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Social enterprise and entrepreneurship links round-up July 2012

20 Jul

As ever, I’ve been struggling to read all the things I would like to….so here’s a snapshot of the various pieces, articles and publications that I’ve been bookmarking and finding of most interest in the last few months. Hopefully, they are of interest to you too…

– Fascinating article by John Lanchester (whose Whoops! book on the financial crisis is highly recommended) on how finance is ‘postmodern’ and the concept of value has become increasingly blancmange-like: Melting Into Air [via Dan G]

– Widely covered but important reading: the Joseph Rowntree Foundation report on poverty, employment and what the situation might be by 2020 – The Impact of Employment Changes on Poverty in 2020

– I’m always a sucker for anything interesting about China, having worked out there quite a bit in the field of social enterprise, and this is a decent round-up of recent + current activity: Pioneering social innovation in China

– Just an excellent one-page image of what non-profits should know about social media (pdf): Social Media Posting Strategy

– While we’re on the subject of social media, Beth Kanter is the go-to person on social media-meets-social enterprise + non-profits; so, for the geeky end of anyone reading, here’s her post on How to Get Insight from Data Visualisation which is significantly more interesting than the title makes it sound…

– Housing associations are commonly referred to as sleeping giants in the social enterprise world, but plenty of those giants have awakened and are doing some thought-through work in the space; see this article on Housing Associations and Social Investment for example

– Social investment is the most commonly-written about topic at the moment, and one area of interest is how charitable foundations think about utilising their endowment / investment policies to contribute to the growth; Dave Ainsworth from Third Sector magazine gives a good round-up on the subject here: Put the money where the mission is

– Impact investment and social investment require a different take on capital and markets; Panahpur’s video promo for their Return of Capital is a useful 5 minute introduction as to why this take on investment is growing; and has production values uncommon to the third sector to boot…worth a watch (and a read of the book)

– More practical in its focus and aim is the (rather hyperbolically-titled) The Ultimate Guide to Raising Finance for Social Enterprise which, rather prosaically, is a useful primer and introductory article on the subject. But useful nonetheless….

– Ashoka UK have a ‘Changemaker Toolbox‘ which is a list of organisations and websites (admittedly that sounds less exciting than Changemaker Toolbox); it’s a bit confused, with lots of overlap between sections and a little tricky to navigate by the headings, but it makes up for this in its sheer copiousness…

– And if that’s not enough reading for you, NCVO’s Karl Wilding has put together his traditional summer holiday reading list for us social sector types…see What’s on your summer holiday reading list? and add your own in the comments.


What the NFL can teach the Premier League about philanthropy

14 Nov

Amongst much else, I’m a big fan of two things: American Football and podcasts. So it should come as no surprise to find out that I listen to a number of podcasts about American Football (aka the National Football League or NFL). My favourite is the Rich Eisen podcast which interviews players, coaches, celebrities and fans to give a good and in-depth all round picture of the NFL in all its glory and madness. A few weeks back, Rich interviewed Namdi Asomugha, who is a cornerback for the Philadelphia Eagles (stick with me, non-NFL lovers) and one of the biggest names in the sport. And I was listening to the interview at the same time as the “Carlos Tevez refusing to play” incident happened in a game between Manchester City and Bayern Munich.

Asomugha signed a $60m five-year deal in the summer with the Eagles. Which is a huge amount. Almost as huge as the £230,000 a week Carlos Tevez gets (which amounts to around £12m per year, or £60m over five years). That is where the comparison starts to fall apart. Because while Tevez was refusing to play (after all, who would kick a ball around a field for a paltry quarter of a million a week?), I was listening to Asomugha talk about the Asomugha Foundation with intelligence and humility. I recommend taking a look at the site which is notable for a couple of things:

– the impressive set of programmes it runs
– the relative lack of any photos of the famous player behind it; rather, the website focuses on the work, the team, and the impact

And Asomugha is not a solitary example in the NFL. A few weeks later, Eisen was interviewing Adrian Peterson, another massive American Football star (running back for the Minnesota Vikings, since you asked), and he talked about his All Day Foundation, and how he is donating $5000 each time he scores a touchdown; a pledge which is being matched by Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore each time. A couple of weeks back, the entire league supported the ‘Think Pink‘ campaign to raise awareness and funding for breast cancer: see the picture above to demonstrate the lengths to which players got involved. The recent poppy campaign for the British Legion is about as close as the Premier League has ever got; and it’s some way short of making the most of its potential.

