by Charlotte Young, SSE Chair of Trustees.
I was recently at one of those events that crystalizes all that I love about SSE. It was of course a graduation ceremony for some of those exceptional people who become Fellows. Hearing about their lives and the impact they are making always has the same impact on people at these events for whom it is the first time they’ve encountered SSE – emotion, inspiration and renewed optimism about what is possible. And it has exactly the same effect on me.
Every time I look at a newspaper however, there seem to be writers preoccupied by why so many people are disillusioned with the state of our society. And although the features are pretty well agreed – inequality and exclusion, isolation and poverty, pursuit of the superficial and lack of meaning, greed and cynical manipulation – I rarely see anything that looks like a positive approach to making things better. But every time I talk to a student or a Fellow that is exactly what I hear – solid, practical work dedicated to making things better.
I am absolutely convinced that you as a social entrepreneur are a force for good in any part of society that gives you encouragement. And I am also convinced that we all need to understand that people like you do far more than just setting up a special sort of economic venture. Even if that is at the very heart of what you are doing, it’s very likely that you will be providing employment, meeting local needs and demonstrating a more decent set of values than large parts of the current economy. But you have the potential to do far, far more than that. What I tend to see in students and Fellows I meet is firstly much better informed insight about what issues need dealing with and something approaching obsession about getting things to happen. The fact that you identify so strongly with the cause are addressing means there is an emotional dimension to what you do that gives extra energy, toughs out difficult times, sweeps other people along with you, makes people believe problems can be cracked. As the originator of some valuable initiative, you become something of a leader and role model and so people who might otherwise have sat on the side-lines and moaned, are much more likely to be persuaded that something positive can be done and may start to act differently.
From the start SSE has assumed that our programmes should equip social entrepreneurs not only to tackle current difficulties, but also to gain sufficient confidence and self-awareness that, in the longer term, you can shape your immediate social environment to be capable of and confident in tackling most of life’s challenges. And all the evidence of our evaluations and the thousand or so stories of our Fellows show that people like you are moving steadily in this direction.
As a proportion of the population, our numbers are pretty small, but we are together capable of making a lot of noise. So go on; boast a bit about what you do; tell those miserable pessimists that there are some signs of real hope. Together with all the other Fellows, you are tackling inequality and deprivation; you are breaking down isolation and adding to the social capital of our world; you are throwing out challenges against superficiality and greed. Try not to worry about the small things. Keep talking to other Fellows and to us and go on making it a better place. I’m not surprised the audience at the graduation was impressed. You are a very impressive lot!!