Social entrepreneurs in Fife: Tracey, Frankie, Alfie and Kathleen

FifeDartington It’s been a great and amazing couple of days, reaffirming why I love working in this field, and what it can achieve. Wednesday included a ‘webinar’ on using social media with Fellows dialling in from across the UK and Australia, which went well despite the expected digital glitches; and also a session with one of the new London programmes (see who are on the Block and Weekly programmes here; profiles are gradually being filled in!) on problem tree analysis….which is more interesting and practically useful than it might sound.

Today, I was invited to attend and speak at the SSE Fife graduation of their latest programme, under the banner Motivate to Innovate. Fife was our first SSE franchise, and BRAG, where it’s based, have been a trusted, committed, supportive and, at times, forgiving partner. What John, Dodie, Callum (in picture, left, with several of Fife programme) and, especially, Tracey have achieved over the years in Lochgelly, Fife, and now across other parts of Scotland, is incredibly impressive. They themselves have demonstrated so many of the characteristics the graduating students spoke about today: resilience, support, drive, persistence, commitment, determination, resourcefulness.

The social entrepreneurs graduating today were a typical SSE mix of projects, ages, genders and backgrounds; do check them out. They each spoke about the importance of the support of their peers, and of other networks they tapped into; of how this was a journey of confidence and self-awareness and belief as well as skills and knowledge; and of how hard it was, but also how rewarding. Or as Lorna, one of the new Fellows, put it, “It’s been tough; but worth it”. There were tears, laughter and a great deal of inspiration at the event today.

I also caught up with Frankie, SSE Fellow and Executive Director of Recycle Fife. He came in to support these newest Fellows, and told me that things are going well, with almost 40 staff now working at the organisation, and several potential new eco-developments coming up: he’s got countless great ideas, but he’s also proven he and the RF team can implement them. He also pointed out to me that their success is as much about the people they work with, train, and employ as it is the environmental benefits (around 1120 customers; diverts around 180 tonnes per month from landfill). He talked to me about a guy called Alfie who is now working in his first ever job, aged 48, at Recycle Fife; at first, they didn’t have the money to take him on, so he volunteered for 11 months, worked with the organisation on some of the things that had been a barrier in the past, and is now a few months into gainful employment. You can fill in the blanks on the change that brings in someone’s life.

I will finish by briefly mentioning Kathleen, one of the social entrepreneurs who graduated today. She outlined the challenges and traumas in her background, the things she had overcome, and the journey she and her kids had been on over the last 8 or 9 years. Having gone back through education, rebuilt her home life, retrained, and re-oriented herself, she is now committed to supporting and helping others: setting up an organisation that provides therapies for those going through similar experiences. I can’t really get across how powerful her presentation was, how impressive her journey is, or how the room was hanging on her every word; suffice to say that she had to ask for tissues half way through, and there were plenty of other less-than-dry eyes.

I come away inspired and humbled. As I said to the new Fellows, I’ve attended a few events recently where a mixture of management consultants, venture capitalists, MBA students and politicians have propounded their views on why social enterprise and social entrepreneurs are important, and setting forth their views on what all this stuff is about. I'm glad those conversations are happening. But today reaffirmed that, for me at least, it is at its heart about people. People like Tracey, Frankie, Alfie and Kathleen.

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Social enterprise + social entrepreneurship links of the week (to 23/4/10)

In times gone by, I used to scan through the SSE bookmarks on for what we had been noting and reading during a week gone by. Now, increasingly, it's looking back through the tweets on the SSE Twitter account as well. Anyway, here's a few of the more interesting links of relevance and interest: from last week:

– Probably the most read set of articles was McKinsey's selection on social entrepreneurship to coincide with the Skoll Forum. I found "It takes a network" the most interesting of those, particularly Raj Kumar's closing thought that:

"In time, the social-enterprise community may find that measuring scale
and impact at the network level (rather than at the level of the
individual enterprise) is a more accurate measure of the true scale of
social change and a better way for investors to gauge the return on
their social investment."

– SSE Fellow Junior Smart made the Independent's list of 100 People making Britain Happy

– Ben Metz wrote a challenging post on the Guardian blog ("Let's be honest about social enterprise") about how the UK should be more honest about what it's got wrong as well as right, and the need for a co-ordinated international approach. It also took at a few sideswipes along the way at some existing schemes, which prompted comments and other fall-out (which you can find on Ben's follow-up blog post). I don't agree with it all, but am inclined to agree with Rod Schwartz's comment ("If we are unable to look at ourselves critically we will be forever sub-par, inadequate and amateurish")

– More sessions up for the forthcoming SHINE unconference and also opportunities to volunteer; buy your tickets soon…..

– The Guardian and the Social Enterprise Coalition did some good work comparing the various 'social policy' and 'social enterprise' aspects of the manifestos; worth reading David Wilcox and Rob Greenland on the Conservatives' #bigsociety stuff especially, of which more soon.

– New nfpSynergy research found that small charities were more trusted and perceived as less wasteful than larger ones, though more likely to be amateurish.

