Archive | resources RSS feed for this section

11 essential social enterprise & entrepreneurship reads

30 Apr

I was happily scanning Twitter the other evening and came across a tweet from charity luminary Martin Brookes who asked “Charity types – can you recommend good articles, books or thinkers on what modern/21st century charities should look like, please? Thanks.” It’s worth checking out the answers from people more plugged into current charity thinking in response to the tweet. A couple of links that I’ll be following up on include articles on digital futures and ethics particularly.

I threw in a few suggestions, more from the social enterprise perspective, and it got me thinking about what would be the books that I would recommend to someone trying to get good insight and practical thinking for their social enterprise, responsible business, enterprising charity or new ethical start-up. So here are the ones that I rate, use and draw on myself.

1) Forces for Good: The Six Practices of High-Impact Nonprofits
Written by Leslie Crutchfield and Heather McLeod, this follows the Good to Great template of Jim Collins and tries to establish the key factors that make a successful charity or social enterprise. It’s obviously US-centric, but there’s plenty of interest here that still stands up a full decade after the first edition (it was updated in 2012): on leadership, on how to inspire advocates, on earning income (in pursuit of mission) and on combining service with advocacy.

2) Adapt: Why Success Always Starts with Failure
Tim Harford is best known for his Undercover Economist colum in the Financial Times, and for being at the helm of the excellent More Or Less statistics podcast. This book is well worth a read, too, though – because at a time when social sector organisations need to a) test out new approaches b) have constrained resources and c) have no idea what is round the corner, being able to adapt is critical. There are important lessons here on how to ‘bet small’ with new ideas, on how to be resilient, and how to respond to changing conditions.

3) Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking
This book by Susan Cain has had me thinking more deeply about the ‘workplace’ and ‘team’ than probably any other in recent years. Social enterprise is about inclusion and accessibility, and we rightly focus on the track record of better representation of women, those with disabilities and those from different ethnic backgrounds. But this book too, at its heart, is about inclusion – of those who learn, work, communicate and contribute differently. As someone who chairs networks, convenes groups, facilitates workshops and tries to build a team and foster a culture, it’s a hugely relevant and important read. Unless you’re not interested in how you get the best out of everyone in your organisation…

4) Made to Stick: Why some ideas take hold and others come unstuck
I read this a long time ago, but still go back to its core essentials. The Heath brothers have written a couple of books since (about making decisions and about making a big change) but I think both pale compared to this, their first, which focuses on how to get messages across. For many in the social and ethical business space, this is a key area – we still underinvest in marketing, we still struggle to refine and articulate a core message (either for individual enterprises or as a movement) and yet we have the best stories: of transformation, of change, of the future. There’s some good practical advice in the Heaths’ SUCCESS formula that’s worth taking note of.

5) The Happy, Healthy Nonprofit: Strategies for Impact without Burnout
Beth Kanter is one of the most engaging and informative writers on all things social sector (aka non-profit) in the US. For many years, she was my go-to read on social media meets social sector, and this more recent book focuses on self-care – of individuals and organisations. As the oft-repeated saying goes, survival rate is meant to refer to the enterprise not the founding entrepreneur – and the swiftest route to not creating impact is to burn yourself and your team out. Thinking about that from the start – and what a similar approach might mean for your organisation – make this a good, healthy read.

6) The Social Entrepreneur’s A to Z
Whichever way you look at the data, there is a growing number of social and ethical start-ups being established by a whole range of people. And an almost equivalent number of intermediaries giving support, advice, business plan frameworks, funding, investment and legal structures advice. At Social Enterprise UK, we also have a rewritten and re-designed start-up guide coming soon, to respond to the level of demands and enquiries we get. For a more personal perspective and one that I think rings true from what I’ve seen in our world, I recommend Liam’s book – it’s real and honest about the anxiety, about the money, about the basics and about much more besides for budding (and current) social entrepreneurs.

7) Doughnut Economics: Seven Ways to Think Like a 21st-Century Economist
Underlying the growth of social enterprise and hybrid business models is an increasing understanding and acceptance that the way that capitalism and business is run currently is simply not working. I wrote about some of the aspects of this in my recent post on an inclusive industrial strategy (value, productivity, growth, resources), but there are people who’ve been giving substantive thought to this for years. Kate Raworth is one of those – someone proposing what economics and economic thinking should look like in the future. If you want some intellectual heft and academic clout to back up your arguments, start here.

8) Estates: An Intimate History
Social mobility, creating opportunity and the myth of meritocracy seem to me like some of the central challenges and problems we face. This book by Lynsey Hanley is a memoir but one with universal learning and appeal, particularly on how the physical walls and barriers are matched by psychological ones. A must-read for anyone wanting to get a personal insight into housing, employment and opportunity in modern Britain.

9) Outside In: The Power of Putting Customers at the Center of Your Business
One of the central premises of social enterprise and, even more so, co-operatives and mutuals is that it puts employees, the community, and beneficiaries (or service users or whatever other synonym you want to use) at the heart of the business in a different way: in the governance, in decision-making, in the design of programmes and so on. But this premise isn’t always carried through, and I think there are still lessons to learn from other sectors. This book shares learning from some businesses big and small, and from years of customer service and satisfaction research: good insights aplenty.

10) What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets
In this space where charity meets business, where money meets mission, the trade-offs between the commercial and the social are always at the forefront; indeed, they are at the centre of many of the main debates and areas of contention in social enterprise. This book by Michael Sandel is a brilliant exploration of how far the commercialisation and marketisation of our society can and should go – and what those limits mean for the world we want to live in and want to build. Thinking to inform your day-to-day.

11) Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance
A final dose of reality. It’s long been my view that much of success in social enterprise (indeed, in most things) is down to passion and perseverance. The imported myths of Silicon Valley incubation and super-speed scaling apply to only a small sub-set of (mostly tech-based) social businesses, and most of the other successes have passion, perseverance and commitment in common. Combined with luck, timing, and a great team, perseverance is as critical a thing to have in your locker as anything. And now there is research to back up this view – which provides the solid underpinnings to this book, which should give hope and succour to every entrepreneur who is battling to not only stay afloat but do more and do better.

Happy reading!

The Future of Doing Good: 7 thoughts

3 Jun

besogoodA couple of weeks back, I attended the Big Lottery Fund’s ‘Future of Doing Good’ event. If you haven’t come across this yet, they are convening and ‘catalysing’ a conversation which aims to step back and think about what the future of doing good looks like – this is important for their own work, but also for the whole of civil society or, even more broadly, society in its entirety. Or as Dawn Austwick, Big Lottery Fund’s CEO puts it on her introductory blog, it’s a chance to think about how we might achieve “a radical rethink of the way people and communities can shape and improve their lives“. They also commissioned a journalist, Sonia Sodha, to do an overview report on the Future of Doing Good as part provocation, part summary, part mapping of some of the main things to think about. I found it a very interesting, if occasionally frustrating read: which may be inevitable when you are trying to cover such a lot of ground in a relatively short report.

 The event itself aimed to continue, expand and grow that conversation. Below are a few of my reflections both on what we heard, and on what I think should be one of the main focuses of work going forward.

Firstly, I should be honest and say it felt incredibly indulgent for me to spend a day away from work just having a conversation – with no clear remit, plan of where it will go, what it might lead to, or whether it would (ultimately) benefit our members. I was glad I was there, but plagued by a constant nagging awareness of the to-do list and the operational realities in what is now a very lean and busy team. I don’t know if others felt the same: what I do know is that this itself demonstrates one of the challenges we currently have – my internal reaction was a microcosm of the current reality: strained (human) resources, an urgent mindset and an increasing divide between those with money and those without: more parochially in this sector as well as in society at large.

Secondly, there was lots of the discussion of relevance to social enterprise – we were given cards with some of the main trends / areas to think about, and these included: creating opportunity from austerity, blurring of organisational boundaries, people driving change, new ways of resourcing, , environmental change, cross-sector working and so on. If this is the future, then social enterprise and entrepreneurship will continue have a significant role – and should be at the centre of people’s thinking, not in the margins or afterthoughts. And that this needs to not be all about individuals – but about networks, about teams, about recruiting great people (millennials, yes, but also those ‘finishing’ their first set of careers at 65 or 70), about investing in better systems, about incentives to collaboration and more.

Thirdly, there was a lot of ‘the future is sector-less‘ chat. As long as we’re ‘mission-led’ it will be OK. Which I go with to a point, but as I said on the day, that blurring of boundaries is being matched by a growth in transparency and actually a growing interest in ownership (and who owns what). It’s fine to say you are mission-led and (plan to) reinvest your profits, as one of the speakers did, but when you can look up their accounts & governing documents before they finish speaking and (if one wished) share that with the world…well, we are operating in a different time: good intentions aren’t good enough. And anyone reading the papers about, to take two topical examples, BHS or Land Registry, might actually think that who owns assets and how they treat them has never been a hotter topic.

Fourthly, I think new technology (is it new anymore?) rightly featured highly: there is little doubt that increasing digitalisation is having a really significant effect on many organisations and programmes (my example above about transparency being one). It’s hugely significant for membership bodies such as SEUK where I work – we now convene, facilitate, broker, advocate, campaign, use data, communicate and promote in totally different ways. But there still seems to be a lot of superficial jargon being lauded over more reasoned, complex thinking. In the last week alone, I’ve read about ‘impact derivatives’ and a ‘refugee impact bond’ – I may not understand either and both may prove wonderful, but I can’t help feeling that, at times, the product name or intervention is coming before any recognised need for it or clear sense of how it will work. Collateralised debt obligations for social value can’t be far away. Karl Wilding and I started the day joking about proposing an ‘uber for charity’ only for ‘uber’ to be the most used word of the day (without any notable reference to the fact that Uber-type platforms arguably entrench inequality, for all that they bring us in convenience & excellent technology).

Fifthly, I was struck by the really interesting conversation about anger – how the original drivers of charity and social entrepreneurs were (are?) anger and injustice, but that now they feel increasingly dissipated by a focus on scale, organisational professionalism and managerial effectiveness. I think there’s truth in that, and there is a challenge to us all to maintain and foster our activist and campaigning edge – the balance between working to change the system from within and from outside, perhaps. It also struck me that, when people were talking about truth to power, the Big Lottery Fund itself is arguably at least as powerful than most government departments now.

Sixthly, it was interesting to listen to a lot of the conversation turn to local systems and place-based change (Immy Kaur from Impact Hub Birmingham was spot on with her thoughts about key leaders across sectors driving change, I thought, as was Diane Coyle saying that system change didn’t happen top-down). I entirely agree: it’s increasingly clear that the mayors of big cities have the most interesting jobs and portfolios and power. And that one of the effects of austerity in central government combined with various pieces of devolution is that Whitehall has diminishing relevance. The most important work we do (such as the Social Enterprise Places programme or our Health & Social Value work) is all with and through local partners, trying to change things in local areas.

