Openness and transparency, at breakfast, lunch and dinner

I was trying to work out how to capture a few different bits of learning from the week and various different meetings, and thought I'd do so via the theme of openness…and three meals. 

1) First up, I met with David Gold and some of the Prospect-us team over dinner to discuss how to use social media effectively. Prospect-us are a third sector recruitment agency, and, alongside being their CEO, David is also a knowledgeable and supportive champion of SSE (and many SSE Fellows). It was great to meet some of his senior team and share our experience of using social media to achieve SSE's communication aims. Indeed, much of the conversation was about twitter, blogs, facebook, linkedin and the like being means to an end, not an end in themselves (something I made clear in my contribution to the excellent Social by Social guide), and the need to cut through the noise + measure impact / success.

Openness was also central to the conversation: how it was refreshing to be honest and transparent (which builds trust, which builds credibility); how it was about internal organisational culture, not just external web activity; about the limits of openness (i.e. how open and honest can you be on an organisational blog: needless to say, I have blogged about this…); and about the line between personal and organisational on web 2.0. Fascinating couple of hours for me (to reflect, and strategize retrospectively!), and hopefully for David and the team too.

2) Secondly, lunch at the Ideas Exchange run by Gordon D'Silva over at Training For Life. Whilst attracted by lunch at the great Hoxton Apprentice, of course, it was the content of the debate that was of more interest. Gordon is committed to sharing and openness and had invited people to learn from some of Training For Life's experiences over the last couple of years. As he said, to learn from the good and the bad; I'd agree with his acknowledgement that this sector is not always very good at sharing its mistakes and challenges as much as its success. This is natural, to a degree, but (as we see on SSE programmes day in day out), learning comes from doing things, getting things wrong, and learning from them. Kudos to Gordon both for sharing, and for challenging others to be open and share. And, actually, though counter-intuitive, sharing the reality of challenges doesn't necessarily impair an organisation's standing. In many cases, as mentioned above, it can build greater trust and greater credibility.

3) Finally (and we are going in reverse meal order), I attended a Social Innovator breakfast at NESTA where the Young Foundation were launching their newest publication and companion website: the Open Book of Social Innovation and As the name would suggest, this is a book of social innovation: of the processes, connections and methods by which social innovation is achieved. A superb piece of work, filled not only with great case studies and innovations from across the world, but also with insights into how successful social innovation is instigated, replicated and implemented. Whilst some of the speakers present at the breakfast were seemingly congenitally unable to stick to anything like their allotted time, Sophi Tranchell brought a welcome clarity and concision to proceedings, and urged those present not to be 'thinkers' but be 'doers' and find ways to implement and put ideas into practice.

Much food for thought (if you excuse the pun) from all three meals, and no doubt more to follow as I process and digest (!) it all. For me, transparency and openness is so important for social entrepreneurs (see the Transparency of Social Entrepreneurs), and for all new aspiring businesses, that it holds great interest and great relevance.

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Social media (twitter) tactics for social entrepreneurs

Not claiming I had anything to do with this. Kudos to Chad Norman at Blackbaud for what is a great slideshow of social media tactics (and tools) that non-profit organisations, or mission-driven organisations, can use. If you're wondering why/how twitter, facebook et al could be important and how to start, here you go.

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Top 10 podcasts for social entrepreneurs

Following on the back of the top 10 blogs for social entrepreneurs, I thought I might add to that with some podcast links. I've been travelling a bit of late (currently on my way to Leeds) which, in addition to the commute, has meant a fair amount of podcast listening. I'm retreading a bit of previous ground here (see Podcasts + Pendolinos, Recent Social Enterprise podcasting, and Podcasts and  Audio Links), but there have been some decent additions to some old favourites….so here goes:

1) First up has to be Peter Day's World of Business which is consistently interesting about all aspects of business. And, when you consider that the last three episodes have featured employee-ownership, biofuels and entrepreneurship advice, it is also often of considerable relevance to social entrepreneurs

2) More specifically of this world is Social Innovation Conversations which is a US-based podcast affiliated to Stanford Social Innovation Review; mostly it is downloadable episodes of panels / speeches from events, but they are usually high quality people talking about relevant issues, so definitely worth a look through the archive

3) Evan Davis is best known for hosting Dragon's Den here, but I think his Bottom Line radio programme is great. Simple format (3 CEOs, 3 different companies, discussing few specific topics) and doesn't outstay its welcome. Has featured Divine Chocolate's Sophi Tranchell and Anne MacCaig of CafeDIrect previously.

