CSR and responsible business

Great article on WorldChanging by Joel Makower, entitled Milton Friedman and the Social Responsibility of Business which repeats Friedman’s view that the sole purpose of business is to generate profit for shareholders…and that responsible business is therefore uncompetitive, costly and a distraction from their core obligation.

As Makower points out, we now know this to be nonsense: that ignoring environmental and social issues can be bad for business, and that this trend is only increasing. Want to recruit new graduates? Want to not poison/pollute your customers? Want to have raw materials to use in ten years time? Want to retain employees? And so on. If a company isn’t thinking in these kind of ways in this day and age, it will soon be left behind….better to be ahead of the curve than trying to claw your way up it over the next decade.

And that goes for big and small business: I enjoyed judging the CAF CCI awards recently, an enjoyment tempered only by how few SMEs enter the awards, a topic we discussed afterwards. So much discussion of CSR revolves (understandably) around the big boys that there is probably need for a corrective of some sort. I was interested to run across Small Business Journey the other day, which is an interesting way for "small businesses to realise more value by behaving responsibly". Value of all types…

A few more corporate social responsibility pieces to end with:

– a corporate social responsibilty course in Barcelona (download the modules online) [via Audeamus]

– Fast Company have dished out their 2007 Social Capitalist Awards to, slightly bizarrely, 43 organisations (why 43? a secret homage to 43 Things and 43 Folders?)….mainly US-focused as ever, but worth reading some of their gumph as well, including their take on why this is all important: "A More Powerful Path"

– A post linking to some debates about Product Red (iPod, AmEx etc. raising money for HIV); interestingly, there was someone on the radio this morning discussing how we should be giving African countries an army rather than aid…will try and find the link….. 

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50 Green Entrepreneurs

Worldchanging (whose book you should be buying at a particular time on November 1st…about 4.11pm Uk time, I think?) points out Inc.com’s list of 50 Green Entrepreneurs: the Green 50. They are US-based, pretty much, but loads to inspire and inform here…from recycled toothbrushes to a zero-waste company. And natural burial, something I know a fair bit about from previous work: one green industry where the UK is well ahead of the pack.

All very timely given the Stern report and associated brouhaha. On the back of which, George Monbiot has a 10 step plan to save us….which seems remarkably plausible on this blustery Tuesday morning.

[via Doors of Perception]

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Enterprising solutions and other things

Racking up things to blog about at the moment, so here’s a round-up of a few things to clear the blog intray…..

Enterprising Solutions Awards last night, organised by SEC (well done all), with some worthy winners (see the shortlist on the site), an entertaining host and a really moving speech by the main winner Sunderland Homecare….supplement on the winners in the Observer this weekend.

– Ed Miliband was also there last night, and worth mentioning the philanthropy research centre he launched last week; see the Cabinet Office press release for more. I assume they will be speaking to SSE Fellow Dave Pitchford, whose Intelligent Giving site goes live soon….

– Gordon Brown, meanwhile, gave a speech at the Corporate Social Responsibility dinner which talked of Britain being the world leader in CSR and talked of the achievements in social enterprise and volunteering….see here for more

– Interesting report on social enterprise and housing associations
from the Camberwell Project; coming at it from the housing associations
creating/becoming social enterprises, rather than empowering their
residents, though….

– Loving some new terms in this field: vetrepreneurs and hyperpreneurs; oh yes.

– Amidst all the hullabaloo (sp.?) about social enterprises delivering in health and care (after a big conference recently + a new initiative), it’s worth pointing out a more cynical view of the current trend from a practitioner who points at three drivers for becoming a social enterprise, namely:

  • Looking impressive to political masters
  • Trying to stay one-step ahead of the next      organisational restructuring
  • Pure cold-blooded knee-trembling fear

– Finally, what about cut your friends, improve your effectiveness as a strapline for the future? Food for thought….

[via lots of places, but especially, VoluntaryNews and Xpress Digest ]

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Beijing Social Innovation Conference

A few blog posts about the Beijing conference on social innovation from others already, but here’s my contribution/reaction…chronologically, for want of any better ordering method.

SUNDAY: Arrived after a good flight chatting to Brett Wigdortz (of Teach First fame) and Steve McAdam (from Fluid) amongst others, and having flitted between Mission Impossible Three and China Shakes the World. Given my short amount of time, Brett and I caught the tube into the centre of Beijing that night for a brief glance at Tiananmen Square, and a good roast duck….before the real work began….

MONDAY: I was slightly disconcerted on my way down to the opening ceremony by the fact that the CNN news report I’d been watching in the hotel room had been cut off in the middle (it was concerning Nepal/Tibet border shooting: see this article for both sides of the story), leaving a black screen.

Anyway, we kicked off with intros from the organisers and dignitaries. Couple of quotes I captured include Gerard Lemos (of British Council) saying that social entrepreneurs had "optimism as a social duty, even a moral duty", and that this was driven by "people who understand people", and that "policy should be driven by practice, not the other way round".

Geoff Mulgan (of Young Foundation) said that YF saw this as the "beginning of a global network of shared thinking", and hoped it would "speed up the process of innovation and learning". More interestingly, perhaps he also talked about "tapping into collective intelligence", and the need for "leadership providing the space for innovators to evolve". Finally, he also related it back to Michael Young who had "a clear focus on needs, an empathy to understand how people are experiencing those needs and a willingness to act" to address them.