But it requires infrastructure, particularly because devolution can actually mean aggregation at regional or city level (as things join up into ever bigger bodies…) – and I was amazed (at least in the conversations I was in) on the lack of discussion about local infrastructure. The sector seems, largely, to have spent nigh-on 7 years analysing the problem in as many different ways as possible without genuinely committing to trying new approaches and solutions (NB – of course not true of all!). We are piloting a whole load of different approaches and joint deals with local networks and partners to try and work out what might sustain us all: what does a lean, local, effective, cross-sectoral infrastructure look like? and how is it resourced? Given the huge need for such networks and organisations with the way things are heading, it should be front and centre for foundations and those thinking about where they put investment. And let’s act not analyse on this one: we know what the problems are, and there are solutions and great examples out there.

Finally, I ended the day in a really interesting conversation about money (who pays) with a range of colleagues from a diverse range of backgrounds (charity, infrastructure, youth, foundations, entrepreneurship etc). It was a more tangible, realistic conversation that covered a lot of interesting ground. For me, the main thing I took away was the ongoing need to maximise the opportunities and value from all of the assets we either have already or can influence now and in future: which means everything from the small charity switching to CafeDirect coffee through to how a foundation manages its endowment; from a big social enterprise providing a standby facility to a smaller peer through to big charities and universities buying social in their supply chain; and from a local council applying social value across all its services to a company using its reserves to invest in new innovation.

It is these last two which for me have to be key elements of the Future of Doing Good. Place-based plans and approaches will only work with significant investment and innovation (in the real, rather than novelty sense) over the long-term in (new) infrastructure. And we will only be able to tackle the problems of the future if we mobilise all our collective assets and resources and skills towards them. That is a future worth trying for, and to start building now.

The First £1.5 billion – and what it tells us

10 Apr

Gritty with quote_1As one (tough) financial year passes, and another (as tough) begins, it feels like a useful time to delve into the sector’s finances more broadly. More specifically, to take a look at Big Society Capital’s report on the Size and Composition of Social Investment in the UK, released a couple of weeks back. (NB – the report was Matt Robinson’s swansong at BSC, as he leaves for international development pastures – he’ll be missed as a clear, reasoned, and principled voice).

The headlines are impressive: £1.5bn worth of social investment (that’s the total value at the end of 2015, not deals done in the past year). Dealflow in the year c. £430m (which is up from the £200m figure reported two or three years back) demonstrating 20% growth or thereabouts. And some evidence of a shift from secured lending to more unsecured lending and different types of products.

[in passing, it is worth mentioning that I enjoyed the “We are confident to a reasonable degree of accuracy (+/- £tens of millions)”, which rather illustrates that the data is still not great. Oh for that margin of error….]

There is much else of interest in the report, not least the fact that this total is dwarfed by about £9bn in bonds and bank loans to charities and social enterprises, not to mention a further £59bn or so if housing associations are taken into account. An alternative version of the report could be titled “Social investment: putting it in perspective”, as some have argued for some time. Nevertheless, there are some signs of progress, and they should be welcomed.

I liked the definitional / segmentation approach too, as best demonstrated by these two diagrams:

BSC Segmentation 1 BSC Segmentation 2

This approach to thinking more clearly about social investment and the terms we use (impact investment, ethical investment, positive investment) is a useful contribution; it also came up recently at the release of some new analysis of social investment research by Jess Daggers and Alex Nicholls – also well worth a look – as well as in the Alternative Commission report. This segmentation of what we mean when we talk about different things seems increasingly important to me where social investment is concerned: so much of the heat and light and baby-bathwater debate flows from misunderstandings, often between (potential) investors and investees.

The percentages table on page 9 is where it gets very interesting: this is a breakdown of social investments by proportion / type. Here it is:

BSC Table 1

[The categorisation on the left relates to BSC’s strategy (Social Innovation, Participation, Scale etc). ]

So to draw out a few things here:

  • there does seem to be a bit more unsecured lending going on: this is good news from a social enterprise perspective, as we know this is what a lot of organisations want/need – although we don’t know how much of the 47% lending figure relates to property; when one adds this to 9% in ‘high impact social property’ and whatever might be in the 30% to ‘non-asset locked’, then the figure could still be quite high. Indeed, if one takes the 30% not going to charities and CICs out of the equation (called Profit with Purpose here), even a cautious estimate like the Social bank lending + the high impact social property give you 45% / 70% which would be equivalent to around 65% secured lending. Not the 80% / 90% figures we used to see, but still a significant majority
  • Social Impact Bonds are responsible for 1% of all social investment in the UK. 1%. Even though the report mentions that this could have been double if calculated mid-way through 2015, that would have only taken it (by my maths) to, er, 2%. If data beats opinion, as someone wiser than me once said, then let us hope that due notice is given to this figure – community shares are responsible for 6 times as much; charity bonds 6 times as much (from the same number of investments), unsecured lending 10 times as much etc.
  • Social Investment Tax Relief-related investments are small but there’s been some decent progress in year 1; it will be interesting to see if they can grow as fast as Community Shares, and add to the ‘democratisation’ and ‘retailisation’ of social investment: 353 investments in total for community shares, involving thousands of people.
  • it’s a bit unclear what’s in the 30% at the bottom; in the annex it says this largely includes work by ClearlySo, Triodos (eg. loans to co-operatives), work by Mustard Seed and more – estimated at £462m through 807 investments, £118m dealflow in 2015 through 46 deals. Would be interesting for someone to disaggregate this a bit more, see if there is overlap with some of the sections above and what extent is just companies limited by share and what is social enterprises or co-operatives with pre-CIC or non-ben-com structures etc