4) SmallBizPod is the leading small business specific podcast, and Alex Bellinger does a terrific job with it, meeting entrepreneurs and raising issues that you don't find elsewhere. You can find a social enterprise specific section on the website with interviews from events and leading social entrepreneurs.

5) Echoing Green has been supporting social entrepreneurs for 20 years or so, and is one of the few support organisations to have ventured into podcasting. Its Be Bold podcast is about careers and is obviously pretty US-centric, but there's some good stuff here regardless: about people's motivations, about supporting oneself, about personal development and so forth.

6) Staying in the US, PRI do an occasional social entrepreneurship podcast, usually focused on international development work, and usually quite brief; but decent-enough

7) For a more cerebral take, and cutting-edge business thinking, try HBR's IdeaCast. Occasionally tiresome when it's just Harvard authors plugging Harvard books, but it's a good place for prompting new thinking and new ideas.

8) I've recently got into the Business podcast from the Guardian, which is pretty good + snappy about current business events + news; occasionally features ClearlySo supremo Rod Schwartz as well….

9) Some decent enough bitesize intro podcasts from Enterprising Non-profits in Canada (planning, value, what is social enterprise etc)

10) Brand new is the Ashoka Tech podcast, which has started with an episode on World Toilet Day (insert joke about starting at the bottom here….); bodes well, but too early to tell: one to keep an eye on.


And if that's not enough for you, see our bookmarks for more, or check out the 100 best small business podcasts, although if you;ve got time to listen to all of those, then the business is probably going down the pan :0)

Working up the courage / energy to do twitter lists (twists?) at some point soon….

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Top 10 Social Entrepreneurship Blogs

Blogging requires passion and authorityWhilst writing a comment on a blog about blogs (and whether they are useful social entrepreneurship resources), I listed a few blogs that I find useful as a resource, as places of debate, or for inspiration. And then it occurred to me that it might be useful to share them.

There is a widely-circulated list of the top 50 social entrepreneur blogs here, but only 2 were UK-based (this SSE blog and Rod Schwartz's below). Mine's UK-focused, but includes some relevant international blogs as well. Cue the music, and in no particular order:

1) The Social Business – Rob Greenland's take on the UK scene is arguably the best in our sector, consistently prompting debates and giving real insights

2) Rod Schwartz / ClearlySo's Social Business Blog – One of the most influential reads in the sector, always writing with full honesty, and challenging the norms

3) Beanbags and Bullshit – David Floyd with a real practitioner's take on things; new-ish, but high quality writing and thought thus far

4) Social Enterprise Ambassador blogs – the Social Enterprise Ambassadors are some of the UK's leading social entrepreneurs, and they've been writing posts more regularly; an enlightening and entertaining mix; (Craig Dearden-Phillips blogs in his own right on his Naked Entrepreneur blog too)

5) Social Entrepreneurship on– Nathaniel Whittemore writes this and writes it bloody well; consistently interesting, illuminating and with high quality content; US-based, but looking outwards

6) Allison Ogden-Newton's blog – CEO of Social Enterprise London gives it straight in a new, promising blog

7) Social Catalyst – Todd Hannula writes great content; it's a little intermittent at times (hey, it happens to us all), but liking how the new site gives routes into content from previous posts; well worth reading

8) Social Edge blogs – cheating slightly here, but Social Edge hosts a whole load of interesting blogs; have a browse and see what takes your fancy from a US-heavy / international development lot; Forging Ahead and Kiva Chronicles are popular

9) How to Change the World – Guy Kawasaki's blog is very well-known and widely-read; about entrepreneurship rather than social entrepreneurship, there's nevertheless some great stuff here

10) Bubb's Blog – Stephen Bubb, CEO of ACEVO, writes the most talked-about blog in the third sector: entertaining, unashamed and gossipy, it's a good place to get a sense of what's happening in the sector, particularly in the public service delivery / social investment / government space

So there you go. Top Twitter feeds to follow soon….