Meanwhile, Premier League players do little by comparison. Some clubs have been pioneers in their community work (such as Charlton) but there is limited evidence of the players taking responsibility or showing behaviour suitable for role models: people like David James and Craig Bellamy are largely exceptions. [Carlos Tevez organises an annual charity golf tournament, which presumably raises significantly less than he was fined by Manchester City]  It was excellent to see the (fab) charity Street League supported in the most recent friendly, but there’s so much more that could be done. Manchester City recently put a call out via the sector trade press for two organisations to receive £50,000 each for a year. To put that in context, that’s about a day’s wages per organisation for Tevez. Or Yaya Toure. Indeed, if the entire Manchester City squad donated a day’s wages, I estimate that would be about £250,000 between them. (There was a partially successful attempt to do this in the past: see Footballers dig deep for nurses).

The biggest shame about this is that, particularly in the field of social enterprise, sport and football is a growing activity. Whether it’s FC United, AFC Wimbledon, Clyde or others who’ve benefited from the sterling work of Supporters’ Direct, there are a myriad number of community-based projects to get involved in. How refreshing would it be to see some Premier League footballers support some of these initiatives and invest some of their earnings in something completely in line with their own passion? How can we build the same culture of philanthropy and social action amongst the Premier League footballers so that, as with American footballers, it is expected?

And if they did? Well, maybe a great deal of good would be done, awareness raised, campaigns supported, and impact created. Including impact on the reputation of some of the footballers themselves. Or maybe some of those clubs would even follow in the footsteps of arguably the leading community-owned social enterprise team in the sporting world: the Green Bay Packers. Not only are the Packers the only community-owned team in the NFL, they are also the most successful in the league’s history. As they might say in Wisconsin, “Touchdown”.

Can information drive behaviour change?

8 Sep

Been wondering what to blog about after another hectic month or two. Then I was talking to someone this week about retrofitting social housing, and the need for this to be accompanied by behaviour change….and it occurred to me that the area where technology meets behaviour change was pretty pertinent at the moment. It was interesting to learn about the work going on in preparation for the Green Deal (which is what our conversation was about), and how the technical changes (eg. photovoltaic cells on roof, new boilers, new insulation, better glazed windows) need to be matched by behaviour change. Not much point changing all the windows if the resident opens a window rather than turn the heating down…which led to a further chat about whether some of the nudge-type techniques (including how much money neighbours have saved on utility bills, smart meters etc) would really work.

I love reading behavioural economics books like Nudge and they are very persuasive, but I have found myself questioning whether it isn’t just a way, from a policymaker’s point of view, of ducking difficult decisions. This post by Will Wilkinson, which I was alerted to on Twitter, takes that thought and expands upon it at length: Behavioural Economics: Ammo for Bullshitters. Well worth a read, especially because it deals exactly with the electricity bill example I mention above (“showing someone their neighbor’s bill is not the best way to get them to cut their own bill. The best way is to charge an amount that reflects the true cost of the electricity”).

That leads me on to SoCap 2011 which is a conference about the intersection between money and meaning, or more prosaically about all things social investment and impact investing in the US and beyond. I’ve watched a few of the sessions livestreamed, and the opening plenary had an interesting discussion which included Mathieu Senard of Alter Eco and Kevin Starr of the Mulago Foundation. They had an interesting conversation about whether they wanted their products to be judged purely on their place in the market (i.e. a bag bought because it’s a great bag, not because of any other reason…) or whether they wanted to utilise the stories behind the product to sell it (potentially at a premium). Is it enough to sell the products and have the associated social impact or does that waste the opportunity to utilise the products to create awareness and behaviour change (and potentially more impact)? That can be a chicken and egg type of conversation, as SoCap founder Kevin Jones pointed out: “Once you’ve changed the world, you’ll be able to sell way more bags…”.