Other highlights from the various presentations included:

– Ezio Manzini (from EMUDE, amongst others) discussing everyday social innovations at the grassroots, and of the importance of everyone getting the opportunity to be involved

– John Bird (of Big Issue) waking a few up by saying that "it was a crying shame that there aren’t more people like me up here saying ‘I was part of the problem and am now part of the solution’ " amongst other slightly tired, if entertaining ramblings

– Yang Xuedong, from CCPE, discussed the Local Innovations Prize, and how it had helped evaluate government performance in Chinese regions, and help make them more accountable; it was also interesting to hear how it had stimulated the development of local democratic politics in some areas

– Shen Dongshu, from Fu Ping, champions NGOs in China, and has a social entrepreneur school (capacity building focus), an entrepreneurial fund and other initiatives;

– Steve McAdam (see above) talked about their bottom-up, people-centred approach to planning and regeneration, next to which my notes simply say "very interesting; follow up"

– later we got more international perspectives with Peter Spink from Brazil reeling off countless interesting examples (an open access online participative budget, for example) and talking about genuine grassroots-led change, based on pragmatism, diagonal and horizontal relationships and "incremental learning-by-doing"….+ Rhoda Kadelie from South Africa giving some inspiring innovations from there, including dance and opera initiatives amongs the black community, as well as some damning critiques of SA govt; Josephine Green added the corporate design perspective from Philips, adding (intriguingly from a multinational) that "the concept of enough is one we ought to explore"…

– After the break-out sessions (too much to report here) came a banquet, a mask-changing dance and a poem, no less, in our honour….


Slightly smaller crowd on Tuesday morning (Monday night drinks anyone?), and an equally packed line-up. Simon Tucker from YF’s Launchpad kicked off, outlining some of their current projects, followed by Lv Zhao from the Shanghai NPO Network who gave an interesting overview of the Chinese NGO scene (I love the concept of a government-sponsored non-governmental organisation….but some would argue that many of our third sector organisations are in this situation as well…)

Mike Gibbons gave a clear and focused presentation on his challenges and approaches at the DfES’ Innovation Unit, particularly interesting around leadership learning, and enabling others to take risks

John Thackara discussed his Designs of the Time project in the North-East of England, and made the important point that technological innovation should be driven by social innovation/social needs, not the other way round….an interesting project to track

– another breakout session (which helped give me more of an insight into the Chinese third sector scene, if I can even categorise it like that) took place before the round-ups; the one key thing I wrote down here was from He Fan (I think) who said:

"in China everyone is born an entrepreneur" and "small progress in China is multiplied by one billion", followed by the payoff, "real social entrepreneurs should come to prove themselves in China"; that’s the sound of a gauntlet being thrown down, I believe….

I also found the Mondragon perspective very interesting (thanks Carlos), as scaling but keeping true to principles and values is a real problem in this sector. Mondragon have much to share on this, i think.

Final round-ups followed before dinner, and then a Wednesday morning meeting about the prospects for a social innovation network; watch this space, I guess….. but I’ll post up this mindmap to give an indication of the tentative beginnings of a mapping exercise….(click to expand, I think).


Overall – lots of material, lots of speakers, lots of thoughts, lots of good networking: a really good beginning to providing some momentum and focus in this area, widening out to encompass multitudes, as it were, rather than becoming stuck in the same areas and silos. As ever, hearing from other fields (design, architecture) and other locations (China, Brazil, South Africa) is inspiring and fires off other ideas…

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Social Innovation blogs and links

I’ve just returned from Beijing, at a Social Innovation conference, which was tremendously interesting….and of which a more focused post soon. But, in the meantime, here’s a list of blogs and sites that I follow in the wider world of social innovation:

– First up, the mighty WorldChanging, who are also connected to TED (and the TEDBlog; see TedTalk for podcasts)

Social Innovation Conversations, led by Tim Zak and others…for the podcasters amongst you

Doors of Perception for a design-centred approach (see their take on the Beijing conference here)

Xigi.net which is newer but has interesting stuff around social markets and investments; Acumen Fund is a funder of social entrepreneurs with a decent blog…

Springwise is an offshoot of Trendwatching, giving a ‘daily fix of entrepreneurial ideas’…

Audeamus, this blog (!), the 4 Non Profits PACE blog, and (the active bits of) SocialEdge pretty much cover social entrepreneurship

– David Wilcox’s Designing for Civil Society is interesting on partnership, governance, networking and knowledge…and Clay Shirky is great on the interface of society and technology

– Of the (UK) think-tanks, Demos’ Greenhouse is most active and most wide-ranging

– There are also RSS feeds of (crazy, humorous, and sometime socially-oriented) new ideas from the Global Ideas Bank, Idea A Day and HalfBakery

I’ll add to this soon: all suggestions welcome…

UPDATE: (more sites than blogs, now)

– John Thackara adds design-related innovation links to the pot, of which I’ll pick out particularly…
Architecture for Humanity, the Next Design Institute and GeekCorps as well as the Stanford Social Innovation Review, which I should have mentioned before

– Site-wise, social entrepreneurs are also well-represented on the new spangly Ashoka site, as well as Echoing Green, Schwab and others.

Headshift is good for social software stuff

– Uffe from Kaos Pilots (who deserve a link here as well, of course!) sends through Emerging Futures which is a new one to me

– Also, ideas and technology-wise, we can throw ShouldExist and Lazy Web (for tech ideas) into the mix, as well as MySociety‘s portfolio, including Pledgebank, WriteToThem and TheyWorkForYou

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