Friday, May 30, 2008

Hovis Presley

Is the pen-name of now-dead fellow Boltonian Richard Henry Macfarlane who wrote very bad, very funny poems. My friend Fern gave me a copy of `Poetic Off-Licence' as a present. To give you a flavour:

I rely on you
like a handyman needs pliers
like an auctioneer needs buyers
like a laundromat needs dryers
like the Good Life needed Richard Briers....

Its been a wet, windy, slightly dismal week. My kids have had the lurgy and have kept me up (one or the other)for half the night most days this week.

On top of this, work has been, as it occasionally is, pretty awful. Had to pull two days worth of appointments to get down-and-dirty on a proposal to a social investor which appeared to go going a bit sideways. Got stuck in OK and we got it right but it felt like a throwback to things I hoped I had managed to delegate a couple of years ago. Anyway, we all got there and the teamwork was fab. I love the way people at Speaking Up collaborate like ants when they have to. There we all were, 6.45pm, six of em all working away to get this thing done.

Of course it was all about bringing in investment. This is both the best and worst thing about our sector. Best because it forces us to be sharp, to innovate and to be accountable. Worst because it can be draining and repetitive work after a while.

This will be a short posting as its 8pm and I have to cook tonight. Went to look at a house with Katy earlier. Its lovely, I'll just have to become Aston Villa's next winger to be able to pay the mortgage. Which at 38 aint going to happen. Katy seems to forget sometimes that I work for a charity and she hasn't got a paid job any more.

Still it was nice to wander round a garden the size of most London parks.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The Sound of Music

Well, that's what Bank Holidays are for, aren't they? Watching Julie Andrews while tucked up under a blanket, hearing the rain crash down outside. Bank Holiday Monday in the D-P household was a long, drawn-out affair, with the retirement-to-bed of our lurgy-afflicted children only providing partial relief as we contemplated an evening of really bad television. Salvation came, however, in the form of `Gavin and Stacey' on BBC3, a very dry take on modern British life and manners which I enjoyed enormously. So I managed to end my endurance-test of a day with a smile on my face.

Today (Tuesday) was my Board Meeting. But first up I had a rare morning in the office. My reverie with unread back-issues of Third Sector was interupted by my Director of Income, Clare, who came in to tell me she is leaving. Bit of a shock. Clare has been with us for three and half years and has been a big part of the Speaking Up story. In fact, I pretty much credit her with getting our `earned income' to the level its at. In the absence of a G&T-cooler in the office, I took a short walk, phoned my Chair and rehearsed what I was going to say to the team. And, of course, started thinking about what to do next. Drawing a blank, I decided I was mildly in shock and instead opened my post and checked BBC news online.

Board was the usual mix of brilliant insight... and mind-numbing trips into other peoples' inner worlds. I am sure I am not alone among CEOs in this observation. I am lucky. My Board is just about keeping pace with the rapid development of the organisation.

But I still believe that voluntary sector boards are very odd things. Their ability to add value is so variable and some I have been on can feel like some weird charitable addition to an organisation's activities: `Here are a bunch of random people with a variety of needs - occupy them productively for three hours'.

Despite their shortcomings, Trustees, like medieval kings,seem to have an unchallenged legitimacy however good, bad or indifferent they happen to be. A legitimacy rarely challenged from within the sector. Personally I am a big fan of making Board membership a paid, non Exec role. That way, everyone has to read their papers, show up and demonstrate their value.

Yeh, yeh, I know all that stuff about civic expression and voluntarism spouted by people in comfortable offices in London whose boards are replete with the great and good. But you try getting the best people onto a board of trustees of a charity in Milton Keynes or Harlow. In places like this (I do not speak exclusively of said towns!) you're lucky to find two decent trustees, never mind the five you probably need to be quorate.

But, humour aside, there needs to be a serious discussion, and probably a big study done on the exact value-added by voluntary trustee boards. Because, anecdotally, for every fantastic Board I see - where Trustees offer A1 advice, contacts, challenge and scrutiny - there's several others who,I am convinced, are a drag on their organisations' potential. If this is so, and my hunch is true, the model needs to be looked at. Just like the medieval kings were - in the end.