Stories that hold the meaning proved crucial when doing my work in Beijing recently (running a learning programme with university students to enable them to run their community projects and potentially become social entrepreneurs). Case studies that had resonance to them brought them and the subject alive, so I was drawing on all the examples I knew of over the three days of the programme. And used videos liberally (of Catch 22, MyBnk, We Make A Change and many more)…. Inevitably with a cohort of 75 (!), some were more engaged than others, but I’m hopeful that some of the information and inspiration in those stories does lead to behaviour change in some small ways.

Finally, to tie all of that together (he says hopefully), I found a whole series of links from Beth Kanter on infographics and their use for charities and social enterprises (found because she sent them to me!). See Infographics for Non-Profits: the New Storytelling, this post on infographics and this post on video infographics. All worth a look for anyone who’s interested in this whole area of stories, information, meaning and changing behaviour. I’ll leave you with the best video I’ve seen of late (I think this may even be an infographic), which is an animated colour representation of Kiva’s loans over the last five years. I tried to spot my half a dozen loans, but no luck. Enjoy:

All that you leave behind

1 May

I’ve been finalising some pieces of work for my old employer, including the launch of their forthcoming evaluation. There’s lots in there, but the bit that has resonated with me over the last few days has been about the ‘ripple effect’ that individuals can have (in this case, social entrepreneurs): inspiring others, passing on experience + expertise, mobilising volunteers, employing locally and so on. Much of which is difficult to quantify, but extremely valuable.

Having been at one organisation for a long time, it’s also inevitable to think about my own personal impact there: projects overseen; strategies implemented; contributions made. There’s also a flipside with the life of the freelancer, who usually drops in to an organisation or project, makes a contribution, then leaves and moves on to the next thing. Is the contribution constructive, useful, implemented, practical? Does it move the project forward? Or, to put it another way, the question on both counts is “What did I leave behind?”

Which is why it was a pleasure to get a package through the post this week which took me back to the first organisation I’d ever worked at. I worked with a phenomenal social entrepreneur called Nicholas Albery. He started too many initiatives for me to list here; suffice to say it encompassed everything from learning poetry by heart to declaring a part of West London independent from the UK to ecologically-friendly funerals. One of the myriad things he started was a walking club, which was connected to a book he authored: the Time Out Book of Country Walks. You could do one of the 52 walks whenever you wanted, but if you did them on a particular weekend (according to the rota in the book), you would find yourself with the self-organised walking club.

It was (and is) a brilliant idea, combining many of Nicholas’ loves: walking, nature, health, community, togetherness. The strength of the idea is best illustrated by what happened when Nicholas tragically died in 2001. Members of the Walking Club he created wrote a new book of walks in his honour; I negotiated and co-ordinated with Time Out, drew the maps (!) and edited / proofed their excellent text…and this was ultimately printed as the Time Out Book of Country Walks vol. 2. A great testament to Nicholas, and a fitting tribute from the people he’d inspired and brought together.

Both the walking books have just been reprinted (all the proceeds from both still go to support charities that Nicholas set up), and those involved were kind enough to send me a couple of complimentary copies. They’ve been improved and updated (still by the members of the walking club, working with Time Out), and it was great to see that they are still going, still providing thousands of people with enjoyment each year, and still raising thousands of pounds for charity as well.

What an amazing legacy Nicholas left behind: the Walking Club + books are just one example…and he is an example too. I’d be happy to leave even a hundredth of the impact he did in the things I do.

Do charities need intelligence analysis?

26 Feb

Catching up on reading is one of the side-benefits of a freelance lifestyle, and I’ve been enjoying Malcolm Gladwell’s latest book, What the Dog Saw. I felt that Blink and Outliers were more like extended magazine articles than books (unlike the Tipping Point), so this book is perfect as it’s a collection of his magazine articles. Having skipped through chapters on the Talent Myth and Why Job Interviews Don’t Matter (all a bit too pertinent right now), I was fascinated by his look at intelligence analysis.

