Thursday round-up: business, BeyondSport, books and Bubb

Lots to catch up on in the social enterprise and social entrepreneurship world….so without further ado:

– More Voice 09 reaction from Patrick Butler at Society Guardian, Eastside Consulting, guest speaker Robert Egger, in Social Enterprise Magazine and an excellent round-up from Craig Dearden-Phillips

– I enjoyed Mike Chitty's passionate response to Rob Greenland's post on "the table collapsing for social entrepreneurs"; well worth reading both of these.

– There was special Social business supplement in the Guardian this week as well. Was good to see some different writers in there, especially Martin Clark, who I have a lot of time for. Worth checking out his book the Social Entrepreneur Revolution as well. [update: Rob Greenland has this up as downloadable pdf on his blog]

– I met up with a couple of other interesting people this week: one was James Baderman who has done a great deal to support social entrepreneurs both via What If and also increasingly freelance in recent years. He's currently involved with Beyond Sport, which is well worth a look…particularly if you know of any sport-related social enterprise projects…..

– …the other person was Charmian Love over at Volans; they've got a really interesting report (the Phoenix 50) coming out at the end of March, and it was great to hear from her about their future plans

Recommended reading for social entrepreneurs from Social Edge. Almost, but not quite, as good as the SSE bookshop…. ;0)

– I can't bring myself to mention Twitter at any length yet. But we are there @SchSocEnt

– At Voice 09, it was also great to see Sean Coughlan from Social Entrepreneurs Ireland, who I hope to see when I'm over the other side in March. They announced their new awards scheme at the start of February, so if you know of any great Irish social entrepreneurs…send them here

– In addition to the £42.5million in the recession action plan, Capacitybuilders have announced an extra £1m to go direct to local support providers

– I haven't read Philanthrocapitalism yet, but it's certainly causing some strong opinions to fly at the moment. Check out Rod Schwartz's take on it…in parts one and two…and follow the links to the author's responses.

10 online resources for social entrepreneurs. Clearly, by some error, it doesn't include this blog / SSE, but we'll forgive them for putting a handy list together….

– And for those who enjoy Bubb's Blog, it behoves me to point out the new satirical version, Bogg's Blub. No word on the author yet, though perhaps a minister reacting to having their tie choice savaged? Or has a special post been created at NCVO? It can't match the original for entertainment, but is neatly written with a sharp eye. Most recently, in a bizarre art-imitating-blog-imitating-blog scenario, the original blog wrote about how a spoof had emerged, prompting the spoof to write about how "a certain fictional character Stephen Bubb has been spoofing my own thoughts with a joke blog". If you're still with me, you might be amused…..

Till next time       

Share Button

Top 5 (social entrepreneurship) books of the year

OK, so one list is never enough (and there's more to follow!). Here's my top 5 reads of the year, bearing some relation to social entrepreneurship…usually.

1) Estates by Lynsey Hanley. You can read my full take on this but all I'll say here is that this is the book that's stayed with me most, influenced my thinking (about our work and more generally), and carried both intellectual and emotional force.

2) Fiasco by Thomas Ricks. Again, full review here, but this was the 'I thought I knew all about this, but turns out I didn't really' book of the year for me. And I never thought that reading a book about the US miliitary invasion of Iraq would have me reflecting on strategic planning and organisational learning. Go figure….


3) The Social Entrepreneur by Andrew Mawson. Not the best written book I've read this year, and not short of ego at times, but this was still a great, inspiring read with heavy dollops of truth and insight thrown in for good measure. And easily readable in a bitesize style as well.

4) Forces for Good by Leslie Crutchfield & Heather McLeod Grant. The hackles were raised in advance for this; my presumption was that it would be very American, very "scale, scale, scale", very business school etc. Some of that was true, but it also emphasised the importance of a network mindset, of leadership that lasts, of the importance of advocacy, of adaptability, and of appropriate scaling (in different sizes and speeds) etc. Worth weaving through the jargon for the insights (full review to follow in Soc Ent Magazine next year).


5) Made to Stick by Chip and Dan Heath. Fuller review in this post
but I loved this; very good commute reading, and full of useful, usable tips…particularly as I'd just moved into a job with 'communications' in the title. As 'sticky' as the ideas it talks about in its own way.

And a final couple of notes: I've just read Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell, which is really interesting on the nature of success and how it comes about (culture, timing, hours…as well as talent). More on that next year no doubt.

Also, I would have included Craig Dearden-Phillips's Your Chance to Change the World, if it wasn't endorsed / affiliated to us. I still think it's the best practical guide for budding social entrepreneurs out there….indeed, at an event where an SSE Fellow and I were speaking recently, he unprompted pulled out a copy and started recommending it to all present. After I pointed out that we'd endorsed it, and that many SSE Fellows had given advice / tips to Craig, said Fellow mentioned he had no idea we had anything to do with it but had found it by far the best guide he'd found. Nuff said, methinks.