The day ended with a trip down the pub with about ten of our staff. As all good CEOs do I flashed the cash, bought everyone a drink then decided, after a second of wavering at the exorbitant bill, to pay it myself rather than put it on expenses. It was a good-natured end to a hectic day. I felt mildy distracted by the `What am I going to do next now Clare is going' question - the possibilities are many - but I managed to enjoy the occasion. My trips to pubs are now so occasional that I tend to enjoy them, especially now that so many places have improved their offer and smoking is no longer permitted.

Got back, kids in bed and flashes of guilt at not having seen them. Katy informs me that Ruby is spending tomorrow going to the seaside with her Grandparents then staying at their house overnight. This means I won't see her till Thursday night an I feel a mixture of irrational worry about Ruby being away from us both for a day with elderly grandparents unable to match her pace and a stupid resentment at not having been consulted on a decision I know I would have happily endorsed. A lesson in management for me there I thought as a said "Fantastic!" through gritted teeth.

Friday, May 23, 2008

The Great Debate

My final posting of the week. Bury St Edmunds is bright, warm and sunny. Earlier I sat outside the Abbey Gardens, absorbing the heat, sipping a Mocha and reading the Spectator. Life felt almost as sweet as my drink!

Yesterday was the great debate at Anglia Ruskin down in Chelmsford, an event put on `Third Sector Futures' headed by the likeable and capable Andy Brady. The gig? Me versus Debra Alcock Tyler.

The motion: Is Social Enterprise the future of capitalism or a load of old hype?

The format was a winner. The voluntary sector of Essex had come in their droves to listen - about 100 in all. I was up first. I told them how the state in this country was killing innovation in charities and how new combinations between third sector orgs and corporations could change the world picture long term. While there were a few nods, I could tell my message was not what people wanted to hear.

Debra played the crowd like a salmon. They whooped and cheered as she told them how `bloody angry' she gets at people who say that charities need to be more like businesses etc. It was like one of Jeremiah Wright's livelier sermons. At the end, Debra got at least two thirds of the votes, more than at the beginning when a show of hands showed a more even split.

Clearly I was bested in debate. But what worried me too was how it was Debra's weakest arguments - her thinly disguised contempt for business, her glorification of small-for-small's sake, her blind championing of grants for everything - had so much traction with the audience. Every lost cause, every discredited, outdated notion she put forward was greeted wit fervour by the audience.

This was an audience made up chiefly of the local voluntary sector and, granted, very preoccupied with the business of survival in a very tough time. But Debra's arguments were a reheated version of old fashioned voluntary sector Entitlement.

This says `Let's shield the voluntary sector from any form of challenge or competiton'. `Let's assume that big organisations are all bad and small local ones are really good and connected to their communities'. It really was heads-in-sand stuff, the sort of bollocks I encountered when I first entered the sector 12 years ago and I thought, misguidedly, was on the way out. I came away a bit depressed.

The evening was a revelation. Put the kids to bed then my first serious bike ride since Ruby was born 2 years earlier. Four of us raced through 30 miles of countryside. Cockfield, Lavenham, Lawshall, Hawstead, all blazed by as the Suffolk sun slowly set. The greens, browns and yellows of the fields all looked bright and then subdued as dusk fell, our lights came on before we rolled back into Bury at nine with nightfall pending. Arrived home ravenous and exhilarated.

Friday has been pretty delicious too. Spent most of the morning on the phone. A good conversations with my MD, a banker from Coutts who thinks he can help us and someone I am speaking for in a few weeks time.

This afternoon took the personally entrepreneurial step of setting up as a sole trader so I can do `Naked Entrepreneur' work - writing, speaking and consulting - in my own right, outside of Speaking Up. Now that my board have OK'd this I am setting up my own thing, which actually feels very good. As Luke Johnson said in Wednedays' FT, `being an entrepreneur is the most fun you can have with your clothes on'.

So off I toddled to the bank to set up a business account and to see an accountant to set tax affairs straight. There's something very special about money you generate as opposed to getting wage packet. I felt this when I paid in the cheque I got for writing my book. It feels like a prize, somehow. And you feel that little bit more reluctant to give half of it up in tax...

The day's news is of Labour's crushing defeat in Crewe. A 7000 majority is now an 8000 Tory majority. Fraser Nelson in the Spectator says that the Tories are now pulling resources out of marginals and putting them into the previously `unwinnable' seats (like Crewe) in order to achieve a landslide in 2009/10.

