Social entrepreneur weekly wisdom: 8 quotes to ponder

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Been another busy week at SSE with little time for posts, although we have been adding a few articles of interest to the SSE del.icio.us bookmarks, and continuing to post on Facebook + Twitter. Just thought I'd share some things I've heard this week that have got me thinking (so might do for you too).

"Businesses obsessed with shareholder dividends are focusing on the scoreboard not the game"

[Gary Hamel, being interviewed by the brilliant Peter Day]

– For social entrepreneurs working with private companies, "building of mutual trust is crucial, otherwise the dialogue remains superficial"

[David Carrington, chairing part of the Venture Partnership Foundation's mini-conference]

– it should be about a "competition for impact, not just a competition for resources"

[Simon Maddrell, from the fascinating Excellent Development, on competing social entrepreneurs]

"Social businesses are like engines that never stop running and need no fuel from the outside"

[Muhammad Yunus, in town to speak at the RSA]

– Let's "crowdsource the cuts"

[Karl Wilding  from NCVO, here, asking everyone to help build a picture of how the cuts are having impact]

"The 'rising tide lifts all boats' theory of economic progress does assume that everyone has a boat…"

[can't remember, but has stayed with me….]

"The role of social enterprises, charities and cooperatives in public services will be enhanced"

[er…The Queen. More important for who said it rather than what in this case….]

"There's nothing wrong with focus and growing slowly. Walmart was one store for 12 years."

[Can't remember where I heard this either, but similarly stayed with me. Such a crucial message for those who feel they are being compelled to scale too early]

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Shine 2010: unconference photos

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Slideshow of some of the photos from the Shine 2010 unconference, Thursday and Friday last week.
Photographic evidence that I did indeed run out of chairs for my 'introduction to measuring social impact' session, amongst much else besides…..

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What is the role of social entrepreneurs in the Big Society?

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SHINE-logo_372616a [copy and pasted from the live Independent blog that accompanied Shine 2010; see David Floyd's write-ups for more on Shine]

The Shine Unconference started with the launch of a new report from ResPublica about the Venture Society, looking at ways in which the support structures that already exist to support social entrepreneurs can be scaled up to meet the significant challenges that lie ahead. There was also a representative from the Big Society network which, as an idea closely associated with the Conservatives, got a fair old kicking during the election campaign.

While it's interesting to debate the reasons why the Big Society idea has been pilloried from both sides (in brief, the left saying it is a smokescreen for savage welfare cuts; the right that it is unclear, communitarian or even Fabian; some have even paraphrased the famous Thatcher quote to say that "there's no such thing as big society"), it's perhaps worthwhile reflecting that this is as much a debate about top-down versus bottom-up as it is about left versus right. Part of the critiques of the Big Society idea was that it appeared to be aspiring to be a bottom-up network or movement….but that's a difficult position to pull off when you're announced in a top-down political party kind of way. The network has since been working away to emphasise that it is in listening and engaging mode.

Whichever your position, these are uncertain and fascinating times for social entrepreneurs. No-one here underestimates the challenges ahead, but there is also a tension or excitement at the opportunities that may also become available. For the social entrepreneurship movement, it is also a time to weigh up the possibliities. It is a time to seize opportunities, but not only be replacement public service deliverers; to be pragmatic and resourceful, but not stray off their original mission; to not lose their innovation and reach, but also look at the chances to scale interventions that work; and to work with government where it works, but be straight with them about when government funding is required. Rob Greenland has made similar points on his blog here, saying "Now the hard work begins…." As Michael Young used to say, it is a time to really be sure of the balance between hard-headed and high-minded.

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Reflections on elections (for social entrepreneurs)

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ElectionIt's looking more likely that either a Conservative minority or Con-Lib Dem coalition will be coming into power following one of the more unpredictable and uncertain elections in recent times. Indeed, as happy as I was to be asked for my opinions on what was "great", what we should "hate" and what would be our priority from a new government, it did seem (and still does!) a little premature. So what's the news for social entrepreneurs?:

– All the parties are broadly supportive of social enterprise + social entrepreneurship, so this area can actually be a place of coalition + partnership: a thing they agree on. This could be a good thing (stuff might happen) or it might mean that the focus and priorities are elsewhere. This article, which quotes Nick Hurd and Jenny Willott, implies that the cross-party consensus makes it more likely that this will be an area of progress.

– Local still matters. It was interesting that Shaun Bailey, the Conservative social entrepreneur candidate in Hammersmith, failed to win. But many think this was largely a rejection of the council's activities (link is to an Independent article, which is refuted here) rather than Bailey himself, or a reflection of pretty equal campaigning resources on the ground. Countless other constituencies reflected local concerns and issues, rather than national ones.

– Bailey was front and centre of the Big Society idea as well (the Big Society blog gives updates / discussion). Much has been written on this too, from those on the left who see it as a cynical front for Tory cuts in welfare, and those on the right who view it as near-Fabian in its communitarian aspirations. My feeling is Patrick Butler has it about right in this round-up: "the election knock-about over David Cameron's 'big society' has
somewhat obscured, misrepresented or trivialised some of the ideas
within it";
and a group of social entrepreneurs and support agencies have signed a letter to that effect, 'defending' civil society.

Not to say that the idea shouldn't be questioned, investigated, challenged and critiqued (most cogently by Rob Greenland), but it has tended to be simplified to "volunteering" in the newspapers. And the debate has rather ignored that most of the policies in the social enterprise / entrepreneurship space are similar on both sides, and that, simply, cuts will happen. The disagreement on cuts can be about how much, how fast and where they are targeted, but there's little disagreement between the parties that social entrepreneurs and the wider civil society will be expected to grow and do more.

– Social Enterprise Magazine has a round-up of those MPs (relevant to social enterprise) who have lost, gained or saved their seats. Whatever happens, we will have a new minister for the Third Sector (or Civil Society), as Angela Smith lost her seat as expected; as did previous minister Phil Hope in the even more marginal Corby.

– On a lighter note, SSE Fellow Susan Archibald stood against Gordon Brown in his Kirkcaldy constituency, and just narrowly failed in her attempt….she is, however, the most searched person on the SSE website this week…

– And finally, it's interesting to consider that the politicians are now having to take on what they always encourage from us: partnership and coalition working. We won't know the result for a bit, but we can certainly guarantee a significant amount of resources, time and energy expended on partnership formation….problems over governance + agreeing process, and bringing the people in both organisations with them will be a challenge.

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