Friday round-up: Bubb, Hub, Club, and… Forces for Good

As SSE prepares to head off to Devon for its annual residential (are you ready, Totnes?), and launches in Cornwall, the rest of the world continues to go absolutely haywire….

– And where else to turn at such times than to Stephen Bubb, who was already calling for the sector to be given £500m to help it through these troubled times, and that was before we learned that a load of charities have lost millions in their Icesave accounts (up to £120m according to the Guardian);

– And if you’re wondering who has all that money stacked away, why not check out the Charity Commission’s new website, with its groovy pie charts and punitive red and green borders (if you submit your accounts late). A vast improvement on before, and on Guidestar.

– It’s fairly rare that this world makes it in to the mainstream press (apart from when it’s losing buckets of cash apparently), so good to see a bit on the BBC website about social entrepreneurs including Colin Crooks who we are big fans of here at SSE, and the Hub making it into the Telegraph (seemingly by pretending to be a gentlemen’s club!)

– This is an interesting Q&A on Stanford Social Innovation Review’s site with David Gergen, who’s a leading pundit / activist in this sector in the US. Worth a read, even if I found myself disagreeing as much as agreeing….

– Heard of Tribes, and how ‘everyone’s a leader?’ You will soon….

– The Social Catalyst blog asks us, "People or Structures?" and answers "both" or "neither": values….

– SSE was at the Listening to the Social Entrepreneur Event yesterday: kudos to the organisers for choosing a community-based venue, and for assembling a decent mix of practitioners (not enough!), support agencies, and academics. There was a good mix of ‘classic’ SE debates, but also some more thought-provoking debate as well.

– Am reading Forces for Good at the moment, and it talks about how the organisations that have really big impact have a "network mind-set" that is not controlling, competitive but recognises that (if they don’;t care who takes credit), working with and supporting other organisations and being open and distributive leads to greater overall positive social impact. It’s something we’re passionate about here, both through our ‘flat’ franchise approach and through initiatives like chairing the Social Entrepreneurship Policy Group. Full review to follow, but this certainly chimed with me and experiences with organisations that have an "organisational mindset"…..

– ……seems to chime with Craig Dearden-Phillips as well; here he blogs about an example of exactly that network mindset: How to build an empire without taking slaves

– Finally, as it’s been one of those weeks, here’s some advice and tips for avoiding information overload! Hopefully we’ll be updating the blog from Devon all next week…..

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There’s no triple in this Bottom Line

Listening to the first edition of the new series of the Bottom Line on podcast this morning, and my hackles rapidly got raised (not what you want on a Monday morning). I like the Bottom Line a lot: simple format (3/4 CEOs, Evan Davis asks them questions), and useful insight. This week, they had on both a hedge fund manager and the CEO of CafeDirect (Anne MacCaig), and, needless to say, much of the discussion was about the current financial crisis.

If you want a concrete example of why we’re in the current mess we’re in, I’d advise you to download the episode and listen to Hugh Hendry, the fund manager in question, who puts on a quite extraordinary display of immodesty, smugness and self-satisfaction. I can only assume they invited him on to wind everyone up, and provoke a response….in which case, they’ve succeeded here.

So, why am I so "Disgusted of Bethnal Green" about it? Well, firstly, he criticises the banks for leveraging and irresponsibility, before revealing that his hedge fund is, er, leveraged (to a degree he can’t admit) and that they indulge in consistent, and some would say irresponsible, short-selling (which played a significant part in bringing those banks to their knees). Secondly, he calls himself the ‘guard dog’ of capitalism, before mixing metaphor midstream to describe himself as a ‘sharp pencil’ jabbing at the spine of businesses. Hedge fund managers as guard dogs? Warning and protecting? Er…ok. Looking at the current scene, one would suggest they haven’t done a great job as a guard dog, and have ripped the spine out of several businesses, rather than jabbing at it.

Finally, and most unbelievably, he then attacks the business model of CafeDirect, which is, by all accounts, a sustainable, fair, transparent, honest, ethically-run organisation (Anne MacCaig gets a good plug for Triodos in there). There’s no sense that this may be more sustainable (and profitable) because it invests in its producers and provides what its customers are looking for. Or that, gasp, greed is not good. How depressing to hear someone at the heart of a collapsing financial services system to have no sense of what real people are feeling, or any sense of how things ought to change. Quite how, in the midst of a crisis/crunch that has been largely caused by the financial services, this programme ends up with a hedge fund manager giving a fair trade coffee organisation a hard time over their business model, is utterly beyond me. (And Davis does little to turn this around; kudos to the man from Waitrose for doing so).