He writes about 9/11 and the oft-reported intelligence failures that allowed it to take place (aka why didn’t they connect the dots of all the various relevant pieces of information they had). His take on it is that intelligence has changed: from solving a ‘puzzle’ to solving a ‘mystery’. By which he means that in the past, intelligence officers would receive information, then work out the ‘answer’ to whatever the puzzle was. So the key task was getting enough information, then working it out.

But the opposite is now true: all the intelligence agencies have more than enough information; in fact, they have too much. It’s easy to look back after the event (as with 9/11) and connect the dots, but at the time there were hundreds of thousands of dots, all of which could have been relevant or a red herring or completely unconnected. In essence, therefore, intelligence has shifted from being one of passively receiving information and using it to get the answer (solving a puzzle) to actively utilising networks, information and data to ‘write’ the story / narrative, work out the players, the next steps to follow and undertand the complexities of the whole picture (solving a mystery).

What occurred to me reading it is that this isn’t a million miles from the realities of what is needed in many organisations, in public, private and social sectors. The ability to:

–       be well-networked (on- and offline) to receive and transmit information

–       assimilate and collate that data and information

–       read and review it at speed to identify what is key

–       edit and summarise it into manageable / usable formats and documents

–       relate and integrate it to mission, strategy and impact

–       communicate it clearly and simply to influence and inform decisions

In working with people across the social enterprise and charity worlds, it soon becomes apparent that, in regard to most questions, challenges and problems, there is no right answer. They are not puzzles, but mysteries in an ever-more networked world full of information and data.

Which makes the role of the intelligence analyst a key one not only for the FBI, CIA, MI6 and the rest, but also for organisations seeking to be neither overwhelmed by an unrelenting flow of information, nor left behind because they missed the key moves, shifts and opportunities. The stakes might not be as high (to say the least) but charities and social enterprises should be thinking about which person or persons plays that role for them; it could be key to the future of the organisation.

5 steps to (really) relaunching Big Society

15 Feb

Does my society look big in thisThe great irony of the current Big Society debate is that it has brought the third sector / social enterprise / civil society organisations and issues to the front of mainstream media. While the relaunch yesterday was surprising only in that it genuinely involved nothing new (all the initiatives had been previously announced or, in the shape of the Transition Fund, already over…), it was pleasantly surprising to hear a good half a dozen people I knew plastered across TV and radio. It is a slightly strange situation to listen to Radio 4 / 5 (depending on how broadsheet / tabloid I was feeling at that point in the day) and hearing them introduce Toby Blume or Rod Schwartz or Geoff Burnand or the ubiquitous Stephen Bubb, or to spot Nigel Kershaw sitting behind David Cameron during his speech.

Then I got to thinking about it from a strategic and communications perspective. If they are committed to sticking with it in the long-term, what would I recommend if I was in their position? NCVO have had an interesting stab at this, called  “How to rescue the Big Society”, which includes some good, concrete suggestions: doubling the Transition Fund to £200m (and loosening the criteria); addressing the issue of irrecoverable VAT; and (an old favourite) simplifying and modernising Gift Aid. The irrepressible Allison Ogden-Newton has added her on the money (and about the money) suggestions in this post, and expert social enterprise blogger David Floyd has added his thoughts here. Both well worth a read.

My five steps would be as follows; I’m not particularly focusing on motivations here, just what I would do:

1) Walk the walk: If the government is encouraging everyone to do their bit and say that we are all in it together, they have to be seen to be doing that themselves. Secondments, mentoring, volunteering and social action from ministers and civil servants at the centre won’t change the problems, but it will start to address that key issue of “we’re not really in it together, are we?”. Creating a ‘civic service’ was part of the Coalition’s manifesto, and I know there are initiatives and plans under way, but these should be strengthened, given prominence and pushed on. It’s not just about the presentational aspect (though that’s important), but also about them being seen by charities and social enterprises to get a genuine understanding of the challenges (and successes) on the front line. Questions like this (Eddie Mair asking Francis Maude about his own volunteering) would then not be so problematic, and they would not be open to articles like this.

