A year scaling up with SSE

With applications opening for Lloyds Bank Social Entrepreneurs Programme on Monday 2nd February we wanted to repost this blog piece by Becky John where she reflects on her experience on our Scale Up programme. Becky is the Founder of the wonderful social enterprise ‘Who Made Your Pants‘. Follow her @WhoMadeYour & @BeckyPants.

If you think you’d like to come on one of our programmes you can sign up to attend a free taster session here.

“Adieu School for Social Entrepreneurs”

Since October 2013, I have been on a training and development programme called the Lloyds Bank Social Entrepreneurs Scale Up Programme. My year there ended recently – the 2nd October. And I’ve been thinking about what I’ve learned. It’s both ‘wow everything’ and ‘oh that old thing I’ve known that for ages’ – as it’s just all assimilated so fast.

I don’t know about you but I am deeply – deeply – cynical about a lot of training and learning. Maybe it’s the countless sales courses I’ve been on in my time but I tend to think that a lot of training is a chore, its not relevant, it not applicable – and its a waste of time as it takes you way from the actual work in hand.

When I applied to go on this programme, I will be bluntly honest and say that the £15k grant that came with the training was as attractive as the programme sounded. The thing that really grabbed me though was the focus on practical learning,. Their website says

‘Our courses are practical, rather than theoretical, and you will be able to apply what you learn to your own organisation straight away’

and it’s absolutely true.

Every eight weeks or so I’ve trotted up to Tooley Street in London for two days. I’ve stayed with a friend, which has been nice, but also eased the train fare burden. I’ve rocked up to number 139 by 9.45 each day and had coffee and biscuits – and carrot sticks, thanks to course colleague Jo- and then spent two days talking, listening, learning, absorbing. Rhiannon said, in our end of course wrap up, ‘I’m not really sure where I learned anything – I never felt like I was being taught’ and I know what she means. But like her, I’ve gone away every time able to go straight back into work and say right, we need to think about this thing this way. And every time it’s made us leap – leap – forward.

I’d genuinely be a little bit embarrassed to tell you about some of these changes as where we were before them now looks- frankly – terrifying. A kind of ‘oh my GOD how had I got us into that situation and not noticed’ . But that’s the reality of running a social enterprise and being broke and trying to do everything well and kindly, you cant keep your eye on every ball and you can easily find yourself with something fairly major going horribly wrong right in front of you – that you’d not had time to notice yet. When you’re constantly firefighting, the biggest fires get your energy – it doesn’t mean there aren’t smaller ones but they just have to wait.

So. In practical terms, what have I learned? I’ve learned the what, why and how of Management Accounts, I’ve learned about how to slow down when I speak in public. I’ve learned that I am not alone – that there are other people trying to do a good thing and finding it hard. I’ve learned that I LOVE Action Learning. I’ve learned that lots of social businesses live a knife edge existence. I’ve learned about board structures and leadership and how to ensure your values stay when your organisation grows, I’ve learned to say no to offers of help that aren’t helpful and I’ve learned t trust myself more. I’ve learned structures for talks  – I’ve learned that there ARE structures for talks! I’ve learned that sometimes a nail is just a nail – I’ve learned things I didn’t know I didn’t know and that’s exactly what I wanted to do.

As well as that I’ve had a fantastic tutor who has been unafraid to tell me when I need to change something. That’s priceless. When you’re at the top of your own small tree, people don’t. And I know I am a better person and WMYP is better and stronger as a result. Thanks Bert.

If you’re running, starting or thinking about a social business I would genuinely recommend you fight tooth and nail to get onto courses at the SSE. The entire team are brilliant – they communicate helpfully, thoughtfully and constructively. I suspect I’m not among alone social entrepreneurs in that my social business grew out of my own pain and problems – I’m used to thing being hard and to having to fight. The SSE team are genuinely good and supportive and it took me a while to get used to that.

I’m already booked onto my next course there and know it will not be my last. See you at the coffee pot.


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