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Social media for social entrepreneurs

[this is a brief chapter for a forthcoming handbook from NESTA (of which more when it comes out)….thanks to them for letting me blog this in advance….]

While entrepreneurs in the business sector identify untapped commercial markets, and gather together the resources to break into those markets for profit, social entrepreneurs use the same skills to different effect. For social entrepreneurs, untapped markets are people or communities in need, who haven't been reached by other initiatives. But while they may read from a different (triple) bottom line, social and business entrepreneurs have a lot in common. They build something out of nothing. They are ambitious to achieve. They marshal resources to meet their needs. They are constantly creative. And they are not afraid to make mistakes.

The marshalling of resources is particularly important in this context, as start-up and fledgling social entrepreneurs often have little spare money (or money at all) for key parts of their work, namely marketing, promotions, communications, fundraising, events organisation, and community-outreach. This is where the development of web 2.0-type tools is playing such a significant role; where two or three years ago, we would get the question “do you know someone cheap who designs good websites?”, the questions now tend to be “what’s a blog and how do I start one?” or “should I pay for this or is the free version OK?”. The costs of podcasting, blogging, uploading video, starting an online network, promoting your project on Facebook or specialised networks like UnLtdWorld, fundraising online etc have fallen so far as to completely democratise it: for social entrepreneurs now, the big question is no longer “what can we afford?” but “what should we use?” and “how do you use it best?” In some cases, SSE Fellows (like Nathalie McDermott of OnRoadMedia or Jude Habib of SoundDelivery) take this a step further and make it their mission to empower communities / other organisations to speak up or better achieve using new tech.

Our message to them is a simple one: work out what you want to achieve and then work out whether technology can play a part in helping do it. It can be all too tempting amidst a rash of “twitter is the cure to all ills” headlines to leap in, waste time and lose focus. But if building a community of like-minded people who support and engage with their idea is important to moving it forward (and those people can be found online), then fire away using Facebook groups, twitter, blogs and whatever is most appropriate. Such tools are often a cost-effective means to an important end: building a following around an idea or a new enterprise. Tools such as blogs and twitter also allow for a more direct form of communication that, when done with consistency and authenticity, will better engage and inform that following. That builds trust, credibility and loyalty to an organisation in the medium to long term.

What is particularly interesting for social entrepreneurs in this space is that tools like Twitter and Facebook have blurred the line between the personal and the organisational, between the life and the work. But this is already the case for social entrepreneurs in many cases, so fits naturally with the way they are and the way they operate. Alongside the fact that networking is key to their success (particularly when they can feel isolated and disillusioned on their journey), it’s clear why such tools can be not only useful organisationally (for communications, community-building etc) but also individually (to make contacts, build relationships, find support, bookmark sites of interest etc).

However, whilst not wishing to end in Luddite fashion, it’s important that we also remember that many social entrepreneurs work in real, geographical communities that can’t be reached online; that e-mail remains the primary communication tool for the vast majority; that ‘slacktivism’ will tend to reinforce the idea that people can solve problems with a click of a mouse (and keep a healthy distance from all that nasty poverty and disadvantage); that online approaches need to be measured for their social impact if resources are put into them that could go elsewhere; that Facebook status updates aren’t a substitute for meeting people face-to-face; and that doing things is more important than talking about doing things.

Ultimately, social media tools provide amazing opportunities and resources to facilitate change, to network effectively, to communicate directly, to fundraise innovatively, and to build communities swiftly. But in all but a very small minority of cases for social entrepreneurs, they are means to an end, not the end in themselves.

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