Mentoring social entrepreneurs

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At the recent Cornwall SSE graduation event, Tim Smit urged the social entrepreneurs in front of him to not just find themselves a mentor, but to demand one: he views it as that important. And there is no doubt that social entrepreneurs can learn a huge amount from their peers who are a little further on in their journey, or from those with significant reach, networks and experience (and who've made plenty of mistakes, of course). We also seek to match with those from other sectors, working with corporates to create what are genuinely mutually beneficial mentoring relationships…many of which endure beyond their supposed time limits.

It's partly about credibility, partly about an independence that the mentor has (the entrepreneur can be open), partly about an exchange of knowledge and skills but, ultimately, about developing a long-term trusted relationship; which, as we've written here before, is crucial for social entrepreneurs seeking to earn legitimacy and gain credibility in what they do.

Following on from that, it's worth drawing attention to the great series of posts about mentoring that have been written by the Social Enterprise Ambassadors. There are nuggets of gold in here, so do check them out. I particularly liked what Claudine Reid had to say about how mentors can model behaviour (and support when times are hard in your social enterprise) and Dai Powell's insight, based on his personal experience, that "effective mentors can come from anywhere and if it is to be effective,
mentoring should be without reference hierarchies or power structures".

Finally, if you haven't heard about it already, you can win 2 hours mentoring with an Ambassador in a competition running till the end of March. Here's the promo from John Bird:

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First ever Australian SSE cohort graduates in Sydney

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Hot on the heels of the first ever Cornwall graduation, the first Australian SSE Fellows have completed their programme in Sydney. Huge congratulations to all of them. You can see their projects + organisations here, and you can read the kind words of the Minister for Social Inclusion + Voluntary Sector, Ursula Stephens here. Top quote from that was:

"Tonight our graduating social entrepreneurs have become fellows of
the global School for Social Entrepreneurs network, which comes with
enormous responsibility – responsibility beyond your individual
business interests. A responsibility to share the knowledge your have
learned with others, to support each other and to maintain a network
with your fellow graduates where you can keep the passionate fire of
creativity burning.

I have little doubt that your time at School for Social
Entrepreneurs Australia has equipped you with the ability to make an
even greater contribution to your local community and beyond.

I would like to commend you for the tenacity, entrepreneurial drive
and commitment reflected in all your inspiring projects, and wish you
the best for the future."

As ever, though, images and pictures speak louder than words, so here is a video featuring some of these pioneering social entrepreneurs. Congratulations again from all of us over here to all of you over there!

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Tim Smit tells first Cornwall SSE Fellows to be bold!

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Photo_11901_20100215 I was privileged to attend the first ever graduation of the Cornwall School for Social Entrepreneurs last Friday. And what a venue the Eden Project provided, thanks to Tim Smit + his team, for the first 15 social entrepreneurs from the county to become SSE Fellows.

Tim is Patron to the Cornwall SSE, and opened proceedings in rousing fashion, saying that "social enterprise is the most important business model" and that none of the Fellows should underestimate what can be achieved when you "get a group of people who believe in something" together. He talked of Grameen Bank and Grameen Phone as examples to demonstrate ambition and vision; and of the need for an investment in leadership.

I loved what he had to say about the need for social entrepreneurs to "take gambles based on knowledge, gambles worth taking", and on having support systems in place for when you fail (which is to be encouraged). He emphasised that the (support) networks and relationships from going through the SSE programme will be the "people you need who will catch you if you fall".

Finally, he said that he was proud to be a patron, wished them the best of luck, to be brave, bold, aggressive and ambitious, to demand mentorship and, characteristically, to not "believe the hippy shit that you can't make profit".

It's a tough gig to follow Tim at the best of times, but this day was really about the 15 social entrepreneurs completing the first ever Cornwall programme. You can see their details online via the SSE Cornwall website, or download the pdf of the great graduation booklet to learn more about each of their projects and organisations. They cover a huge breadth and diversity of areas, as ever: claims management, fuel poverty, positive news, circus courses, menopause self-care, mental health, sustainable clothing, fair trade, and more.

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It would be wrong to pick out any individual, but massive congratulations to them all: they all gave fabulous presentations, and have made tremendous progress since I facilitated a session with them in Penzance last year. And nice for those who've worked tirelessly behind the scenes (Sally, Charlotte, Carolyn, Suzanne, Carleen and many more) to make this happen to hear some of the quotes during the day from these new Fellows:

"SSE has enabled me to be the person I want to be"

"As my tutor said, 'imperfect action is better than perfect inaction' "

"SSE has helped me get real"

"I have faced down the dreaded business plan!"

