Shine 2010: buy your tickets to the social entrepreneurs unconference

Been busy of late: usual end-of-year shenanigans here, with programmes graduating (see this article on London SSE), and new ones starting (see this article on SSE coming to Wigan and Leigh), a launch of an SSE feasibility study (with MaRS in Toronto), and lots of policy work (see the Social Entrepreneurs Manifesto) in the pre-election build-up.

Looking forward though, I'm very excited about this year's Shine 2010 unconference. Now entering its third year, Shine was set up by co-founders SSE, UnLtd, Ashoka and The Hub to create an event that was accessible, practical, dynamic and fun for grassroots + up-and-coming social entrepreneurs. No boring powerpoints, no long plenary sessions, no tedious speeches from sponsors, more questions and interaction, more peers + practitioners than experts, more networking, and more directly relevant stuff to help organisations move forward.

This year, from May 13th-15th is shaping up to be the biggest and best ever: but only with your help…and your presence. So buy your ticket below (about £50 for 3 days…and 2 parties!), and then click on the relevant links on the website to contribute your content, and shape your own programme. Like all the best things in life, you get out what you put in! Looking forward to seeing you all there; and follow for more updates.

Attendee Management by amiando

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Why the Social Entrepreneur Search is exciting…and worrying

The UK likes to position itself as a leader in social entrepreneurship, but in some areas I think we are way behind. Take the new Social Entrepreneur Search widgets in the US, which themselves come from the Social Entrepreneur API. For the non-geeks, an API is tech-speak for an 'application programming interface' which basically provides data or information that is open and available for others to use and do what they will with (as Social Actions put it, "The Social Entrepreneur API dataset is available for any website or
individual to search, syndicate, republish, or use to build web
applications, widgets, and search engines"
). And so these new search widgets and engines have been developed from that data source.

On the one hand, this is tremendously exciting. It's open, collaborative, innovative, connective and potentially helps match social entrepreneurs to investors / funders / journalists / other entrepreneurs in a way that is currently not possible in the closed and more clunky UK equivalents. [I'd include our own online SSE Fellows database in the 'clunky' category, which is currently searchable by field, by geography and by keyword etc, but is not in this kind of shape…yet]. It also opens up the possibility of taking this information and publishing it or syndicating it anywhere: potentially enormously powerful. Kudos goes to Social Actions, Social Edge, and the funders who've both funded the work and contributed the data.

So why worrying? Because the data for these 'vetted' social entrepreneurs only comes from a relatively small range of funders who fund fairly big scale, 'successful' social entrepreneurs (Skoll Foundation, Schwab Foundation, Echoing Green etc). What concerns me about that is that, as with the main Ashoka Fellows programme, the resources and connections and profile are often being diverted to those who need it, in many cases, the least: those who are already credible, sizeable, recognisable and well networked enough to attract funds, gain support and expand their work. Is the risk not of funnelling more resource to the well-resourced, rather than tapping the under-resourced and under-networked into this opportunity?

Partly, of course, I acknowledge that's for us to sort out: if I want SSE Fellows (or UnLtd wants its awardees) to be part of this, then we will have to invest in getting our data sorted for the API, and make the case. And I had that discussion with Social Edge about UK sources. There is also the question, though, of whether these would be considered 'vetted' or credible enough for the project (who judges that?). And yet we know from experience that social entrepreneurs want to discover peers like them (or just ahead of them), not just 'stars' (indeed these extraordinary, unachievable role models can actually deter new entrants), and that funders are interested in new (riskier) innovations, not just credible and mature success stories. Nat Whittemore on reckons the API / search won't be a supply of much funding, but we also know that those who feature in research, journalism, blogs and profiles end up getting more support and resource in the long run.

Dan Elitzer at Full Contact Philanthropy thinks the widget is potentially damaging because it "promotes the damaging mythology of the social entrepreneur" (a point with some validity that I've answered in the comments on that post), but I think the greater potential damage could come from scaling and championing the few, instead of including, inspiring, resourcing and connecting the many.

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Openness and transparency, at breakfast, lunch and dinner

I was trying to work out how to capture a few different bits of learning from the week and various different meetings, and thought I'd do so via the theme of openness…and three meals. 

1) First up, I met with David Gold and some of the Prospect-us team over dinner to discuss how to use social media effectively. Prospect-us are a third sector recruitment agency, and, alongside being their CEO, David is also a knowledgeable and supportive champion of SSE (and many SSE Fellows). It was great to meet some of his senior team and share our experience of using social media to achieve SSE's communication aims. Indeed, much of the conversation was about twitter, blogs, facebook, linkedin and the like being means to an end, not an end in themselves (something I made clear in my contribution to the excellent Social by Social guide), and the need to cut through the noise + measure impact / success.

Openness was also central to the conversation: how it was refreshing to be honest and transparent (which builds trust, which builds credibility); how it was about internal organisational culture, not just external web activity; about the limits of openness (i.e. how open and honest can you be on an organisational blog: needless to say, I have blogged about this…); and about the line between personal and organisational on web 2.0. Fascinating couple of hours for me (to reflect, and strategize retrospectively!), and hopefully for David and the team too.

2) Secondly, lunch at the Ideas Exchange run by Gordon D'Silva over at Training For Life. Whilst attracted by lunch at the great Hoxton Apprentice, of course, it was the content of the debate that was of more interest. Gordon is committed to sharing and openness and had invited people to learn from some of Training For Life's experiences over the last couple of years. As he said, to learn from the good and the bad; I'd agree with his acknowledgement that this sector is not always very good at sharing its mistakes and challenges as much as its success. This is natural, to a degree, but (as we see on SSE programmes day in day out), learning comes from doing things, getting things wrong, and learning from them. Kudos to Gordon both for sharing, and for challenging others to be open and share. And, actually, though counter-intuitive, sharing the reality of challenges doesn't necessarily impair an organisation's standing. In many cases, as mentioned above, it can build greater trust and greater credibility.

3) Finally (and we are going in reverse meal order), I attended a Social Innovator breakfast at NESTA where the Young Foundation were launching their newest publication and companion website: the Open Book of Social Innovation and As the name would suggest, this is a book of social innovation: of the processes, connections and methods by which social innovation is achieved. A superb piece of work, filled not only with great case studies and innovations from across the world, but also with insights into how successful social innovation is instigated, replicated and implemented. Whilst some of the speakers present at the breakfast were seemingly congenitally unable to stick to anything like their allotted time, Sophi Tranchell brought a welcome clarity and concision to proceedings, and urged those present not to be 'thinkers' but be 'doers' and find ways to implement and put ideas into practice.

Much food for thought (if you excuse the pun) from all three meals, and no doubt more to follow as I process and digest (!) it all. For me, transparency and openness is so important for social entrepreneurs (see the Transparency of Social Entrepreneurs), and for all new aspiring businesses, that it holds great interest and great relevance.

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Cornwall SSE and Hampshire SSE: new videos!

A couple more videos to share with you all, from the Cornwall and Hampshire SSEs respectively.

The Cornwall video was shown at their recent graduation, and features interviews with the student social entrepreneurs as they come towards the end of their programme.

CSSE Animated Success from Matt Stent on Vimeo.

This Hampshire video features some of their social entrepreneurs on project visits, which is a key part of the SSE programme, giving the students a chance to not only hear from a social entrepreneur about how they've developed and grown their organisation, but to do so in an environment or at a location that brings that to life.

Hampshire School for Social Entrepreneurs from Shedlight on Vimeo.

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