From garden blogger to social entrepreneur

by Deborah Scott Anderson  A year ago I was a horticultural blogger chatting online with gardeners all over the world about the effects of climate change in my garden. My days were usually spent sharing stories and pictures about whether bulbs were early or how late into the autumn my geraniums were still flowering. Today I am a social entrepreneur and Founder of Climate Gardens, an online environmental enterprise that uses the effect of unpredictable weather on our plants and gardens to raise the issue of climate change. This has been an incredible journey.

In October 2012 I was chosen to be part of the first group of social entrepreneurs that SSE selected for the Lloyds Bank Social Entrepreneurs Programme. The chance to have a year of training and development to help grow my idea for Climate Gardens plus a grant to make it happen seemed too good to miss.  I was very nervous about what was expected of me but just knew this was a unique opportunity and that SSE was an organisation that I very much needed to be involved with.

From day one I was blown away by the calibre of our group. I had never been in contact with such a diverse range of inspiring personalities. Every single individual seemed to have endless drive and ambition as well as being the creator of unique projects that were already delivering social impact in very challenging environments such as health, education, drama, prison service, family mediation and supporting a range of diverse ethnic and disability communities.

How would a middle aged white female with an environmental passion for gardening fit with this impressive and diverse group?

Where would SSE lead me as an individual and how would I develop my project?

I quickly realised that there was one unique quality that I shared with all my fellow class mates –everyone was totally passionate about what they were trying to do. No matter what our age, gender, sex or background we were drawn together through a deep desire to make a difference in some way to the society or environment in which we live.

This very obvious shared passion and commitment quickly bonded us together as a group. As the weeks unfolded we met for regular SSE sessions during which there were always opportunities to share common experiences and frustrations about setting up our projects. Sometimes we just chatted about how life was treating us or discovered more about our very different backgrounds. Support and understanding constantly radiated from the group and also from the amazing team at SSE. I always looked forward to SSE sessions. It was like stepping into a friendly and welcoming environment that reminded me I was not alone in my ambition to be a social entrepreneur.

The Lloyds Bank Social Entrepreneurs Programme is based on Learning “by doing” and we certainly did that! The aim is always to support but also be challenged by practitioners, staff and each other to become the most successful social entrepreneurs that we can. SSE rightly believes that social entrepreneurs develop their business and life skills through applying their learning directly to their project, through practical action not academic theory.

One of the biggest inspirations was listening to successful SSE fellows. These witness sessions involved social entrepreneurs sharing the mistakes they made, the challenges they faced and how they overcame them. These individuals formed the core of my understanding that everyone who sets up a social enterprise experiences many frustrations and continual problems. On reflection I feel that having to struggle is what actually makes them successful social entrepreneurs. Each SSE fellow we witnessed went through so much to achieve their goals because they are usually trying to help disadvantaged groups or communities – experiencing  this struggle helps them to be more understanding of how tough life can be for certain communities.

Being a very practical person, I enjoyed the excellent sessions where we learnt about a variety of skills such as setting up an enterprise, marketing, finance, presentation skills and how to secure funding which I found particularly useful and am busy preparing my bid for further financial support.

The course is underpinned with on-going supportive personal development sessions. Regular mentoring and business advice sessions with a very patient Lloyds Bank mentor combined with group and one to one Action Learning Sets helped me enormously with specific issues around my project and even personal life. SSE believes that understanding and supporting an individual raises their chance of being a successful social entrepreneur. This worked for me as I found the regular support enabled me to work out both my strengths and weaknesses. I can now identify how to work with my good skills whilst working on how to improve the things that are really holding me back.

I will miss being part of SSE with its very friendly yet highly professional office near London Bridge where you can always be assured of a supportive chat (and usually a delicious lunch as well!) The experience confirmed my commitment to being a social entrepreneur which will be demonstrated by the launch of my new website funded by the Lloyds Bank Social Entrepreneurs Programme on 18th October, our graduation day. The road ahead certainly looks better than it did a year ago.  The good news is that the lights are definitely all on green.

Being a social entrepreneur is one of the toughest jobs I know. Finding your vision, keeping hold of it, making time to make the vision a reality whilst juggling financial,  professional demands and personal commitments is a reality for everyone on the 2012/2013 Programme.

The big difference is that I know that I am not alone. There are many social entrepreneurs making this journey and I feel honoured to be part of such an innovative community. I have seen how social entrepreneurs inspire each other and those around them in order to create collective change in attitudes or even influence government policy to improve society or the environment.

A year ago I would not have believed this was possible.

This post is by Deborah Scott Anderson, Founder and Director at Climate Gardens.  You can follow her on Twitter @climategarden

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