I’m not absolving the banks from blame, or saying that this is representative of all hedge fund managers, or pretending that CafeDirect is perfect in every way. But this broadcast should be a wake-up call to those saying that the current climate could be social enterprise’s greatest opportunity / a chance for a fairer business system. On this evidence, there’s a remarkably long way to go for that to even be on the horizon.

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Is social enterprise the solution to the credit crisis?


Ok, so I should expand on that a little. This was one topic of conversation that came up today at the unveiling of a big bit of research commissioned by OTS on what’s needed to get social enterprise and entrepreneurship into the mainstream. The title of the presentation was "Social Enterprise at the Crossroads?" (no, not that Crossroads, although that wouldn’t be a bad thing: a social enterprise on a soap), and it looked at different audiences, their awareness, how to reach them, who are most likely to become involved etc….

Nothing massively shocking for anyone from the sector or who works in this sphere, but was interesting to see it laid out by an independent agency in a strategic and thought-through way. My only major point of disagreement was that one of the target groups (disengaged / disenfranchised young people) were kind of discounted as a potential source of new social entrepreneurs….because they didn’t have the requisite confidence (interestingly, confidence + conviction were highlighted as central to the whole thing) and skills. But of course they can gain that confidence and learn those skills. And what they do have is, often, a greater (and more personal) understanding of the problems….which the research also highlighted (those living in an area with social problems were by far the most likely to engage in setting something up…).

That aside, there was much of interest: talk of brand identity and a unifying mark, for example, seem set to dominate the autumn and winter. I’ll take it all in, digest, and try and make sense of what was a long presentation. When split into groups (to answer questions like "what is the one thing social enterprise should do?" and "what is the one thing government should do?" etc), the banking crisis came up a few times. At the idealistic end was the thought that maybe there would be a reframing of capitalism to be more "sustainable" (in all senses: i.e. including social and environmental more) from here on in. At the more pragmatic end was the thought that there were a lot of fairly well-off Lehman Brothers traders looking to do something with their lives that might have a bit more purpose: how do we get the appeal out? Although we should remember that there are secretaries, cleaners, catering staff and lots of others at such organisations who haven’t built up a war chest of cash over the intervening years….not everyone who worked there was on 6 figures.

It does feel like this time could be an opportunity for the movement as much as a challenge. Clearly, access to finance from banks, and squeezes on forms of funding (both public and private) will have an effect….but maybe there is a chance that some social entrepreneurship will prove enticing to those looking to increase their psychological wealth in line with their financial wealth, or that a slowdown will cause a bit of a stocktake (excuse share-related pun) about what is important, and about seeing friends + family, rather than getting pleasure from buying the next product or keeping up with the archetypal Jones’s. We’ll see.

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On a list of things I thought I’d never link to, a site with the name SavvyChavvy would probably feature. But it’s not a micktaking site or a spoof online joke: it’s a serious initiative to connect gypsy and traveller communities in the UK who are, by their very nature, often particularly isolated from each other. It allows young travellers in particular to connect to their peers, which is often as much about connecting East European Romany to their UK counterparts.

Does this section the community off in itself? Well, possibly, but providing them with a safe space to connect and communicate away from the excesses of Facebook groups and comments (there have already been ‘spoof’ profiles set up within the site, prompting new culturally-specific questions) seems like a sensible thing to do, especially when coupled with on-the-ground internet training. You can only join the community if you’re part of the traveller community at (it’s a social network built with Ning) but you can see some accompanying video clips here, and how the local South East TV news reported it.

Hopefully it might also go some way to reclaiming, or repositioning, the word ‘chav’, given that it is largely thought to come from the Romany word ‘chavi’ for a young person.

Congratulations to Jake Bowers and SSE Fellow Nathalie McDermott on a great initiative.

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Saving the world one species at a time

SlenderlorisI’m renowned at SSE as not being a great animal lover (due to being allergic to most of them), but an e-mail from a friend prompted me to look at a new website about species which are "evolutionarily distinct and globally endangered" (EDGE). It’s called Edge Of Existence, and is a project of the Zoological Society of London, aiming to conserve these species by implementing the necessary research and conservation actions.

In a stroke of fundraising genius, you can choose to support in a variety of ways…but most will surely choose to support specific actions to help a particular species. My donation went to the uber-cute Slender Loris.

It’s a fantastic site, albeit in the early stages, and an extraordinarily effective way of getting important research funded. Not only in the linking to specific animals, but also detailing exactly where this goes and why it is important. Obvious fundraising steps, but executed superbly, and with good and appropriate use of new technology to both invite questions and promote interaction and engagement.

[thanks to Fev for the link]

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