What are the policy and communications futures for social entrepreneurs?

My role at SSE is Policy and Communications Director, so in keeping with that, today a bit of policy, and a bit of comms.

First up, I contributed to the Society Guardian podcast (in association with KnowHowNonProfit which is well worth a look) and produced excellently by Sound Delivery, an organisation started by SSE Fellow Jude Habib. With Public Services editor David Brindle as host, I joined Stephen Bubb from ACEVO in the Guardian's impressive in-house studios, and we discussed the Big Society, the new influx of MPs with a charity background, and the renaming of the Office of the Third Sector to the Office of Civil Society. You can listen / download here for our thoughts on what's ahead.

Secondly, from a communications perspective, this slideset came across my radar from the ever-industrious Ben Matthews at Bright One. It's an initiative called Charity Comms 2020, and features great tips, advice and future thinking about how communications will change in the future for the sector. Jude pops up again here, along with a whole host of media experts and practitioners. Here's the set of slides:

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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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Why the Social Entrepreneur Search is exciting…and worrying

The UK likes to position itself as a leader in social entrepreneurship, but in some areas I think we are way behind. Take the new Social Entrepreneur Search widgets in the US, which themselves come from the Social Entrepreneur API. For the non-geeks, an API is tech-speak for an 'application programming interface' which basically provides data or information that is open and available for others to use and do what they will with (as Social Actions put it, "The Social Entrepreneur API dataset is available for any website or
individual to search, syndicate, republish, or use to build web
applications, widgets, and search engines"
). And so these new search widgets and engines have been developed from that data source.

On the one hand, this is tremendously exciting. It's open, collaborative, innovative, connective and potentially helps match social entrepreneurs to investors / funders / journalists / other entrepreneurs in a way that is currently not possible in the closed and more clunky UK equivalents. [I'd include our own online SSE Fellows database in the 'clunky' category, which is currently searchable by field, by geography and by keyword etc, but is not in this kind of shape…yet]. It also opens up the possibility of taking this information and publishing it or syndicating it anywhere: potentially enormously powerful. Kudos goes to Social Actions, Social Edge, and the funders who've both funded the work and contributed the data.

So why worrying? Because the data for these 'vetted' social entrepreneurs only comes from a relatively small range of funders who fund fairly big scale, 'successful' social entrepreneurs (Skoll Foundation, Schwab Foundation, Echoing Green etc). What concerns me about that is that, as with the main Ashoka Fellows programme, the resources and connections and profile are often being diverted to those who need it, in many cases, the least: those who are already credible, sizeable, recognisable and well networked enough to attract funds, gain support and expand their work. Is the risk not of funnelling more resource to the well-resourced, rather than tapping the under-resourced and under-networked into this opportunity?

Partly, of course, I acknowledge that's for us to sort out: if I want SSE Fellows (or UnLtd wants its awardees) to be part of this, then we will have to invest in getting our data sorted for the API, and make the case. And I had that discussion with Social Edge about UK sources. There is also the question, though, of whether these would be considered 'vetted' or credible enough for the project (who judges that?). And yet we know from experience that social entrepreneurs want to discover peers like them (or just ahead of them), not just 'stars' (indeed these extraordinary, unachievable role models can actually deter new entrants), and that funders are interested in new (riskier) innovations, not just credible and mature success stories. Nat Whittemore on Change.org reckons the API / search won't be a supply of much funding, but we also know that those who feature in research, journalism, blogs and profiles end up getting more support and resource in the long run.

Dan Elitzer at Full Contact Philanthropy thinks the widget is potentially damaging because it "promotes the damaging mythology of the social entrepreneur" (a point with some validity that I've answered in the comments on that post), but I think the greater potential damage could come from scaling and championing the few, instead of including, inspiring, resourcing and connecting the many.

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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 www.socialinnovator.info 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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First ever Australian SSE cohort graduates in Sydney

Hot on the heels of the first ever Cornwall graduation, the first Australian SSE Fellows have completed their programme in Sydney. Huge congratulations to all of them. You can see their projects + organisations here, and you can read the kind words of the Minister for Social Inclusion + Voluntary Sector, Ursula Stephens here. Top quote from that was:

"Tonight our graduating social entrepreneurs have become fellows of
the global School for Social Entrepreneurs network, which comes with
enormous responsibility – responsibility beyond your individual
business interests. A responsibility to share the knowledge your have
learned with others, to support each other and to maintain a network
with your fellow graduates where you can keep the passionate fire of
creativity burning.

I have little doubt that your time at School for Social
Entrepreneurs Australia has equipped you with the ability to make an
even greater contribution to your local community and beyond.

I would like to commend you for the tenacity, entrepreneurial drive
and commitment reflected in all your inspiring projects, and wish you
the best for the future."

As ever, though, images and pictures speak louder than words, so here is a video featuring some of these pioneering social entrepreneurs. Congratulations again from all of us over here to all of you over there!

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