Top 5 tips on leadership for social entrepreneurs

Before he became CEO, Alastair was a student on the very first cohort of School for Social Entrepreneurs back in 1998, as a result of attending SSE he set up his own social enterprise which he ran for 3 years.

These first-hand experiences have shaped his leadership style, here he gives his top 5 leadership lessons for social entrepreneurs:

Continue reading

Share Button

The Life of an Intern

Hey everybody, it’s Ryan the intern!  I just wanted to take a few minutes and write about my experience here at the SSE so far.

From day one, it has been fantastic working here.  I’ve never had an office job before, although I do have a bit of other work experience.  What I thought was going to be a month of being bored to death, cooped up in an office with a bunch of old people turned into being one of the most inspiring, exciting jobs with the greatest bunch of people I have ever worked with (and they aren’t even old, or at least you can’t tell)!!

Business, for me, has always been something I’ve studied only because it seemed like a practical way to get a job in one of the worst economies that the USA (yes, I’m American so excuse my different spelling of words) has ever seen.  I don’t know whether it’s the English charm in this office, the fact that I feel like my work has meaning, or just the overall vibe in the office that we are all helping other people. We have started using a forwarding service that just helps us get our mail to different replika klockor office locations. But whatever it is, coming to work is a great part of my day and I’m sad to say I will have to leave at the end of the month to go back to school for my final semester before heading out into the real world.  That said, I must repeat the first thing I learned in this office and that was where the tea is.  How English! 🙂

Specifically, I’m working under Nick doing things like contacting the press, working back and forth with fellows and current students to finish up certain jobs, and organizing/analyzing (not analysing haha) data from evaluations and such.  It’s been great fun as every day is a bit different, so it keeps me interested.

Finally, it’s just really interesting seeing how a non-for-profit works; it’s neat how we have to go about different strategies to keep things working like obtaining grants and the like because the SSE doesn’t rely on its program as its only source of income.

Well, that’s all from me for now.  I’ll be back next Monday with another update of sorts, I’m sure.


Share Button

Yin and Yang: the top 5 balancing acts for social entrepreneurs

Duty_calls It feels like such a busy and fast-moving time at the moment, that it's been difficult to take time and reflect, and get the head up to look around, meerkat-like. Which has got me thinking about balance, and the different areas that social entrepreneurs need to balance.

1) Passion and pragmatism:  I was speaking at an UpRising event recently, along with Young Foundation Director Geoff Mulgan, about the Big Society and how to react to it. There were some passionate reactions in the room, and those encouraging direct action and activism rather than engaging with the movement. I made the point that engagement with policymakers was about understanding their perspective, holding true to your values / principles / opinions, and seeking a constructive way forward. Sometimes a constructive way forward requires disagreement (and constructive criticism), but when that blurs into anger or aggression, the dialogue isn't there…and any opportunities dwindle. That line between passion and pragmatism is always key.

2) Self and organisation: The balance that gets talked about most in this context is work-life balance, which tends to ignore that for many social entrepreneurs (indeed, entrepreneurs of all types), work and life are not that easily divisible. It might be that this is more about ensuring time is portioned off for non-work, for friends and family, for rest and reflection. Inevitably, it's at the busiest times when this gets squeezed, and it's at those times when it is most valuable. Focus requires concentration and good health; somehow it's never easy to drink more water, sleep enough, eat well and do a bit of exercise. But we all know it works. And we also know that people need to earn a living, even if it's a job they've created themselves.

3) Mission and money: Very much the core of social enterprise + social entrepreneurship, the balance between mission and money is crucial: especially for decision-making. Some now talk about it as "impact-first" and "finance-first" (particularly in the realm of finance), but even just having that level of awareness about different choices is important. Some opportunities might bring in money that allow you to cross-subsidise activities that would have more impact in line with mission. It's the awareness of where the decision lies and why it's being taken. [see slides 9 + 10 in this powerpoint which has a mission-money matrix + the same matrix in tough economic times]

4) Attention to detail and big picture: I find this a tough one, personally. It's easy to get bogged down in the detail of things that aren't really important (as with the cartoon above) or to get very focused (rightly) on delivering to the highest quality; but sometimes that comes at the expense of looking a little long-term and thinking strategically. That's particularly true right now, when the climate is forcing people to act hand-to-mouth and day-to-day. But those who can think about thriving in 2-3 years as well as surviving the next 6 months, will be in an advantageous position. Having said that, I also have huge admiration for those people who in the midst of intense periods of activity, still remember to reply to a (less important) e-mail, write a letter of congratulation, or make an introduction they think might be useful. Well, I did say it was tough….

5) Objectivity and subjectivity: This takes me back to the Big Society and that debate, and also a little to the line between self and organisation. It's about judgement, and trying to take the 'personal' out if it. Thinking about the organisation's best interests and taking out personal feelings and interests as far as possible. Not easy when your contract or grant has been cut, or someone else wins the contract over you; and not easy when that organisation is "your baby", but important. To be ready for the next opportunity, to be on the front foot (not dwelling on what's just happened), to maintain relationships, to think about the intentions of those making the decisions, and to put things in context. Judgement isn't just about what to do and when to do it, but about what you say, how you communicate, and your ability to empathise. Which gets tougher at tough times.

So what's the advice? Take time to reflect; be a bit selfish (otherwise it won't happen); have people near who put things in perspective; keep money + mission at the forefront at all times; look ahead. Which is all a lot easier to write than do.



Share Button

Another day interning at the SSE…

…and it was the most interesting and inspiring yet! Today I pounced on the chance to attend the hands-on program side of the School for Social Entrepreneurs, witnessing how they educate and work with their students through guest presenters, group workshops, and peer-to-peer action learning.

