Thursday, September 24, 2009

Brilliant New Face at SEC

I was delighted and not a little relieved to see Social Enterprise Coalition appoint Peter Holbrook as their next CEO.

Peter is the right choice. He is a successful social entrepreneur with a recent track record. He has achieved miracles in a short time in the least promising areas. He is an inspirational speaker. He can lead teams. He is deeply strategic. He embodies the best of our sector. And finally, he is not an inhabitant of the semi-political world in which a lot of social enterprise people seem to live. He is `real' - and represents a new type of leadership for what is now a bigger sector.

He inherits an organisation that his predecessor brought a long way. But it is also an organisation in need of adaptation. To a new Government, to a new economic period, to a growing level of interest in social business from the public and private sectors.

Peter has some big strategic questions to answer: Does SEC focus on `socialising' mainstream business or growing more orthodox social enterprises? Should SEC be more active in promoting social enterprise as an alternative to public sector provision - and if so how far should it go? Does SEC widen the tent and loosen its criteria for membership or do we go down the RISE line and keep SEC very much in the existing (and growing) social economy.

Whichever way Peter and the Board go, there will be risks. We could miss out on the possibilites offered by the private sector (Liam Black's point). Equally, we could end up looking like a coked-up version of CSR. We might end up transforming the face of the public sector. Or just end up creating pale imitations of the dross that is most publicly provided services today. More worrying for Peter is the fact that he has to balance the wishes of a movement rooted what I call the `left-field' social economy (the co-ops, the social firms etc) with the need (in my mind anyway) to accommodate models of social business that also involve private ownership.

Is is a complex set of challenges. On top of this, he has to get SEC off a diet of Government funding and gain it a reputation for being a shit-hot resource that all social enterprises want to pay to be part of. Not easy in the hardest time we've all faced.

However, if anyone is able to do this it is Peter. He has worked across sectors. He is someone we can all buy into, whatever our views. He can, I believe, create unity and manage conflict while taking us into new directions that recognise the way the world is moving.

While tempted to say what I think he should do in his first year, I have too much respect and liking for the man to add more to the pressure of expectation I know he currently feels.

What I do want to say though is that we must all of us get behind Peter. We may not agree with him on all things but he is the very best leader we have and he deserves our wholehearted support. He needs a couple of years without people on his back or publicly telling him how to do his job. Let's give this man the very best chance of success.


Matt said...

Totally agree!!

Rob Greenland said...

Agreed with you to the last line there Craig. So I need to shut up and agree with whatever Peter says for the next two years, in the spirit of unity? One of the main problems with SEC is that in my opinion it has failed to engage "dissenting" voices. It's acted like a political party, obsessed with maintaining a party line.

I don't know Peter, but I hear good things about him. I hope he's the kind of leader who can welcome a bit of dissent. I may not tell him how to do his job, but I'm also not going to sit quietly and give him and his organisation the benefit of the doubt if I disagree with him and it. As you've pointed out there are some big issues for him to deal with - and if I don't agree with that, I'll write about it. I hope you will too.

Craig Dearden-Phillips said...

Fair point Rob,what I perhaps meant to say better than I did was that I want people to give Pete a chance to settle in, find his feet and make a few moves before piling in. In those kind of jobs it actually takes about a year to make anything happen and often longer. I just want people to give him some time and space to gain in confidence. Six months maybe!