Happy new year all: next up are my top 10 things that inspired in 2008, and top 10 predictions and trends for 2009.

Share Button

What the Iraq War can teach you about strategic planning

Just as optimism reigns in the US, I've been reading about arguably its darkest days of recent times in the Iraq War. Fiasco by Thomas Ricks (a US journalist on the Washington Post) details the build-up to the war, the invasion, the insurgency, and the reconstruction efforts in fascinating detail. It's not an easy read and has left me, by turns, angry, frustrated, depressed but also uplifted, inspired and amazed. So what relevance to this blog and the world of social entrepreneurs? Well, a couple of things really stood out to me:

1) The first is the emphasis the military in the US places on learning (from mistakes). That may sound a bit bizarre, given that Iraq is largely viewed as a Vietnam repeat and, at least to start with, a case study in how not to carry out a counterinsurgency. Time and again, though, senior military figures give realistic assessments of what is happening / going wrong, and highlight what needs to be done to change this: and much of this is done publicly in workshops / publications / speeches and so forth. This happens throughout the first five years of the war, and the military's ability to be honest with itself, to highlight errors (and successes) and incorporate those into its future operations has been crucial in improving (eventually) its performance there. This doesn't apply to all, of course; some of the most senior figures involved consistently made out that Iraq was in a better state than it was, and continue to delude (or contradict) themselves to this day.

2) The second was about strategic planning. Ricks argues that the failure in Iraq was primarily one of strategic planning (or the lack of therein). Firstly, there was a lack of realism (if only their goals had been SMART) and a lack of consistency: their grounds for going to war were based on a worst-case scenario (i.e. Iraq has loads of WMD, Saddam works with Al-Qaeda, the US is under threat) while their plans for the occupation / reconstruction were based on a best-case scenario (we'll be welcomed as liberators, and the country's in an alright state etc).

Secondly, there was a lack of clarity over the actual objective of the invasion: was it about finding WMDs, was it about removing Saddam, was it about regime change, was it about introducing democracy to Iraq, or to the wider Middle East? (some would add, of course, was it about oil?) and so on; and it shifted as the politics demanded it. This was hugely confusing and bewildering for the troops on the ground, because each of these goals requires different operational activity, different tactics and so on. If you are unclear about your mission, how can you decide how you are going to get there and achieve it? How can you make decisions between where you apply resources (and how many are needed)?

Thirdly, there was a lack of planning in and of itself. Phase IV (the reconstruction) didn't have an overall plan in place when people arrived in Baghdad to start, whereas Phase III (the invasion) had been planned and war-gamed to within an inch of its life. 

Fourthly, the US Army had not done its homework on insurgency and counterinsurgency as a whole (though individual commanders had knowledge of, say, Vietnam or Algeria, and applied it appropriately), nor on experiences of occupation. They only started to bring in this learning 2-3 years in, in a formalised way (via pre-Iraq training etc).

Finally, there was also confused leadership / ownership between the State Department (Rumsfeld et al) and the military in Washington, and between the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) and the Army in Iraq. From Ricks' account, this caused untold problems at every level of operations.

So, lessons from the Iraq disaster?

– do your research (it may not involve Vietnam or Algeria, but is necessary)
– a plan is important (entrepreneurs are prone to action, but a thought-through plan is crucial)
– get clear on your overall objective / vision and ensure it is clear to everyone else involved
– be realistic in your planning, rather than overly pessimistic or optimistic
– be clear about leadership and autonomy over particular areas (and who has the final say over what)
– be open to learning, honest about mistakes and constantly try to improve

Not a bad checklist for a social entrepreneur, or for the new US President to insist on the next time someone suggests a military invasion…..

Share Button

Made To Stick: why some ideas take hold

Back in the summer, my role switched to Policy and Communications Director here at the School for Social Entrepreneurs, which has meant a) that this blog is now officially part of my role and b) I've been reading about communications….in the form, most recently, of Made to Stick by Chip and Dan Heath. It's a book all about what makes some ideas 'stick' (i.e. memorable) and, ultimately, about how to communicate ideas effectively. Inevitably they have an idea to help make their ideas about ideas memorable…if you see what I mean:



You'll note the (near) SUCCES(S) acronym. And it is successful, because I finished the book a couple of weeks ago and have just done that from memory. That boiling down into 6 words gives you the essence of the essence, but there's much more in the book to enjoy, and there's much that lies behind those six words. Particularly relevant to me, given that I head up our evaluation and impact work, was the aspects of how you can use statistics to create credibility…and keep it interesting. For, as the Heaths put it, "Statistics tend to be eye-glazing. How can we use them while still managing to engage our audience?"

No set answer, but different ways of expressing them, through analogies and stories, seems one method (which is presumably why journalists measure things in numbers of double-decker buses and multiplications of the size of Wales).