2) Be consistent: The Big Society concept is undermined by inconsistency, between departments, ministers, initiatives and so on. One example is the consistent (and I would argue not misplaced) talk from Office of Civil Society ministers about the need to get money to the frontline, and to not just fund umbrella groups, but those organisations who can help with delivery. OK, that works for me, even if ‘umbrella group’ sometimes gets mistaken for ‘infrastructure’ which is not the same thing at all (and important). But then the new strategic partners funding stuff comes out and states (though it’s unclear how flexible this is) that it will only fund “membership”-based groups….which would tend to mean NOT those delivering at the front line, and include a fair few umbrellas…..That’s a small example, but there are more from across different policies and initiatives and, increasingly, between departments (though the latter is nothing new, of course). Where, for example, is the enterprise and entrepreneurship in Michael Gove’s move back to a more traditional rote learning curriculum?

3) Be honest (and radical) about the finance: I would back NCVO’s call to double the Transition Fund (apparently it was £70m oversubscribed), and broaden the criteria. Because government will pay much more in the long-term in costs than for giving short-term support now. And it will help with the big problem at the moment, which is that all the new opportunities and initiatives (Big Society Bank, opening up local commissioning, etc) are coming after the majority of cuts will have happened. Whether we place this at (central) government’s door for frontloading the cuts, meaning local authorities have to cut, or the fact that other things have taken too long to get started, it’s a huge problem. And it is disingenuous for ministers to ask councils to cut bureaucracy and middle management (though I’ve no doubt that exists) rather than the voluntary sector: most councils aren’t announcing some minor tweaks, but thousands of job losses. So the (unringfenced) sector will inevitably not be a priority. So they’ll need some money now to survive (if you think they should), which you can either distribute via local authorities or directly. Loans and equity aren’t going to solve the sector’s finances via the Big Society Bank, and even its new chair has acknowledged as much. But they have at least got it started, which Labour failed to do over many years, and they could help it work by providing support (investment-readiness, HR, growth strategies) alongside, and by ensuring a proportion has to go to organisations with turnover under a £1m.

4) Change the narrative: Cameron had a start at this yesterday, but the reducing of the idea to just volunteering has become prevalent. They need to expand their range of tangible, practical examples of what it means and how it can change or affect people’s lives. This will be easier once they start giving out money and have some case studies (the Transition Fund helped x to survive and now they’ve gone on and done y and earned enough income to…etc), but is needed now. Giving people power is only an idea until they have utilised that power to do something or change something. In the same way that the previous government often used to talk about empowerment, but meant ‘consultation’ or ‘engagement with’ rather than really giving power to. There is some radical shifting going on (in the Localism Bill for example), but it’s not being communicated positively at all, and that should change. The Big Society Awards look like an attempt to do this, but they are unrelated to government policies, so can come across as just more credit-taking for work that was already being done.

5) Think long and be persistent: It seems set that the government will persist with the idea, and I think that’s right: how much of a kicking would they get to their principles if they ditched it less than a year in? And most change happens through dogged commitment and persistence as much as anything else. This is also part of thinking long-term, but that also needs to be evidenced by their actions and decisions. All ministers talk about the importance of measuring social impact and social value, but this as been pretty summarily ignored in the decisions made at national and local levels. This has to change if progress is to be made; whether this means really getting behind the Social Value Bill (as NCVO suggest), ensuring each government initiative has it built in in some way, reducing the scale of contracts (so they are accessible), or incorporating SROI into decision-making processes, I don’t know. But it’s currently not being done at all, and that is doubly damaging: one, because it disincentivises social sector organisations to properly measure their impact, and two, because it means that decisions take immediate financial savings into account, rather than long-term social benefits and associated cost-savings.

I share much of what the sector at large has said, particularly about the impact of the cuts at local level right now. But, as David Floyd points out, in the right context, Big Society is a good idea, and could hold out much opportunity to charities and social enterprises. Whether the current context allows that to happen remains to be seen; certainly, radical action needs to be taken, in communication, strategy and implementation.