I’m sure that the data isn’t perfect, and I’m sure Matt knows that too – indeed, he has some excellent recommendations on how to continue to get better with the data and reporting. More transparent reporting like this will also help eliminate duplicates (eg. with co-investees arranged by a broker) more comprehensively, and also create benchmarks that can allow for better understanding of progress. I’ve learned whilst being in charge of the State of Social Enterprise survey, that improving the data and the questions is an incremental process and one which is best improved by openness (see our report for Access, Prospecting the Future, for example).

So what are the take-aways?
– welcome the evidence of progress, especially with riskier, unsecured lending
– segmentation, segmentation, segmentation
– let’s use data to inform our policies, programmes and practice- let’s be as open about that data as possible (esp. its quality and how to improve it)
– let’s keep this stuff in perspective


100 social enterprise truths – revisited in 2015

6 Apr

popseIt’s almost four years ago that I took part in PopSE!, the first ever pop-up social enterprise think tank. I remain proud of what we got up to that week, the report we produced (which still bears reading), and the people who I got to know, meet and work with. It was also a lot of fun, and a refreshing break of new thinking, unfettered by organisational strictures and political agendas. One of the most read pieces was the 100 social enterprise truths that I tweeted throughout the week; they have been translated, re-blogged and continue to get sent round occasionally as they get re-discovered. Somewhat inevitably, the quality went down during the week, and there’s an air of desperation to some towards the end….as you will see. At the risk of extended navel-gazing, I thought I’d have a bit of a revisit of them and see what still holds four years on…

1. Measuring social impact is about improving what you do, not just proving how well it works
Stating the obvious, but still needs saying now – evaluation needs to be of use internally: for decision-making, to improve a product or service, or to motivate and retain staff and supporters. How many are doing social value forecasts looking ahead to the year?

2. Choose legal structure after getting clarity on mission, activities, financing, governance
Yep – still stands.

3. It’s not the size of the profit, it’s what you do with it that counts
Sort of – although you can do more if you make more, arguably. I have a feeling I may have just been making a crude sexual allusion rather than a serious point.

4. More-than-profit is better than not-for-profit (profit’s not a dirty word)
I still don’t think profit is a dirty word – but I don’t think more-than-profit is great. I’m a not-for-dividend-distribution guy now.

5. Successful social entrepreneurs build trusted, authentic relationships
Still think this is true, and still overlooked when people look at success factors. You can’t accelerate trust and authenticity, generally.

6. Social entrepreneurs aren’t individual heroes; they build teams, create networks, mobilise movements

7. Social entrepreneurs can work at community, local, national and international levels

8. If a pound was donated each time a social entrepreneur quoted Gandhi, no-one would need to fundraise
This has only got worse as Twitter has taken hold. The web is awash with platitudes.

9. Teach too many men to fish and you screw up the entire marine ecosystem and deplete the fish stocks
The serious point about the complexity of problems we are trying to solve still stands. It’s why people are banging on a lot about systems these days; and collaborative impact. Stuff like that.

10. Scale of impact is more important than scale of organisation (or scale of ego)

11. A particular legal structure doesn’t guarantee an organisation won’t be rubbish (or that it will be brilliant)
Yes. On a run of stating the obvious here. Although I did see one organisation say that being a social enterprise “guaranteed social value” in the last year or so, which is obviously hogwash.

12. You don’t need an MBA to be a social entrepreneur; you need a JFDI
I’ve probably mellowed on this a bit; I still think people can get lost in the theories and the plans, and never see if they have a customer…but the wave of activity from universities and business schools isn’t a bad thing.

13. Successful social enterprises have a ‘network mindset’ not an organisational one: focus on the mission
This is one I feel more passionately about – seems like everything we do of any value is in partnership, or beyond the boundaries of our organisation.

14. All money comes with strings attached; that’s fine as long as you know what they are
Sort of – although some come with a hell of a lot, and some with barely any.

15. Social enterprise isn’t a panacea; but it can provide a treatment for some social ills, and help prevent others
A bit trite, but true enough. Social investment is the solution to everything now, so I’ve been able to say this a lot less recently.

16. Social entrepreneurs’ work has a ripple effect: mobilising and inspiring others to get involved
The best do, but not all move beyond themselves.

17. There is nothing more tedious than a social enterprise definition debate (apart from two of them…)
The wifi connection on Virgin Trains is beginning to be a serious rival.

18. Not everyone is a changemaker (FAO Bill Drayton)
This was a reaction against the Ashoka mantra. Actually, their university work is more democratic and wide-reaching than the Fellows programme, and I saw them use the phrase ‘Everyone a contributor’ recently (hat tip Eli Malinsky) which seems more realistic to me.

19. The thing that connects most organisations that have successfully scaled is length of time
Still banging this drum. Still being ignored, largely. My fledgling plan for a ‘decelerator’ will have to wait.

20. Social enterprises overestimate what they can achieve in the short-term, and underestimate it in the long-term
I think I was trying to say stick at it, because good things happen if you keep going at the right thing. Still believe that.