In the Emotional chapter, there's some interesting research for those seeking direct donations on why people give. And how stories are better than statistics (and better, in many cases, than a combination of stories and statistics) for making an emotional connection that engages. It's interesting to consider, in the context of the rise of philanthropy brokerage, how people who are primed to feel are much more likely to give than people who are primed to calculate. Of course, it's about tailoring to your audience (the geek donors love those metrics, presumably), but the fact that being analytical "hinders our ability to feel" stayed with me.

Most of all, though, I will take away much from the chapter about Stories. Particularly, stories as a means of making people act (while a credible idea makes people believe, and an emotional idea makes them care, stories can inspire and simulate…and lead to action), which is really at the heart of SSE's practitioner- and peer-led methodology. At times, I felt the Heath brothers were writing our material about why we use expert witnesses: "The story's power, then, is twofold: it provides simulation (knowledge about how to act) and inspiration (motivation to act). Note that both benefits, simulation and inspiration, are geared to generating action". Which is something to quote when we get asked why we don't use teachers and modules, and why the students have to have a project they are working on (so they can act!).

There's much here to ponder, and to push you towards action in your own communication…  "Stories are like flight simulators for the brain", "Avoid the curse of knowledge", "If all the stars in the Milky Way were grains of salt they would fill an Olympic-sized swimming pool" and so on. Some might seem obvious, but the book frames this stuff really well and, as you'd hope, communicates it effectively. It's been on my shelf for a while, but will now be transferring to the office shelf, which is high praise….

Share Button

Estates of mind: the relationship of place & people

Lynseyhanley I finished reading Estates by Lynsey Hanley last night. I’ll admit that it isn’t the most alluring title, but it’s been hugely interesting. I first came across the book when responding to an exchange in Society Guardian between Lynsey Hanley and Andrew Mawson (who wrote the Social Entrepreneur). In a nutshell, she felt that Mawson was claiming that his people-led approach was the key to regenerating areas, whilst she felt that, ultimately, this had to be placed in the context of government intervention and place-based changes to the physical space. My letter, in response to her response, was that grassroots social entrepreneurship was not a panacea, but also that it should not be thrown out with the bathwater…and that it was the combination between government intervention, place-based stuff AND people-powered action that would work best.

[And I’m delighted to celebrate the launches of The Hub at Kings Cross and Shine at Harehills: congratulations to all involved; more on these soon]

I did have some empathy with her words, though. And, having been raised as a good middle-class boy in various semi-detached places in suburbia, thought that it would also give me a level of insight that I wouldn’t (couldn’t) otherwise have. Although, as Hanley points out towards the end of the book, ultimately you can never understand unless you’ve lived / been raised on an estate.

It’s a great book: a mix of memoir, sociology, history, politics and solution-seeking, and I warmed to her authorial voice as it went along. She’s exceptionally good at drawing a vivid picture both of what it was/is like to live on an estate geographically, but also psychologically. Indeed, the central section of the book is the one where she talks of how the physical barriers (poor location, poor quality building, poor transport links, poor schooling on site, poor design) create psychological barriers in the person’s mind. Or, as she puts it (borrowing from East / West Germany), it creates a "wall in the head". It was here that I found myself moved and provoked:

"To be working-class in Britain is also to have a wall in the head, and, since council housing has come to mean housing for the working class…that wall exists unbroken throughout every estate in the land"

Breaking through (or climbing) over that wall is about combating isolation, about gaining aspiration, about learning about what’s possible (or even exists) from the people you know….which chimes hugely with our recent report, Sustainable Paths to Community Development which talks of the crucial need for social ‘linking’ capital, for the connections to different networks to be made. Contacts that are outside of the family or the estate, and that provide knowledge, information, opportunities, resources and role models. Hanley says that "Social capital is more important for people who live on class-segregated estates than for anyone else", and our experience would back that up. Otherwise, the kind of entrenchment and isolation that Hanley details in the book becomes dominant.

What the book has helped me understand, though, aside from how council housing and council estates have ended up being where they are and looking like they do (it’s fascinating to trace the history through various governments right up to the recent housing associations), is the sheer difficulty of scaling the wall. Much of this, it must be said, is to do with the architecture, design, quality, siting, spacing and heights of the buildings involved; there is some evidence here of lessons learned (tenants involvement, high quality, mixed design and so on), but there is vastly more to be done. As Hanley details with passion and frustration, estates are paved with good intentions as well as concrete, but many of the slum replacements have effectively become new slums.

But a central part of scaling the wall, at least for individuals, is about personal support, development and opportunity. People who ask why we need to support people for a year, or why they need high levels of personal support, or why we mix cohorts of different backgrounds and educational qualifications should read this book. Without support, confidence, inspiration (for aspiration) and connections, it remains incredibly hard to make the change….hard, to a degree, frankly, I don’t think I understand or can communicate. So here are the final words of the book from someone who does, and can:

"Breaking out of [the estate] was like breaking out of prison. For all its careful planning and proximity to the city and the country, the estate was ringed by that invisible, impenetrable force field: the wall in the head. That may say as much about the closed ranks of the working class as it does for the failures of town planning. But I know that I will never scale another wall quite so high"

Share Button