Living Values, Being Bold

SSE attended the Living Values conference, organised by Community Links (and supported by Esmee Fairbairn Foundation). It launched a report, based on a collaborative enquiry, about the importance of values to the third sector, and how they are central to our work and thinking. The set of values the report says are common to 3rd sector organisations are:

– empowering people
– pursuing equality
– making voices heard
– transforming lives
– being responsible
– finding fulfilment
– doing a good job
– generating public wealth

In addition to these (which few people would find much to argue with, or indeed not be able to place their organisation within), the report says that these values are not unique to the sector, but the combination and prioritisation of them is.

A further key message was that values are not an abstract set of nouns at the top of a piece of paper, but are the basis for all activities, underpinning everything an organisation does. As David Robinson said in the final session, "Values are not separate from everything else we do; they underpin it all".

It was an interesting day, particularly relevant to the world of social enterprise…because social entrepreneurs tend to face the mission drift challenge consistently, given their opportunistic nature and will to act. Understanding and communicating and measuring things against a clear set of values then becomes of increasing importance. If you are drifting or being pragmatic in the short term to achieve a longer term goal, at least know that that is what you are doing.

There was also some interesting discussion about how the founding entrepreneurs (who may be closest to the original values) can effectively capture those and communicate them to those who follow on from them. Something, incidentally, which I singularly failed to do at my previous organisation….

The other message was BE BOLD: make your values explicit in what you do….on the basis that those organisations that do so are most successful in the long run. It is about, as Matthew Smerdon put it, "being able to demonstrate our legitimacy" as a sector, showing our governance and activity is grounded in values. And to learn confidence from the public sector, not being timid or diffident.

Also much discussion around government contracts / commissioning processes, and how to influence those BEFORE the tenders emerge. And how, as it were, to put a value on our values (and how government tenders can provide space/opportunity for this to happen)….which seems key to me. As Craig Dearden-Phillips put it, " we need to measure the added value that flows from our values".

I could write more (on ethical dilemmas, value-led approaches to including users), but the report, which should be available via Community Links’ website soon, will cover much of this and more. No matter where your organisation is at, it makes important reading.

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