21. Organisations are powered by people, and they should be trained, supported and invested in
File this one under obvs.

22. Networking is important for social entrepreneurs: be generous and genuine, and it will be reciprocated
Networking is important, but only if followed-up and leading to something tangible. As the saying goes, networking is only one vowel away from ‘not working’

23. Even if you call them a client, an end-user or beneficiary, the customer is still king
Yes, yes, thrice yes.

24. Social enterprise leaders need to look after themselves; if they burn out, often so does the organisation
Still true, though not just of the leaders.

25. Populate the organisation with radiators not drains
Believe this more than ever. A drain can occasionally do a passable radiator impression at interview.

26. Before you get the right people in the right seats, be sure you’re driving the right bus
Yep – persistence is only good if you’ve got the right thing to aim at.

27. Enjoy it: it’s not called “earnest-and-worthy-and-dull” enterprise; humour is allowed (& often necessary)
Humour in the right context and at the right time.

28. All organisations live or die by the quality of what they deliver (at the price they do it)
Yep. A cynic might add “who they know”.

29. Buy from other social enterprises, and get them in your supply chain: but only if they deliver
Ahead of its time – Buy Social now a big campaign and initiative for us.

30. Underpromise and overdeliver: all too rare in social enterprise
A bit harsh perhaps, although still too few seem to know the old maxim that success = performance minus expectation

31. A crisis might be a terrible thing to waste; it’s also a terrible thing to cause (#bigsociety)
Bit dated this….but you get the gist.

32. There are more holy grails in social enterprise than in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
Sort of – certainly there’s always another person with “the answer” though I think that happens in every field.

33. When talking about asset transfer and finite resources, don’t forget the most important assets + resources are human

34. For ‘niche in the market’, read ‘need in the community’ (and vice versa)

35. Addressing market failure probably won’t have a commercial rate of return
Yes. Much of social investment would do well to return to this; of course, not always true, but often enough.

36. Learn by doing, learn from others, learn from failures, keep learning
Still believe in being prone to action where possible, and being open to learning.

37. A 3-year government contract is no more sustainable than a 3-year grant
Sustainability comes from diversity these days, I feel (see below).

38. Sustainable financing comes through not being over-reliant on any one source of money
Easier for some than others, but diversification remains important.

39. Optimistic pragmatists and realistic opportunists flourish
I think this is true – but now I think that the optimism + pragmatism (or realism / opportunism) don’t have to be in the same person; they can be in the same team or senior leadership.

40. There a lot of good social enterprise business plans, not many good businesses
I’m not sure there are that many good plans, actually; the business plan obsession may have lessened a bit.

41. If the motivation isn’t really there at the start, it certainly won’t be when times get hard
Bit meaningless this one.

42. Charm and ‘being nice to people’ are enormously underrated
Yes, although it also doesn’t equate to delivery or to speaking truth to power. All things in balance + moderation.

43. Edison was right (1% inspiration, 99% perspiration)
If anything, he overdid the 1%.

44. The “Facebook for social entrepreneurs” is Facebook
Still true – I got a call about “developing a digital social network platform for social entrepreneurs” this week!

45. Newsflash: your social network for a niche community won’t fund itself by advertising
I think I saw a lot of these as applications to Big Venture Challenge round 1, so was a bit bitter.

46. Honesty builds trust builds credibility builds support: ‘calculated candour’ is the way forward
Probably the most important thing on here; with the exception of the ‘calculated’ which implies cunning and planning, whereas it was meant to mean ‘don’t be nasty for the sake of it’.

47. Diversifying too early usually means doing lots of things averagely rather than one thing well
Yes, though tough to square with 38 above. Diversifying at the right time (whatever that is) seems the key.

48. Don’t scale up before the model’s proven, however much noise & encouragement there is
A version of 47 really, but still true. And we still see start-ups talk social franchising.

49. There’s more truth spoken over drinks and meals at a conference than on the stage
Yes. Still not cracked how we create more of that at events – perhaps one can’t.

50. BigSociety, Social Enterprise, Civil Society, Third Sector: it’s more important what we do than what we call it
Well, no-one calls it Big Society any more.

51. Believing your own hype is the start of the downward spiral
Erm, OK.

52. The biggest challenge for spin-outs is not technical but cultural
Yes. And for charities “becoming” social enterprises too.

53. The UK is a pioneer in the field; but first mover advantage also means first mover mistakes
Yep. What’s worrying is not being aware of that when we start to export…humility and caution!

54. If the government created an investment fund for construction, it would be called BuilderBuilders
A bad and dated joke. Now it would be called the Builder Investment Readiness Fund.

55. Measuring social impact is where financial reporting was 200 years ago (so don’t beat yourself up)
196 years ago now. I *think* we’ve made some progress.

56. Too many people confuse innovation with novelty; an idea is easier than continuous improvement
Yes – although now people confuse innovation with everything. It’s a miracle I haven’t been disrupted while typing this.

57. It is possible to go to a social enterprise conference or seminar every working day of the year
No it’s not.

58. There is a difference between having great contacts and actually making use of them
See Networking above.

59. Work is needed on better exit strategies for social entrepreneurs (no more ‘life president’ stuff)
Remains an issue across the social sector, though there are good examples too.

60. More than 146,000 new species have been discovered since the first Social Investment Task Force began
At this point, it seemed like Big Society Capital might never open.