"With the guidance and advice I've had, I know I will set it up"

"SSE opened up a lot of doors for me"

"SSE has been fantastic, enjoyable and emotional"

"SSE has allowed me to learn from others, and have a network of people who believe in me"

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As Tim said, the true success of Cornwall SSE will be judged by what it, and those it has supported, have achieved in 10 years' time. And, as he says, "The School is a vital addition to the capacity of Cornwall and we at Eden are proud to be supporters". It's certainly off to a great beginning, as are these Cornwall social entrepreneurs, and we look forward to carrying on supporting them on their journeys. And we'll work on the exchange programme with your 'twin' franchise in Sydney…. :0)

[P.S. If you're interested in being part of the next Cornwall group, check out recruitment details + info (pdf). They are recruiting now!]

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O2, social enterprise, and hitting the mainstream

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Peter_Simon_Sam_VOICE10 Amongst all the hullabaloo and fallout from the launch of the Social Enterprise Mark (see previous post for our take), most commentators missed what I think could be a much more important announcement made at Voice 10 last week: that O2 are committing to providing services and raising awareness of social enterprise to its customers and staff. Or, as they put it, "this is the age of social enterprise, and O2 is welcoming it with open arms". See the page on their website for more.

Obviously for this to be more than just standard CSR verbiage, O2 will need to follow through on that commitment, but I'm encouraged by what I've heard about the number of practical offers and initiatives to follow in the coming months, and the fact that the conversations are with the core business team, not the CSR department; the proof will be in the eating, as ever. The exciting thing is that, rather than looking inwardly at percentages of traded income and dividend levels, this is an example of getting the word out externally to a much bigger audience: through high street retail outlets, a website with reach far beyond any in this sector, and to staff (c. 30,000) and customers (nigh on 20 million) in huge numbers. A massive opportunity for the movement, potentially.

The Social Enterprise Ambassadors programme has often been criticised, sometimes rightly, sometimes (I've felt, admittedly as a partner in its delivery: disclaimer!) inaccurately. But its original brief was to get the word out and raise awareness to new audiences: young people, commissioners, and the commercial business sector. This is a great example, led by Sam Conniff of Livity, of just that kind of work. Alongside the job swaps being organised between ambassadors and leading corporate executives (working with organisations such as Google, Disney, Tribal, Coutts, Rok and more), and speaking engagements across the country, and the current mentoring competition, real progress is being made.

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(Social enterprise) mark my words….

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One of the (many!) benefits of working at the School for Social Entrepreneurs (SSE) is that we don’t have to spend too much of our time involved in the definition debates about “what is a social enterprise?” Social entrepreneurs start with a mission, a goal or social objective, and choose whichever activities, income streams, governance, business model and legal structure are best suited to achieving that initial aim. The challenge then becomes one of gaining legitimacy + credibility, through concentrating on financial sustainability, quality of delivery, measuring social impact, involving stakeholders, and communicating all of that transparently. As Aleksandr Orlov would say, “Simples”. 

Where the mark becomes of relevance is for SSE students and Fellows who have chosen a social enterprise model or structure, which is an increasing number: from Bikeworks to Catch 22 magazine to Patient Opinion (and countless others at an earlier stage). And the mark could potentially be useful in helping a social entrepreneur and their social enterprise establish that crucial credibility and legitimacy, given that the criteria cover social impact, trading (relating to financial sustainability), governance etc, and that the mark is all about communication. 

As a ‘learning-by-doing’ organization, ultimately the success of the mark will be judged not this week, or possibly even this year but in 5 or 10 years time. While the CIC structure has itself been a useful ‘identifier’ for the public sector (as I pointed out previously here), a mark that has recognition and value across sectors and markets would have real value. That recognition and value will only come through practice and usage, and whether it is perceived to be worth it on both sides (by practitioners, such as SSE students, starting up and by the markets they operate in). 

 So for all the rumours (is it a halo, is it a swoosh?….does the Guardian qualify for the mark? will Peter Holbrook be fired from a cannon across the stage at Voice 10 to launch it?) and the intense, inward-facing debates that have surrounded the mark to date, and for all the unanswered questions that remain (how will it be marketed, priced, assured, sustained?), the much more important times are ahead. Because now it’s about delivery, not debate; practice, not planning; marking territory, not marking time.

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