Monday, May 19, 2008

Good Day Bad Day

Day started in the splendid new Faculty for Education where the `Centre for Participation', a collaboration between Speaking Up, the University and Cambs County Council meets monthly. I initiated this in 2003 with the hope of it producing some ground-breaking work. Five years on its still to live up to this billing. However, we now some small-but-significant achievements under its belt. Like all widely-drawn groups, the culture-collision can be painful at times but can be overcome if there's work to be done. Which there now is. We seem to have hit on an idea that excites us all - a big study on how all this progressive social policy is panning out for real people with learning difficulties. The academics like the research-challenge and we believe there could be some decent policy stuff coming out of it. So its win-win. Now we have to write a half-million pound Lottery bid together....

Before my Futurebuilders interview met with the excellent Judith Brodie for lunch. Judith is CEO of VSO UK and former CEO of Impetus Trust where we met. Judith is a smart, honest and able person who I loved working with and I always enjoy her company. We met at Festival Hall overlooking the river. She's taken on a big challenge with VSO - a massive brand but an organisation with a big history and a lot of the issues that come with longevity. I have always predicted big things for Judith - watch out for her as a top 10 charity CEO in the next five years.

Just before my interview I call someone from a venture philanthropy fund (which I won't name for now!) which approached us some weeks back with a view to backing us. Despite an excellent Due Diligence and AAA references, their Board didn't back us.

The feeling I got is that Speaking Up has got that little bit too well supported and that their support - substantial though it would be - wouldn't feel more than a small part of a much larger whole. Massive disappointment. It almost felt that it would be better for them if we were on our uppers. I was quite surprised as VP funds tend to go for the `better' orgs, but this wasn't to be our day. I have stressed `keeping doors open' etc but I sensed this one may have been shut forever. We will see.

Then onto Futurebuilders...Four people, including Stephen Bubb (Chair) and Jonathan Lewis (CEO). Stephen his usual jovial self and he kicked off the questioning very quickly. Took a deep breath, felt no nerves and dived in...

Thought the panel understood me and bought into what I was saying. There was a no-nonsense feel to proceedings, which I liked. Going forward, I sensed that FB will be marketed as a `risk fund' more than a kind of specialised `bank' as it has kind of been viewed by charities to date

The additional challenge I pointed out would be to get around the idea that organisations have to saddle themselves with `loans' in order to access what are in fact highly risky public sector markets. FB needs to be about sharing or even exclusively carrying that risk at least until the organisation itself can weight-bear. The investment committee came up and I said that this is where ideally I wanted to be, even in preference to the main board. This I sense is where I can add some value.

Before travelling back to Bury St Eds, I picked up more copies of my book - and found out my sales figures. The good news is that my book was DSC's best seller of April 2008. The bad news is that it sold about 100 copies! Apparently, 500 will be a massive success. I hope to do better.

Got home to Ruby not very well and unusually clingy. Got her ready for bed and read to her before settling her down. Wilf his usual happy self. Managed a 40 minute run and felt good, despite recent virus. Obviously on-the-mend. Ran in all the green-spots around town. Trees seem to have a good effect on me. Perhaps I should move to a forest and chop wood for a living.

Tomorrow London and off to meet a potential funder - the lovely Matthew Smerdon of Barings then lunch with Helen Warrell of Third Sector for whom I will be doing occasional pieces this year. Heard from Patrick Butler that he may wish to use a piece I gave him several weeks ago, albeit in cut-down form. Nice to end on a positive...

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