61. UK social enterprise debate is too internally-focused: huge amount to learn from international models
Yes – I think we have a lot to learn, and haven’t brought enough of the learning back to the UK.

62. Mission isn’t about a nice statement: it’s for decision-making, communication & planning

63. Beware the ‘self-styled’ social entrepreneur; normally means it’s more about ‘self’ and ‘style’ [see Melody on the Apprentice]
Here’s one I got totally wrong – I still think people calling themselves a ‘social entrepreneur’ without having done anything need to chill their pants a bit. But I was entirely wrong about Melody Hossaini – she’s shown herself to be absolutely committed to social enterprise and doing a load of good work enthusing future generations in recent years. Apologies.

64. Empowerment means giving power to and equipping with skills, not ‘asking a few questions’
Yes – I think there was a rash of government consultations about empowerment at the time.

65. You can’t really solve or change much from your desktop #slacktivism

66. Entrepreneurship is a mindset, an attitude, a set of behaviours (so is social entrepreneurship)
Yep. And skills, and knowledge, and networks etc.

67. You can’t teach entrepreneurship, but you can learn it; learn it by doing and from others
This is a stating the obvious section, I think.

68. Look back after you leap, and work out how you might leap differently next time
Same point as giving things a go and learning from failure.

69. There are many social impact measurement tools, with more in common than they care to admit
This has become a bit more apparent since – the principles of reporting are now largely agreed by most of the main social value measurement agencies.

70. Social entrepreneurs are often ‘biographical’: powered by a personal injustice or experience

71. The word ‘synergy’ should be outlawed from daily use
There are worse crimes.

72. Risk literacy and risk awareness are where we need to get to (not just risk vs risk aversion)
I think there’s a nugget of something interesting here.

73. The best CaféDirect coffee is the Machu Picchu: not too strong, but smooth + robust
Still drinking it in the SEUK office.

74. (Social) entrepreneurs are a little bit born and a lot made
Probably. But depends.

75. A group of social entrepreneurs always ultimately revert to gossip
One could replace ‘social entrepreneurs’ with ‘people’, probably…

76. Bad partnerships mean muddied thinking, a multitude of meetings, & compromised delivery
Yes. And even good partnerships take a lot of time. Agreement on the way in is key….

77. There are a spectrum of replication options: it’s not ‘open source’ vs ‘command and control’

78. Social enterprise blends outlooks and approaches; so a blended return makes sense

79. Understanding the problem is part of the solution (tackle the causes, not the symptoms)
This is important, if seemingly facile. We still treat a fair few symptoms – that’s not always a bad thing, but reflection on where we can have most impact is always useful.

80. Imperfect action is almost always better than perfect inaction

81. BigSociety is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma (apols to Churchill)
And now it’s a memory, wrapped in a sheet, buried in the ground. Pretty much.

82. Financial management matters; you need to know your way round a P&L and cashflow

83. Investors and social entrepreneurs don’t speak different languages, they speak different dialects
I’m not entirely sure what I mean here, apart from trying to sound clever or possibly repeating someone cleverer than me without understanding their point. There is still definitely a job to do around language, as I’ve been hearing this in recent weeks still (from both parties).

84. There are as many social enterprise support agencies & networks as actual social enterprises
Not any more.

85. “Build it + they will come” only works if you build it right (& listen to the people you’re building it for)
Still important reminder for those at the levers of power…

86. Social enterprise isn’t an easy option; starting a business never is
File under obvious.

87. Finding a good social enterprise web designer is like finding a needle in a haystack
We have some better ones now!

88. ‘Be the change you want to see in the world’: with fewer ‘deep’ quotes and more doing
Same point as the Gandhi one above, really. Well was clearly a bit dry at this stage.

89. If London-Edinburgh trainline was a social enterprise, it would stop outside Newcastle when it ran out of funding
Ironically, our former Director of Comms got stuck outside Newcastle on a train to the Lib Dem conference in Glasgow, which is about as close as this metaphor got to ringing true. Of more interest should be: can we have a social enterprise rail franchise?

90. Most investors, funders, policymakers to do with this space are in London (it’s not an anti-Northern conspiracy)
Bit lame this – no excuse, and lots of the best stuff is in not-London. We did recommend Big Society Capital should be based in Leeds….

91. The dark Divine Chocolate is a bit full on: go for the (lovely) milk / mint / orange / hot chocolate
This is obviously made-up as I ran out of inspiration. The Sea Salt and Caramel is the actual flavour to go for.

92. Sectors are diverse + contain multitudes; don’t talk about the public or private sectors (or social enterprise sector) as if they are uniform

93. Survival rate is meant to refer to the business, not the social entrepreneur
Still holds – largely same point as burn-out point earlier.

94. There is an over-supply of loan finance already, with not enough organisations fit, able or willing to take it
Interesting to reflect that I wrote this in May 2011, well before people started talking about the lack of pipeline. If anything, that supply has only been (substantially) added to.

95. Social entrepreneurship isn’t a career, it’s a calling (do something before you take the label)
Bit trite.

96. Secretly, most social enterprises are still pursuing the “hope for a sugar daddy or mommy” business model
I’m not sure this is true – most are hoping to achieve what they set out to do, but they tend to also be fairly independent.

97. The first social entrepreneur was a Sumerian who started the first library / tax system in 1500 BC

98. Enterprise support agencies are often amongst the most un-enterprising organisations around
Not always true, but I think it certainly can be.

