General election charity podcast thing

Amongst an avalanche of swingometers and speeches, the general election could potentially be one of the most important in a generation for charity, social entrepreneurs and social enterprise. SSE has worked with many practitioners and other support organisations to develop the Social Entrepreneurs' Manifesto which has some specific calls of government to help social entrepreneurs have the most significant impact over the next decade or more. (and please add your ideas as well)

What are the key issues more generally, and what are the parties' policies and approaches? Worth checking out this new podcast from the Guardian that puts questions to the Tory, Labour and Lib Dem Third Sector Ministers / Shadow Ministers. Some good questions (including SSE), some decent responses, and also some more general and practical 'how do you effectively lobby and campaign' advice from experienced organisations. Well worth half an hour of your time, and hat-tip to SSE Fellow Jude Habib's Sound Delivery who help produce the podcasts.

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Silly season in full flow? Tony Blair is a “social entrepreneur”

Just when you thought we'd expanded the definition of social entrepreneur to breaking point (with the "Jedward are social entrepreneurs" article), along comes Tony Blair declaring that he, too, is a social entrepreneur. At first, I was merely amused by this (will he apply to come on our programme, or perhaps to be an Echoing Green or Ashoka Fellow; does he qualify for an UnLtd Level 1 award? how did we miss him in the Social Enterprise Ambassadors interviewing? will he apply for the Social Enterprise Mark? etc). But Rod Schwartz has done a more serious, full demolition job on his blog, detailing the reasons why Tony Blair might not quite hit the mark:

– mission / motivation: the financial imperative would still seem to be the most important for our erstwhile former Prime Minister

– lack of entrepreneurialism: though few of us might balk at a £2m retainer from a couple of large financial services organisation, this hardly qualifies as something he initiated where risk and personal responsibility is part of the piece

– focus (or lack of): Blair really has a broad portfolio of activities, rather than a laser-guided focus and commitment to solving one issue

– impact: all social entrepreneurs, ultimately, have to measure themselves by their social impact; my understanding is that his faith foundation has done some good work, but has he really got much done? difficult to tell without greater transparency

Do you think Tony Blair is a social entrepreneur? Look forward to your comments below….

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The trust society: squaring the public service delivery circle?

There’s inevitably more time for reflection during the
summer months, as people go on leave and take time out to review where things
have got to, organisationally and personally. One thing that’s come up in many
conversations for me is the challenge ahead given the inevitable cuts in public
spending (regardless of which party is in government), but the continuing (or
increasing) need to deliver services that reduce inequality and address social
problems and needs. This is particularly interesting in the context of the
Conservatives, given their clear support for localism and grassroots-led
change by individual social entrepreneurs and their wish to reduce the size of
the state and its associated bureaucracy.

Currently, this wish to reduce the size of the state (or,
more simply, to reduce costs) has tended to lead to bigger contracts, bigger
providers and a return to a simpler, output-based model (this much money in,
these outputs out) that may be less nuanced than is currently the case through
necessity. This is as true of the current government as it might be of a future
Tory one (see the consortia being created around the Future Jobs Fund, for
example) and, if you put yourself in those shoes, is pretty understandable and

But, of course, the local, grassroots social
entrepreneur-led organisation may struggle in this context. Diversity, reach
and multiple outcomes will still figure, but will power and money go upward
into bigger contracts that are inaccessible? Or will there be enough devolution
and freedom at local, regional or sub-regional level to work with new
innovators and approaches that may change things for the better?

It’s an issue that we wrote about in Social Entrepreneurs
and Public Service Delivery
(pdf download), and one that is becoming more and more
critical as time goes on, and the current outlook for public spending becomes
bleaker. So is there a way of encouraging and fostering more grassroots social
entrepreneurial activity, with new sustainable and bespoke solutions, whilst
also increasing value for money? The answer is yes, but may require a shift
from a trust-based to a contract-based society, and that shift may take much
longer than the current climate will take to clear. But the broader point is
worth raising now.

A recent provocation paper by SSE Chair Charlotte Young discusses the differences between a trust-based and a contract-based society and, more pertinently in this context, the potential roles for the social entrepreneur as initiators, intermediaries and role models & people developers. For those trying to square the circles in the public service delivery space, it's essential reading.

– Read Can Social Entrepreneurs Make This  A Better Society? (pdf)  on the SSE website.

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Should third sector leaders be non-executive directors?

It's crazy time here at SSE….having recruited two new staff in three new regional SSEs, we're now mid-recruitment of three posts at SSE-UK here in East London. And we have been rewarded with our largest pile of CVs ever……

Whilst thinking about recruitment, I thought I'd draw attention to a different area of recruitment that has a broad relevance to the third sector. As many have pointed out, the failure of our financial institutions is also a failure of corporate governance which is, in turn, a failure of non-executive directors (NEDs). David Walker's recent report on corporate governance acknowledges this, and suggests doubling the number of days that NEDs contribute to a company per year.