Hclogo The eventful day began at a well-established IT corporation with a social focus called Happy (once called Happy Computers).Through a riveting hour-and-a-half discussion-based presentation from Founder and Chief Executive Henry Stewart, the students and I were able to learn from a variety of his own experiences of formulating and developing his own successful social enterprise. Henry’s presentation focused on the different ways to evaluate your own organisation, as well as constantly looking for areas of improvement within your organisation. One aspect of his presentation that changed my perspective on social enterprise was his discussion on profit, even within the not-for-profit sector. It was interesting to see how careful social enterprises need to be financially to ensure their sustainability and growth. Other tips that Henry included in his presentation included reflection on the passion and cultural attributes of the organisation, how to use awards not as a marketing tool but a tool to compare to other organisations, and how to celebrate mistakes, not only our own but our fellow co-workers and employees (using them as learning experiences).

After this wonderful presentation, we made haste to the SSE to catch a quick lunch and head off to the students’ reflection period and weekly learning session. After the reflection period, which had the students discuss Henry’s presentation, the students were given the opportunity to investigate their projects, the cultural attributes within their projects, and how they want their projects to be shaped in the end. I was happy to join the discussions and activities.

The first activity was to compare our organisations to a specific animal and describe why we choose that animal to represent our organisation. Without hesitation, Director of Learning Marcia Roswell-Joseph put me on the spot and insisted that I went first. Unfortunately, the closest animal that I could link to my social franchise (which is based on youth peer-to-peer mentoring) was a tapeworm and its ability to break apart in fragments and grow into new tapeworms. I knew my major in Biology would pay off somehow. Regardless, it broke the ice and led the way to a variety of answers to the activity that included tortoises representing durability and integrity to ostriches representing an organisation without blind spots. All in all, it was a successful activity just to hear how different individuals understand their own projects and how they want them to develop in the future years.

The next exercise was slightly more difficult for me – it no longer involved animals or any biological aspect. Marcia had us all break up into groups of two to discuss and expand on the issue of cultural attributes that currently exist within our projects, cultural attributes that we hope to exist within our projects, and how we want them to manifest within our organisations. I was fortunate to have been paired up with an individual who had a very different project from my own, which tied in a variety of different perspectives on the importance of different cultural attributes. This individual focused on ensuring there was a democratic process within the office space ensuring decisions were made as a collective group while tying into her project of creating “Green” or sustainable housing developments. I, on the other hand, focussed on keeping the passion towards a common goal within the organization, which is currently self-manifesting as a volunteer organization (those involved are only there because they want to be there, not because there is money).We also had the chance to discuss how our cultural attributes change with the growth of the organisation and how they would have to change to ensure that the organisation was operating effectively and efficiently within set parameters.

To be frank and honest, the sessions were exactly what I was looking for: an opportunity to discuss issues within our projects, and how to ensure that we are not forgetting or being ignorant of any one idea or perspective.(The whole experience also reminded me of my Smart Step workshops, except it was adults enjoying the positive learning environment, not teenagers – very interesting and refreshing). Summarizing my thoughts and feelings, I wish I could spend a year here at the SSE attending workshops and guest presenters. It would give me a world full of ideas, while ensuring that I stay focused on achieving my goals and turning my dreams into reality. In other words, it would be a phenomenal experience.

[Ed. – Please comment on what animal your organisation is most like and why below….!]

Share Button

Interns, enterns and the ripple effect

Hamsterwheel One side-effect of the recession / rising unemployment might potentially be a rise in the number of graduates seeking work experience, as fewer will be going straight into work. Whether this begins to correspond to a rise in internships at different organisations will be interesting to see. Interns have been on my mind of late, since Jamie Veitch's excellent blog post over at New Start: "Interns: make tea for free, get a job (maybe)". The crux of his argument is as follows:

"It always struck me as ironic that an organisation devoted to social inclusion should perpetuate a system
whereby only those with the means to work for free could gain the
experience they needed to get a proper job in the sector."

I would pretty much agree with this. From an organisational point of view, though, as I commented on the post, the flipside is that if you hold rigorously to this value set (around social inclusion) you can actually lose
out on fresh thinking, additional capacity etc etc. in comparison with other agencies in the field.For an organisation like SSE, with a core staff team of around 10, one person can make a substantial impact. The person who's set up the interesting Enternships site (Rajeeb Dey) clearly agrees.

We've dipped our toe in the water, as regular readers of the blog will know, with an intern-ing relationship with a college in Minnesota, St Olaf….particularly with their Center for Experiential Learning, because it shared a focus on action learning, entrepreneurship and social innovation. For the last two Januarys, we've had an intern from St Olaf (Thor and then Hannah), and I think it's been a mutually beneficial experience in terms of learning, contribution to SSE, and development (on both sides). Both utilised the university's travel fund to make it happen.

As the person managing them internally, it's been great to maintain the relationship afterwards and to continue conversations about where they are heading job and career-wise. Both have influenced the development of things back at St Olaf, and also kept in contact throughout. Thor is coming back to work for us this summer for 3 months (and we're paying him this time…), whilst Hannah is applying to work with a large US non-profit financial institution, Thrivent Financial. Both of which I'm delighted about, and happy to support with references or advice or whatever.

Are we helping perpetuate disadvantage by taking internships in this way? I don't think we are in this case, and there is also the broader point that, as Matt Stevenson-Dodd has written recently, this movement also needs to attract the high educational achievers. But we similarly can't be complacent about using processes that reinforce advantage and inequality. Perhaps there is room for a supported internship scheme, or sponsored internship bursaries, in this sector to ensure that doesn't happen.

Share Button