99. Despite the cynicism + in-fighting, there are great orgs, great people, real change happening
This is still true if a bit “hug-it-out”. Our job is to not let the internal debates cloud or mask the large swathes of great stuff happening.

100. Don’t believe anyone spouting supposed social enterprise truths at you; they clearly don’t know what they’re talking about ;0)
Clearly desperate to make 100 at this point.

I was trying to think about what I’d add to these now. Here’s a few:

101. Just enough anxiety propels an organisation forward
Organisations who are completely secure can get complacent or lazy or try and do everything. Ones that are fighting to survive often miss the larger picture or opportunities due to fear + panic. There’s a book called Just Enough Anxiety too.

102. The big problems require answers and partnerships from all sectors – public, private and social.
I’m frustrated by the binary conversation of the main political parties (public vs private) and in the fact that they are behind much of the private sector itself in how to create a more sustainable, social economy. It will come from the do-ers on the ground.

103. Drink enough water, get enough sleep, keep things in perspective
If the last few years have taught me anything, it is partly to go for it but also to keep things in perspective. Some things are out of our control, some things happen by chance; all we can be is prepared and resilient.

The 3 productivity apps that work for me

6 Feb
reinventionAs January begins, so bookshops and app stores alike throw self-help books and productivity apps at you like they are going out of fashion. All promise instant results, and a swift route to a new effective, productive you  – and a successful 2015. I won’t dwell too long on the many self-help books, which are largely a waste of time unless you believe in empty quotes and chakras. Oliver Burkeman is the man who can help you wade through, and pick out the nuggets – I heartily recommend his The Antidote and Help! (How to become slightly happier and get a bit more done), which are funny and insightful in equal measure.

As for the apps, well there are enough to-do list apps now to confuse even the most technophile of lifehackers. I used Remember The Milk for to-do lists for a while, but found that it was too divorced from everything else (although this may be down to my own lack of investigation) and didn’t work with what else I used, so I dropped it. Then I became an Evernote devotee (app no. 1) – I can’t speak highly enough about Evernote: I genuinely wish I was on commission, because I recommend it to everyone, including my team. It’s just extremely intuitive, reliable and easy to use, as well as on phone, tablet, desktop and laptop. I’ve set up an IFTTT to send useful docs + links from twitter straight to Evernote when I use a particular hashtag too, so it becomes a searchable receptacle of reading.

So I no longer have a notebook for day-to-day use, but capture everything on Evernote – and this is starting to change how I work with the organisation’s systems. I have shared notebooks with other team members for particular areas of work, and am trialling syncing notes straight to Salesforce accounts. The latter, if it was a bit smoother, could be great – I could be meeting a social enterprise member, or a new business lead, and sync the notes straight to their Salesforce account, providing a trail of activity that doesn’t require me to log into the Salesforce platform and replicate what I’ve just done….

There are decisions ahead, I think, about spreading this throughout the team and investing in the technology; we’ve already moved to cloud-based 365, and I can foresee more decentralisation / cloud-based sharing ahead. Already, I use Dropbox as much as I use the organisational shared drive (Dropbox is app number 2), and I can see the whole thing moving soon. I know there are other cloud-based server systems, but I haven’t found any that work as well as Dropbox for either group or individual work. Again – intuitive, reliable, easy to use and seamless on every device.

The 3rd app is a new one which is my Remember the Milk-replacement, the new to-do list app….and I’ve plumped for Wunderlist. Again, good syncing across platforms, simple interface, easy to upload tasks (by email or directly by app / desktop), easy to share lists, and easy to prioritise. Ultimately, I find I need a long list of to-dos (emptying the brain of everything I know needs doing), and a shorter list of prioritised to-dos (to keep focused on the important, not the urgent). Wunderlist makes this easy. But it also works with Evernote – to do lists haven’t really worked for me in Evernote (I tend to end up with actions at the end of different notes, and I can’t make Reminders work for me in a way that makes sense), but now I can just add a task box next to an action, tag the note with TaskClone (which syncs between the two apps via another IFTTT) and it appears in my Wunderlist to-do list.

The key for me is that apps like this work with the way I already work, so that it’s seamless and doesn’t involve inventing a whole new set of habits and behaviours. For me, that means across devices, integrating + syncing between them, but being relatively simple – notes, to-dos, access to files. And when I think back to writing notes in a book, drafting + re-drafting a to-do list (on paper, naturally) and saving files onto a USB for transport, I can almost feel the time being saved. My only area left now is email – I’ve resisted all the various email apps so far, although I’m looking hard at SaneBox

Would love to hear which apps work for you. What have I missed? Do they pass the simple, seamless, sensible test? Do they genuinely free up time, rather than absorb it in ‘productivity procrastination’? For now, I’m sticking with Evernote, Dropbox and Wunderlist and (hopefully) going to have a productive year.

