if it's Global Entrepeneurship Week, we've got to be doing stuff, not just talking and blogging about it (he says, mid-blog).

Other highlights to check out:

Social Enterprise Ambassadors have been blogging on a range of subjects all week. Great posts here.

The Social Enterprise Coalition are launching new research into the movement today

– And you can follow the big Social Enterprise Conference in Birmingham

….and much more besides, including the Future 100, 3 impressive examples of whom I met this morning (hello James of Red Button Design, Ben from Bright One and Chris from Incerts).

Have an inspiring day everyone.

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Networking advice + tips for (and from) social entrepreneurs

So it's Global Entrepreneurship Week this week. And it's a week chock full of events, press releases, statistics and more. Our own contribution came this morning with a live videoconference between SSE students in London and Sydney, using CISCO's Telepresence system in their offices. Given where we were (the world leader in networks) and what we were doing (connecting  / learning / sharing), the theme of the dialogue was about networking: advice, tips, stories and thoughts about the importance of it for social entrepreneurs. I was excited about that, and about using the system they use in 24 :0)

We had half a dozen social entrepreneurs in each city, from a range of backgrounds and working on a range of different projects (hello Wale, Junior, Ryan, Saritha, Farah, Janine, Nikki, Tracey, Nicole, Jason; see London and Sydney programmes for more details). They heard first from foremost Australian social entrepreneur Steve Lawrence (now working as Executive Officer at ASIX, who helped set up the event today) on his tips and learning and feelings about networking. Steve had some great contributions, including:

– there are "lovers" and "tourists" in business, and lovers are the ones who are passionate about it, will follow up and make the most of connections

– that he tends to ask questions, to help discover what matters to the other person and find what they're passionate aboute

– that he always writes something about the person / conversation on the business card when he gets it (particularly important at events where you come away with a stack)

The social entrepreneurs from both sides then shared their thoughts and experiences, which covered a lot of interesting ground. This included the importance of creating authentic connections (and being authentic in your interactions), of following-up (and being purposeful in your networking), and on the need (at times) to be persistent when it seems worth it. There was also the point that generosity to others, such as connecting two other people at an event, normally repays itself (in a good karma kind of way). There was also the excellent advice to be responsive and thankful in your interactions.

The conversation moved on to authenticity, and the genuineness of networking. Understanding people's passions requires to be genuinely interested and on a positive motivation…not smiling and waving while you look over the person's shoulder for someone more important. There is a difference, it was said, between a coffee-fuelled speedy effort to buttonhole people, and an authentic, 'whole-person' conversation over tea. One quote in this context was "be yourself and you will meet the people who are right for you". There were further key points about being concise and relevant (you can be genuine, but also be concise in what you say): being able to get across what you need to swiftly is crucial. 

The final bit of the conversation focused on cultural differences, and how it was important to be respectful and knowledgeable of practice and custom internationally. A couple of the social entrepreneurs, who both work overseas, felt that this was crucial to success for their project, be that about religion, belief systems, customs, language or about devolving and delegating power to ensure the project sustains. The linguistic challenge was also seen in social entrepreneurship more generally, with jargon and vocabulary sometimes being a barrier to progress and good contacts being built (one felt that social entrepreneurs themselves were bridgers and translators in effect, between communities and the corporate / estbalished third sector world).

There was also an interesting insight into working with Aboriginal communities, and the amount of sign language (hand signals, eyebrow raising etc) that is used to communicate. Which brought us back to face-to-face vs. online, with the general consensus that online was useful, but couldn't replace face-to-face (which was reinforced by the very technology we were using) in terms of achieving authentic, trusted relationships. The kind of relationships on which social entrepreneurs thrive. 

We hope to have the video up soon, and thanks again to Martin and the team at CISCO for making it happen. What was exciting to me was to see the culture of openness and honesty reflected in both groups of social entrepreneurs, and to be running an event where learning and knowledge were being shared witha  purpose, rather than being just a launch or talking shop.

The Anglo-Australian top 10 networking tips for social entrepreneurs:

  1. Be authentic and genuine
  2. Bring your whole person
  3. Be generous to others (it will repay)
  4. Ask questions and understand the other person
  5. Be patient and (as appropriate) persistent
  6. Always follow-up: make the most of the contacts you make
  7. Be respectful and attentive
  8. Use online networks to broker or bed down relationships, but not to replace face-to-face
  9. Be honest and open, and that will be mirrored
  10. Be concise and relevant

The top 5 quotes from this morning's event

  1. "If you're generous to other people, it repays. I think it's a universal law" – Junior
  2. "Sometimes you feel like the ugly one at a speed-dating event" – Ryan
  3. "A night on the turps" or "Hit the turps" (Australian colloquial: to get drunk) – Jason (et al)
  4. "You don't go in playing golf, you go in playing ultimate wrestling" – Nikki
  5. "You have to kiss a lot of frogs before a prince comes along" – Saritha (via Colin Crooks)

[btw, on the same subject, you can check out SSE CEO Alastair Wilson in the recent issue of Social Enterprise Magazine, and I also very much liked this post on The Key to Powerful Relationships]

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