Thoughts and thanks for 2009 at SSE

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IMG_0721 It's late on my last working day here, but I wanted to capture a few reflections on the year gone by. It has been an amazing year for SSE. We've opened four new franchises in the UK (Cornwall, Yorkshire, Hampshire, Devon), a third London programme (Lewisham) and our first international franchise (Australia). Which means there are currently over 200 social entrepreneurs being supported on SSE programmes. 150 of them gathered in Dartington (see left) for by far our biggest ever residential. This is exponential growth when you consider we currently have 420 Fellows from the past decade. So great success to date, and more to come from those social entrepreneurs going through. But also big challenges ahead, for us and them, with the financial climate ahead looking challenging on all sides, and our aim to maintain and improve on the positive outcomes and impact we've had in the past.

Thanks to all those who've challenged, responded, read and debated on this blog or another: especially fellow bloggers and tweeters Rob Greenland, Liam Black, Mike Chitty, David Floyd, Martin Cooper et al. I think this year has demonstrated that the best and most real debates happen away from the mainstream sector press, and via social media. We'll endeavour to continue to keep it real, and will expect the challenges when we don't.

Thanks to the other agencies we've worked with in partnerships across the UK, and beyond. And thanks to all those organisations and organisations who've funded and supported us through an enormously busy year. 

Thanks to the SSE staff across the country for all their great and dedicated work this year: Sylvia, Lisa, Kate, Matt, Sally, Conroy, Caroline, Amalia, Jennifer, David, Tracey, Callum, Dodie, Sheila, Danny, Eilis, Fergus, Ann, Benny, Kirsten, Courtney, Amy, Sally, Bjorn and many more! And especially to my colleagues here in London who are such a great team: you know who you are.

And, before this goes in to full Paltrow-esque weepy mode, a final thanks to all the SSE students and Fellows who are doing the really hard work and making the hard gains up and down the country, demonstrating their commitment, inspiration and drive. You keep us inspired and motivated too.

See you next decade, everyone.

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Silly season in full flow? Tony Blair is a “social entrepreneur”

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Just when you thought we'd expanded the definition of social entrepreneur to breaking point (with the "Jedward are social entrepreneurs" article), along comes Tony Blair declaring that he, too, is a social entrepreneur. At first, I was merely amused by this (will he apply to come on our programme, or perhaps to be an Echoing Green or Ashoka Fellow; does he qualify for an UnLtd Level 1 award? how did we miss him in the Social Enterprise Ambassadors interviewing? will he apply for the Social Enterprise Mark? etc). But Rod Schwartz has done a more serious, full demolition job on his blog, detailing the reasons why Tony Blair might not quite hit the mark:

– mission / motivation: the financial imperative would still seem to be the most important for our erstwhile former Prime Minister

– lack of entrepreneurialism: though few of us might balk at a £2m retainer from a couple of large financial services organisation, this hardly qualifies as something he initiated where risk and personal responsibility is part of the piece

– focus (or lack of): Blair really has a broad portfolio of activities, rather than a laser-guided focus and commitment to solving one issue

– impact: all social entrepreneurs, ultimately, have to measure themselves by their social impact; my understanding is that his faith foundation has done some good work, but has he really got much done? difficult to tell without greater transparency

Do you think Tony Blair is a social entrepreneur? Look forward to your comments below….

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Debates on the blogs

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Who said Xmas was a time of winding down? Hundred things to finish by the 23rd….and being bombarded with tweets about Rage Against the Machine and snow. Grrrr.

So, a brief post to point to a couple of great debates / conversations that have been happening on a couple of different blogs of late:

More on Call Britannia: when is a social enterprise not a social enterprise?  on the BSSEC blog which is an interesting-ish debate about the old definitions chestnut, but made more interesting by the organisation all the commenters were talking about entering into the fray….

Some final thoughts from Bangladesh is a slightly unpromising title for a great post by Liam Black which prompted quite a few comments and a healthy debate underneath. Perhaps because of the following line: "I will probably punch the first whinging social enterprise type I run
into back home who starts complaining about [government] cuts. Just build a fucking
business that can make money and help people. If you can’t do that go
and work for the council or a bloody RDA."

Both well worth reading, as they cover issues like scale, business models, government reliance, impact, ownership etc etc. Some of the healthiest, most interesting stuff I've read this year.

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Social media (twitter) tactics for social entrepreneurs

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Not claiming I had anything to do with this. Kudos to Chad Norman at Blackbaud for what is a great slideshow of social media tactics (and tools) that non-profit organisations, or mission-driven organisations, can use. If you're wondering why/how twitter, facebook et al could be important and how to start, here you go.

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Learning from the week (other people’s wisdom)

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Startupchecklist It's been one of those "always in a meeting" weeks for me here at SSE. Quite a few of them useful and productive, but occasionally frustrating also (see 'patience' and 'exhaustion' on the left). But we are a learning-by-doing organisation, so thought I would share a few bits of learning + wisdom from the week. Hopefully these are of some interest, if slightly random.

Total Place is becoming a much bigger deal / much more real on people's agendas: featured in two very different meetings this week, but its 'whole' area approach to public service delivery will become increasingly important as budgets get devolved to local authority level; particularly for social entrepreneurs / social enterprises who deliver multiple cross-cutting outcomes…more here

– From SROI's excellent Measuring Social Value conference (well done Jeremy et al), I took away the following: transparency leads to credibility which leads to trust which leads to support (hat tip to Daniela at the Impetus Trust)

– Someone else at the same event (my notes don't reveal who!) pointed out that it took 100 years for commercial business to arrive at the current set of metrics they use….which are still far from perfect; so we shouldn't beat ourselves up about it in the social sphere

– from Nina of FRC, talking about why measurement is important: "Are you busy with the things that matter….or just busy?"

– Campbell Robb of OTS at the same event: "At the heart of smarter government is a government that buys better"; he followed that with "there is no excuse for not having a go at proving your impact….and the organisations that put this at the heart of their business will be the successful organisations"

– (from Julie Harris at the Ambassadors meeting): 60% of people searching online are looking for video content [hope I got that statistic right]

– Leeds has the best value office space in European cities; Oslo has the least pollution; London is low down the list for both. From the fascinating (!) European Cities Monitor

– Also, did you know that: "Over 750,000 SMEs are based in London, making up 99.8 per cent of all
London businesses. With annual turnover exceeding £360 billion, this
sector also accounts for almost half of all employment in London."
(see here for more) Which came up at the LDA meeting re. getting social + ethical businesses inside their economic development strategies…..

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