Social enterprise listening…

2 Mar

listenLast week I was getting the rail miles in – Cardiff, Manchester, Exeter and Cambridge planning, discussing, representing and speaking about social enterprise. Apart from giving me an in-depth knowledge on the exciting topic of “which railway company’s wi-fi is worst?” and checking out which parts of the country are still underwater, it also meant I had the chance to listen to some podcasts I’ve been storing up for a while or which I haven’t got to on the commute. There’s a lot out there (they’ll let anyone have a go these days – see here). So here’s some recommendations from recent listens:

Peter Day‘s programmes are always worth listening to; one recent one on ‘disability in the workplace’ featured John Charles of social enterprise Catering2Order >> download here

– The magazine Monocle has always struck me as the paper equivalent of a Hoxton hipster with an asymmetric haircut, but it’s actually a decent read with interesting content. I recently discovered their Entrepreneurs podcast. Episode 73 (they are now on 124) was on social entrepreneurship, and featured the House of St Barnabas >> download here

– Analysis is always worth a listen, though requires a bit more concentration than some of the frothier radio out there. A recent episode that was more interesting than I thought it might be was ‘The Philosophy of Russell Brand’, looking at the philosophers and thinkers behind the Occupy movement and more >> download here

– While we’re still on Radio 4, the Bottom Line is still a winning format: 3 CEOs / leaders discussing a particular industry or area of business, hosted by Dragon’s Den / Today maestro Evan Davies. It remains an aspiration to get an episode renamed ‘The Triple Bottom Line’, but until that happens, I’ll have to enjoy episodes like the recent one on MBAs or something that I remain unmoved by and sceptical of, the ‘Sharing Economy’ >> download here


– I enjoyed the Freakonomics books, and I enjoy the podcast too – it’s still a bit superficial and I still occasionally find myself ranting at it, but it’s well-produced, takes different approaches to subjects, and gets me thinking. And that’ll do me. Recent episodes have looked the Pope dissing the free-market economy and a conversation about how to Fight Poverty with real evidence >> download here


– Social Good is a podcast from the Chronicle of Philanthropy which looks at social media for the social sector (broadly). It’s not bad, if completely US-focused, for a UK audience – still some good tips + nuggets of practical advice to take away in amongst the mutual congratulation. And occasional stand-out episodes like the recent one on big data >> download here

– Finally, of course, you have the ubiquitous TED talks. To be honest, these vary substantially in quality and level of insight, particularly with the rise of TedX. And I think there is something to recent critiques of boiling everything down to neat soundbites. Arguably you know something has reached peak hype when it gets a talk (for example…). But there’s some gold in them there hills too – recent highlights have included a talk on ‘how to make companies productive in an increasingly complex world‘ (ignore the fact that TED felt the need to add subtitles because the guy has a French accent speaking English!). You should also check out Michael Porter (on business / shared value) and Michael Sandel (on morals / markets) – Sandel wins, IMHO. But I’m a sucker for self-deprecation and unassuming big achievements, so here’s Paul Pholeros on, well, fixing homes to make people healthy:


Transparency and value

29 Sep

 lotsandlotsofworkI’ve neglected this blog (and its select band of followers / readers) for a few months – for which apologies; as I wrote a while back, when things start to get squeezed, it is the ‘nice-to-haves’ that go first, and this personal blog falls under that title.

So I thought I’d share a few bits of writing  elsewhere to fill the void that might be of interest:

– My Third Sector column on social investment ventured into the field of transparency this month, and why it’s important across the sector:

“August is traditionally the quiet month for news, but this can be an opportunity for charities and social enterprises: in the summer months it’s possible to get coverage for topics that might never happen when the political and football (and political football) seasons kick back into action. This summer, however, the sector has been in the media not at its own behest, but because of stories about executive pay and zero-hours contracts.

What struck me about the resulting conversations from this coverage was not so much the strength of views on different sides of the debates but that both sides were concerned with the internal operations of organisations, rather than the external outcomes or impact of their activities. This is something that Social Enterprise UK has always been interested in. We believe a social enterprise should be able to say “we are transparent about how we operate and the impact that we have”>> READ ON HERE


– In preparation for our Bristol event on Social Value, I wrote a piece in the Guardian about where we have got to in the 6 or 7 months since the Social Value Act became law:

“It has opened some new doors and prompted some new conversations – the act may not be as strong in its language or requirements as some might have hoped for, but its status as legislation has undoubtedly changed the nature of some dialogues and created entirely new ones. Again, not all of these have been about provider-commissioner conversations, but also about social enterprises advising and informing their peers, and those inside public bodies doing likewise. And we have heard plenty of examples at SEUK of frontline social sector organisations using the act as a means of opening (or renewing) conversations with key people inside public bodies” >> READ ON HERE


– Housing Associations play a key role in the regeneration of many of our communities, and some of the most innovative partnerships and practice can be found there. I wrote a bit about how housing associations and social enterprise could work together in Pioneers Post:

“What has become apparent during our increasing work with the housing sector in recent years is not only is there great potential in more joint working between social enterprises and housing associations, but also that there is a really significant alignment of values, missions and objectives – local community regeneration; job readiness and job creation; financial inclusion; environmental behaviour change; and much more besides. And yes, many housing associations consider themselves social enterprises themselves, particularly those with a close and established link to particular communities and geographical areas – pioneers like the Aspire Group in Staffordshire, Bromford Housing also in the Midlands, Shepherds Bush Housing Group in West London” >> READ ON HERE


– At Social Enterprise UK, I’ve also been working / heavily involved in a swathe of research reports + publications. Check out the following, starting with our own state of social enterprise survey report:

>> The People’s Business – SEUK’s own biennial state of the sector report

>> Spin Out, Step Up – a report on the finance and investment needs of the health and social care social enterprises that have spun-out in recent years

>> The Landmarc Difference – a total contribution / triple bottom line report for a private company working at the intersection of social, economic and environmental (done with our friends at CAN)

>> Breaking New Ground – an evaluation of Deloitte’s Social Innovation Pioneers programme, analysing its impact thus far, and recommendations for further improvement