Is trust the most radical and efficient thing we have?

TursttraumaA little while back, I wrote a post about whether a trust-based society could help square the public service delivery circle: the idea being that, in a time of fewer resources but greater need, removing middling tiers of bureaucratic infrastructure from top-down projects could help more resources reach the grassroots and allow more delivery and impact to take place. That a 'contract-based' society that emphasises monitoring rather than measurement, accountability rather than transparency, is actually a hindrance to genuine devolution. (On that subject, there's an interesting piece worth reading on whether we there is now a risk of a new 'transparency bureaucracy' being created….).

There is an updated version of the paper SSE's chair Charlotte Young has written on this subject, downloadable as a pdf, which asks (and begins to answer): How Can Social Entrepreneurs Help Build A Big Society (pdf)

I was reminded of this reading this article yesterday by Aditya Chakrabortty about A Revolution in Global Aid which describes how cash is starting to be simply, well, given to the poor. No large infrastructure projects with government-NGO-private sector partnerships, but a devolving of money straight to those who need it. On the one hand, cash transfers like this sound ridiculously naive (as some of the comments below the article say), but it is actually about focusing on the best use of resources, about challenging the status quo, about being aware of the risks but being prepared to be radical. And about focusing on the outcomes, rather than on the intermediary processes and bureaucracy.

So, without wishing to sound like a hippy seeking to hug it out with all and sundry, I do wonder if trust could be a core part of the answer to the question that so many are asking in different ways: how can we deliver more for less? how can we achieve more efficiency but increase impact? how can we use the current circumstances to foster innovation at the grassroots? how do we create a big society?

And trust comes in different forms: not just trust from official bodies that money will be spent in a particular way, not just the trust that needs to return in those official institutions (political, financial), not just the trust to be (re)built in communities and between neighbours, not just the trust each social entrepreneur needs to build in their own work and those who support them, but also the trust in oneself to create and be part of change. As a wiser man than I put it (the playwright Chekhov), "You must trust and believe in people or life becomes impossible".

[hat tip as ever to the utterly brilliant Indexed blog for the image]

Share Button

Charlie Kalsi: social entrepreneur from Hampshire

It's always a pleasure to go out to the various franchises around the country and meet the social entrepreneurs that are moving their projects along, and seeking to change things. Our Hampshire SSE
has been running since the autumn in Portsmouth and are recruiting for the next programme already. Here's a video of one of their current students which demonstrates the support it's been giving to those looking to start up a social enterprise, a social business or a charity.

HSSE Case Study – Charlie Kalsi from Shedlight on Vimeo.

Share Button

6 of the Best: recent social entrepreneur reading

RulesexperienceHere's half a dozen recent posts and articles from experienced folk, well worth a read if you're in the social entrepreneurship world:

Craig Dearden-Phillips on public speaking: "….Step two is to watch carefully how people are responding. Do they look
bored – if they do, change gear, forget the plan. One person will
always be sleeping. Ignore this if others look ok. The odd person will
also suddenly get up and leave. Again don't worry – they are normally
taking a call or a pee. The overall mood is what matters."

Canadian social entrepreneur Al Etmanski on the importance of reciprocity:"We ignore reciprocity at our peril.  It
is no surprise social breakdown and diminished civic involvement
coincides with our economic troubles.  Reciprocity creates and
strengthens relationships and social networks. It is the foundation of
associational life of social life"

Nat Whittemore on Gates and Buffett's billionaire pledge: "I want these billionaires committed to the movement to change the world
for good, but the broader societal conversation we have to be having
can't just be about "giving back." It has to be about the very nature
of wealth creation, and the opportunity for the proto-Gateses and
Buffetts of the world to build lives of meaning, value, and yes
material wealth with a more integrated approach to social change from
day one."

Liam Black on staying focused on the core values of your business: "If you are running a real social enterprise don’t be distracted. Stay
focused on your customers, your cash and your colleagues. Anything else
at this time is a risky indulgence."

Anna Coote of New Economics Foundation on Big Society: "Co-production is an idea whose time has come. Co-production…builds local networks and strengthens the capacity of local groups. It draws upon the direct wisdom and experience that people have about what they need and what they can contribute, which helps to improve well-being and prevent needs arising in the first place"

Jeffrey Bradach on Scaling Social Impact (in SSIR): "Fifteen years ago, I started doing research on the challenges of
taking nonprofits to scale. The topic was still under the radar both
in the university and out in the field. My focus was growth through
replication, and when I presented papers and case studies, nonprofit
audiences often dismissed the ideas as “too corporate.” As one
audience member said to me:
“We are not McDonald’s. You cannot
use a cookie cutter to replicate the work we do.” "

Share Button

What are the policy and communications futures for social entrepreneurs?

My role at SSE is Policy and Communications Director, so in keeping with that, today a bit of policy, and a bit of comms.

