Thursday, February 19, 2009

30 Hours in Town

This week I am spending two days in London, trying to pack a month's worth of networking into 30 action-packed hours.

Wednesday starts sedately as I read the Guardian's excellent Social Enterprise supplement. Great pieces by my friend Martin Clark, author of `The Social Enterpreneur Revolution', Andrew Mawson, Patrick Butler and superb Vox Pop from Rob Greenland of The Social Business, Kresse Wessing of EAKO and Rod Schwartz of Catalyst. It feels that we're finally on the front-foot as a sector now, confident and clear in what we are saying. And people are now listening as the world-as-they-knew it collapses around them.

First up I meet Peter Mason of Secure Healthcare at the Commonwealth Club. Peter is a public innovator, one of those genuine social entrepreneurs who thinks and acts big - and has the skill to let others come in behind him quickly. His passion is offender health care and his business will, he hopes, soon win enough major contracts in UK prisons to be a key player. Peter does a lot of consulting, something I notice a lot of the more established people now doing. For him, consulting is low-input, high-impact activity, something that his profile and personal brand enables him to do. Impressive.

Next up it is Futurebuilders Investment Committee. These meetings are all incredibly interesting, particular in the current economic situation and the resulting Government action-plan for the Third Sector.

Then on to meet the excellent Clare Gilhooley and her development director from Cambridge House in Southwark who are a major advocacy provider as well as providing a range of community services in Southwark. Cambridge House is a `community anchor' type organisation that, strategically, has to balance being dependent on its local focus with a need to develop diverse income streams from places a little further afield.

The day ends with dinner with Craig Morley who is now CEO of the newly constituted (last week) Challenge Network. Set up with funding from venture-philanthopists, the Challenge Network will be piloting full-time volunteering as part of a `national service' experiment which at least two of the man parties are interested in. So it could all get very big very quickly.

I first met Craig in August last year. He was working for Rio Tinto, the mining group, in a strategy role, having spent a good part of his career with Proctor and Gamble. He was looking at a new career in the entrepreneurial third sector and had, by chance, seen a piece on my book in the FT. So he got in touch. That led to him doing a big piece of probono work for us, then a review of structure and then, at the end of the year he went to work for Challenge Network.

Craig is, I think, the type of person who we, as a sector, need to be more skilled in bringing into our organisations. The training he has had from the likes of P & G, brings skills we just don't have the money to nurture in our own people. And the commitment of somebody who has given up a larger income to work for causes they believe in is, in my experience, often higher than many people who are `lifers' in the sector. It is great to see Craig succeeding in leading a dynamic third sector organisation and good to know Speaking Up played a small part in him getting there.

After six hours of sleep I get up, cross Russell Square and meet David Gold for breakfast. David is CEO of Prospect-Us, but more importantly, he is what I term an `angel' for emerging social entrepreneurs. His support for people and projects through Glimmer of Hope is one of the biggest untouted stories in the sector. David is fabulous at picking winners, backing them with his own money and, perhaps more crucially, his time and networks, and seeing them right through to independence. He is also a lovely man who makes you immediately feel like you matter. In a tough world, people like David are islands of warmth and authenticity. A superstar.

Next I am going to the Office of the Third Sector to meet Tamsyn Roberts who is one of the civil servants working on the social enterprise side there. I am keen to get a deeper sense of how the OTS works and how, overall she sees it all going from a Government perspective.

And finally I am popping in at the offices of Permira to see Paul Armstrong and Jane Gilbert who are helping us write a consultancy brief. They are frighteningly efficient people who always add value to any discussion.

Then its home by six to see the kids and Katy. I miss them so much and even a day away feels too long.

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