This does seem an inadequate response, though. As The World of GingerbreadGirl points out:

"if you use the same people you will have the same answers, the same
approaches, and the same problems – whether or not you cut their pay,
double their pay, cut their days, or double them. If you always do what
you have always done, you will always get what you always got.

She suggests that every board should have to have one NED that has never been an NED before…in order to cut down on the cronyism, (old boy) networks and lack of variety that has affected the ability of non-execs to perform their role over the last few years. Matthew Cain follows on from this with some sensible questions that should form a basic check on whether a person can be an NED who will bring value to the corporate governance process. And points out that NEDs aren't a panacea to this problem, which is surely right.

But that doesn't mean it shouldn't be addressed.

So how does this relate to "our" world? Well, firstly because the same applies to charitable boards: as Eleanor at NPC points out in her post (with the does-what-it-says-on-the-tin title of Networks aren't the answer for boards: get some fresh blood for a change),

"Trustee boards in the charity sector in the UK face remarkably similar
problems. Most (around 80%) recruit new board members from their
networks. 'Word of mouth' is great for getting people who you know and
trust, but it means that you are looking in a very small pool of people"

This is surely true. We work hard with SSE students (and Fellows) to think hard about different types of governance structure, and about the make-up of their boards (if they have them). And that challenge of being aligned to the mission, but not too close to it; of being trusted, but not uncritical; of being a good mix of skills, but also a good team… etc

Secondly, and to return to GingerbreadGirls' original point about widening the pool of talent, surely there are people from the charity and social enterprise sectors who would add credibility, acuity, insight and experience to some corporate boards? This is something we've been looking at on the Social Enterprise Ambassadors programme and was called for at an event the other evening by leading charity lawyer Stephen Lloyd, who was reported as saying:

"that at least one non-executive director of all quoted
companies should have extensive experience of the social/voluntary
sector to add a new perspective to board discussions

Again, getting leading charity or social enterprise directors as non-exec directors is by no means a panacea, but it would surely bring a fresh pair of (credible) eyes to the table, combined with experience of running a significant organisation. And would also foster better understanding in both sectors about the differing demands and natures of each.

[Writing this post as part of Bloggers' Circle, an initiative to share posts cross-blog and get interesting posts more widely-read.]

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What the expenses scandal means for social entrepreneurs

It was interesting to read today that the CEO of Barnardo's is going to publish his (and his senior management team's) expenses, on the back of the MP's expenses scandal. [NB – if you're an international / non-UK reader and this hasn't made your news, check out Wikipedia's current take (or any UK newspaper's website, frankly)] It's interesting, because it's the first I've read of the scandal having a direct impact in this sector. But there are real implications (and lessons), positive and negative, for social entrepreneurs and the broader third sector.

Firstly, it is about legitimacy, which is at the core of the social entrepreneur's journey, particularly in the earlier stages. They are not appointed to a job, nor elected to one, so have to earn (and learn) their legitimacy through their actions, through involving their community (+ stakeholders), and through learning and recognition from others. Like MPs, they are trusted to spend money and make decisions on how that money is spent, so transparency and value for money are also absolutely key. This row has only served to underline how important transparency and value for money are in the modern age (and especially the current climate); and it's shown how swiflty legitimacy can be lost through inappropriate actions.

What has also become clear from the MPs expenses row is that a set of rules are not enough to hardwire an ethical approach into being.The MPs soon realised that operating "within the rules" was not enough, and that it was also about operating in the "spirit" of those rules that was important. And, no matter how improved they are made, and how less flawed, and how much more scrutiny there is, a true change will also require a true change in the spirit of how the MPs approach their expenses. In the public and third sector alike, rules and regulations are important, as are transparency and measurement (value), but so is the spirit and motivation that drives the way in which things are done. What it boils down to, again, is that rules and regulations and legal boundaries only take you so far: it is the people, and their motivations and skills, which make it a success or a failure. This is as true in the social enterprise and charity world as in the world of politics.

Finally, it's interesting to note that, despite what Barnardo's has to do, scrutiny and accountability-wise, for its funders and regulators (eg. Charity Commission) and trustees, its CEO still identifies the need to do more. And I think what that signifies, after the collapse of trust in one set of institutions (our financial ones) and now the collapse of trust in another (the political world), is that the bar is effectively raised for all organisations in terms of transparency and honesty. But this is especially the case for organisations in the third sector, including those started and run by social entrepreneurs…where trust and legitimacy is so crucial to their work being effective and impactful.

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