More business school graduates say they want a career with ethical / social purpose. Open to comments on whether this is a good or a bad thing :0)

That's all for now. Will leave you with this cartoon which some of you may find appropriate ;0)


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5 thoughts from OxfordJam and the Skoll World Forum

OxfordJamI was lucky enough to spend some of last week up in Oxford while the Skoll World Forum and OxfordJam were going on. Alastair Wilson, SSE's CEO, was on the panel over at Skoll (you can check out the video of his session, Government + Social Entrepreneurs, over at the Skoll site along with the videos of all the other sessions), while I was over at the free 'fringe' event, OxfordJam, expertly organised on a shoestring budget and a whole load of effort by Ben Metz, Alise Kirtley and Amanda Jones (and friends!). You can find a lot of stuff on Twitter, Flickr and the rest by searching #swf10 and #oxfordjam

I was a bit in and out of the events, as I had to head back to London for meetings on a couple of days, but thought I'd chip in some thoughts from the few days:

1) After hours matters: I've talked about this before, but it is the conversations in bars, over dinners and so on where the 'whole person' comes out and trusted / new relationships are built. OxfordJam had dinners + an open mic session as really the flagship parts of the event, not the add-on. And it worked: I listened to a long podcast recently about Jim Fruchterman of Benetech (which was fascinating), but felt more able to have a conversation with him after seeing him sing Gilbert + Sullivan :0)

2) Honesty repays: The session I facilitated was about lessons learned from the replication of SSE; it always feels risky to open up about mistakes we made, whether that be about our first misfiring effort at codification (capturing what made SSE unique + special), moving from reactive to proactive in how we expanded, the robustness of the franchise package now (as opposed to then…) and so on. But the session went well: countless questions, and it felt like genuine learning shared, positive and negative. And, though it sometimes feels counter-intuitive, it helps build organisational credibility.

3) Action!: The sessions and workshops that appealed to me most over the few days were those that focused on practice: on transactions, deals, partnerships and action. Where people talked theoretically or ethereally about more conversations, more visiting and chatting, it just seemed like a nice way of perpetuating the status quo. Increasingly, I feel that things change through practice and action, and that effective policy and strategy and markets are created out of those..

4) Relationships and networks come through: This goes back to Ben and OxfordJam, but also to Nathaniel Whittemore (over at and team who organised a spontaneous TEDxVolcano in London for all the 'volcano refugees' from Skoll. Both relied heavily on personal relationships (the person's own 'brand', if you like) and also the ability to network effectively, via Facebook, e-mail, mobiles and, yes, Twitter. I'm not sure if I'd go as far as Peter Deitz to coin a new term (see this discussion about Social Interpreneurship), but I certainly think the nature of events has. And there are lessons for social entrepreneurs in building networks and relationships in an authentic way here as well.

5) No more heroes…: We've written here before about the myth of the heroic individual social entrepreneur, and critiqued Skoll, Ashoka, Schwab and others for perpetuating that myth in the past (as opposed to successful social entrepreneurs building effective teams, groups, networks and movements that support and sustain and scale their change). And, indeed, been critiqued for it ourselves at times. But I think that rhetoric did start to shift more at this event; yes, there were still awards for individuals (and there's no denying that there were some extraordinary people at both events), but the focus was much more predominantly on collaboration, partnerships and teams. Which, from the feedback I heard, made for a more thoughtful, real and mature series of outcomes.

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Brief social entrepreneurship thoughts on the Conservative manifesto

In the spirit of yesterday's brief look at the Labour manifesto, here's a look at the Conservatives' new document. Again, I'm not going to plough through all the detail that the Coalition has pulled out, or has already been discussed over several preceding weeks.

Much of the relevant stuff for social entrepreneurs was announced in the Big Society launch the previous week, with a Big Society Bank (also utilising money from unclaimed assets) providing finance to neighbourhood groups, social enterprises and charities; and also providing funding to intermediary bodies with a "track record of supporting and growing social enterprises". There's also the national citizens service, as well documented elsewhere, and the training up of independent community organisers to establish neighbourhood groups. It will be interesting to see where community organiser ends and early-stage social entrepreneur begins, I think…or when neighbourhood groups formalise their work and begin to trade or win contracts.

There is some interesting back to employment stuff, including a community learning fund to help people restart their careers, and "Work For Yourself" which gives access to mentoring + loans. Like Labour, employee-led and owned co-ops to deliver public services feature, as does the opportunity for parents to start new schools (still a very emerging space, this one). An intriguing one, and one that could be really interesting (given so many of the barriers are about culture, mindset and understanding) is recognising participation in social action in civil servants' appraisals.

Not much revelation then, but reading both these party documents, and acknowledging that government is only part of the social entrepreneurship world and space (and that there's much that needs detail and grounding), one has to stand back and recognise how much more recognition and understanding there is across the political spectrum of what this movement can contribute.

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Brief social entrepreneurship thoughts on the Labour manifesto

Labour's manifesto came out today, as you may have noticed from the ubiquitous blanket coverage everywhere. So I won't linger on the subject. Suffice to say that the Coalition have done a good job of pulling out all the relevant detail for social enterprise + social entrepreneurs in the document. So that we don't have to ;0)

I'm most happy to see the "Promote the creation of more social enterprise hubs in every community", which was one of the five big calls in our Social Entrepreneurs Manifesto (authored with, by and for social entrepreneurs and other support agencies). I would add that I think it is crucial that these hubs or community anchors have people development and support built into them: as we all know, the most important assets in a community are the human ones, and the most important resources are human too. It might also be interesting to think about where these might be situated: where are the social enterprise shared spaces in smaller towns, rural areas, or deprived boroughs? (there's a session coming up at Shine about exactly this)

Otherwise, much as expected: Social Investment Bank, Social Impact Bonds (both of which I think we'll see from the Conservatives also, though they may be called something slightly different), more right to request, more asset transfer, and so on. Good to see community shares and community land trusts in there as well, along with some useful financial exclusion stuff: often overlooked but potentially massively important initiatives. A disappointing lack of numbers though; the only things with a number next to it are the Future Jobs Fund (to be continued to support 200,000 jobs) and the Social Investment Bank (£75m): that's to be expected, I guess, as the reality and detail that flow from the language become apparent over the next five years of whichever government wins.

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