First up, I contributed to the Society Guardian podcast (in association with KnowHowNonProfit which is well worth a look) and produced excellently by Sound Delivery, an organisation started by SSE Fellow Jude Habib. With Public Services editor David Brindle as host, I joined Stephen Bubb from ACEVO in the Guardian's impressive in-house studios, and we discussed the Big Society, the new influx of MPs with a charity background, and the renaming of the Office of the Third Sector to the Office of Civil Society. You can listen / download here for our thoughts on what's ahead.

Secondly, from a communications perspective, this slideset came across my radar from the ever-industrious Ben Matthews at Bright One. It's an initiative called Charity Comms 2020, and features great tips, advice and future thinking about how communications will change in the future for the sector. Jude pops up again here, along with a whole host of media experts and practitioners. Here's the set of slides:

Share Button

Deep impact: the how, who and why of social enterprise measurement

MeasureIt was a full day of impact measurement on Wednesday this week. Which for an evaluation + metrics geek such as myself, is a day of utter joy….

First up, I did my "Introduction to social impact measurement" workshop with the new SSE Cornwall cohort of social entrepreneurs. The starting point for us is to help them get a full understanding of the story of how they make a difference (their "theory of change"), before diving into indicators, tools and methodologies. As well as demystifying some of the measurement jargon…

What's always interesting about the process of mapping that story out (a methodology unapologetically cribbed + developed from the new economics foundation) is that it is also an incredibly useful planning tool, and also leads to better communication of the project or idea. The message I emphasised was the importance of measurement in the current climate: funding or investment or contracts without strong evidence will be extremely scarce. So it is more crucial than ever. And there are no excuses for not measuring our social impact; a point I was also making in this video (quickly!) at Chain Reaction's Stronger Communities get-together on the Big Society.

Having come back from Penzance on the longest-train-journey-in-the-world (possibly), I headed down to the Garden Museum for the SE100 awards event, wondering who would win. Read more about the winners and the event here. It is an excellent initiative which recognises growth in turnover, but also has impact measurement built into its very core. Congrats to Mow and Grow, FRC Group and Create Leeds, and to all the nominees. And congrats to Tim West and the team at Social Enterprise Mag (along with all their various partners + sponsors) for pioneering the index. As Doug Richard noted in his closing words, when a sector or movement has an index, it's getting serious. And for me, an important development to have the recognition of awards tied to demonstrable evidence and proof of success: again, incentivising others to grow their impact, and measure that impact. Which, as Peter Holbrook and Nick Hurd said, is exactly what will be required in the current economic situation. I'm hopeful that some of those Cornwall SSE students, and others around the UK, will be applying for the trailblazer award next year.

It is well worth reading the full SE100 documentation, which includes some interesting discussions about the Future Jobs Fund (which was crucial to Mow and Grow's growth), regional breakdown of the 100 organisations, and several really good practical case studies of how impact can be grown and measured.

Finally, it was interesting to note the announcement on the same day by Nick Hurd of the end of Futurebuilders in its current form. Future revenue from the fund (i.e. in loan repayments) will be used to give grants to stimulate the creation of groups and initiatives at a local + neighbourhood level; to be called "Communities First", according to a speech by Francis Maude. On the one hand, I largely agree with this decision: in the manifesto pulled together by social entrepreneurs and social entrepreneur support agencies, we called for freer, direct local investment in locally-based social entrepreneurs through seedcorn grants and support (see here for detail); we recommended this because "many start-up and fledgling social entrepreneur-led initiatives are
responding to needs in their own communities not being met by any
current, commissioned public service provision"
and that freer local investment is key to "encouraging innovation, active citizenship, and devolution of power"; I think this has much crossover with what is being proposed.

On the other hand, as we're discussing impact, the evaluation of Futurebuilders is worth a look (full report pdf here). Reading it for me, I don't think there's much doubt that it became more efficient, in its second incarnation, at giving out funds and selecting appropriate organisations for those loans (conversion rate, disbursement etc). Indeed, the evidence for impact on organisations' financial health and ability to deliver public services is strong; that for social returns and outcomes much less so. And there are some strong findings about the fact that these were new, 'unbankable' loans not being made elsewhere, providing new capital (i.e. they were highly 'additional')

Around 19% of loans went to smaller organisations (income under £100k) which is higher than I thought. Though it is interesting to also see that those organisations only won 10% of the contracts that FB investors gained (large orgs with turnover over £1m gained 46% of contracts by value). One assumes that all this has been fed into the decision-making process, otherwise (in effect), why do it: certainly, the evaluation's conclusion notes that social investment of this type will have to be looked at again in the context of more constrained social finances. And it is perhaps a decision also as much about policy emphasis (on social capital, community responsibility, and so on, as opposed to a relatively restricted version of 'public service delivery contracts') as about the type of investment (grant rather than loan). It will be fascinating to see what form the Big Society Bank takes, which Nick Hurd has stated is top of his agenda, and how it builds on all the experimentation and experience of the full range of social investors, including Futurebuilders.

Share Button