This, coupled with the local elections, is compelling evidence that we're heading towards a Conservative government. One more crushing by-election defeat - or a further polls slide for Labour - and we'll be back to 1995-7 when the only question was how much the Government was going to lose by.

Personally, I am not dreading a Tory government though I am seeking some assurance from them on social policy and help for the less well off. I think they are sensible enough not to want a repeat of the 80s Thatcher government and its `greed is good' mentality. If the Tories do what they are talking about on public services - greater contestibility, more use of the voluntary and private sectors - this will be good. But it will all take place in the context of financial cutbacks. Because the cupboard is bare.

I sometime wonder how Speaking Up will fare under a Tory government. Some aspects of what we do resonate heavily with Conservatives - self-help, personal empowerment, social enterprise and so on. However, a lot of the work we do will probably be viewed as `politically correct' and therefore less valued. I clearly remember meeting Greg Clarke, the Shadow Charities Minister, who seemed genuinely disturbed at the idea that learning-disabled people could be parents.

The approach of the Tories to the third sector generally will be interesting to see. While they see a bigger role for us, they are oddly old-fashioned in some respects, harking back to a 1950s view of charity as being about volunteers and jam sales. IDS in particular is very worrying and I sincerely hope he doesn't get a job in any new Government.

How the big names charities and sector bodies deal with it will also be intruiging. NCVO, ACEVO, the OTS and many of the big names in the quangos and top charities are known to be Labour people. I can't see some of them actually staying.

A sign of things to come, perhaps, is the appointment of a Conservative banker and prospective Parliamentary Candidate to the Chair of Futurebuilders Investment Committee. This person will also be writing the Tory policy on social enterprise so it will be very interesting to see how that all goes.

Anyway, I am hearing `Daddy, Daddy' in my ear to it is time to join the real world again and say goodbye until next week.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Is Social Enterprise the Future of Capitalism?

A question to which I will shortly need to turn... as I have to put the arguments that it is to a debate tomorrow at Anglia Ruskin University....

Just flogged to London and back for an unpaid gig for the Professional Fundraising Association. Turned out to be a small, 30 minute seminar for about eight people. I need to think a bit more carefully about what I do. While I can use the time on the train productively, the net benefit of this appearance was negligible.

This made all the more apparent when I had a mail from my excellent MD Kathleen Cronin telling me, in her incredibly tactful way, that things are extremely tough back in Speaking Up and that she and I need to refine our respective roles.

Which gets me onto my evolving role in Speaking Up. When I tell people about my new MD, people immediately follow with `What is it you do then?' as though I am now enjoying abundant free time. I still see myself as at the heart of business-generation at Speaking Up - ideas, relationships, creating an entrepreneurial climate.

The `split' as we are attempting it, sees me leading on strategic income, big external relationships, innovation and influence and her leading on the delivery side. Of course the two sides interact and that is where our partnership (and it is just that) needs to be constantly honed.

What I admire a lot about Kathleen is that she understands the challenges of coming into a founder-led organisation and has, with enormous care and patience, tried to redraw the lines so that I am doing what I am best at and she is too.

The challenge for me is to let her have the big calls on all things operational which, for somebody who used to count the organisation's paperclips, is a big ask. I tend to retain a `buck stops here' mentality at times, a kind of Pavlovian reaction to any big decision, especially where money is involved.

But if she is to have the power to do the job I want her to do, she needs to make those calls - with my involvement and consultation - but nothing more.

John Willman's profile of myself and SU in the FT today. Link is Really pleased with it. In main section of paper just below and excellent piece by Luke Johnson. John tells the SU story really well. Will email him in a bit to say thanks.

Tomorrow I have got to debate Debra Alcock Tyler of DSC at Anglia Ruskin University as to whether Social Enterprise is the future of capitalism or just a load of smoke and mirrors. Slightly dreading the drubbing I am bound to get from a bunch of students and charity types who will no doubt buy into Debra's slightly traditional view that the state and the voluntary sector should stick to their postwar roles.

I am developing a view that the debate tends to get stuck in definitions, cliches and arcane discussions about legal structures, ratios of earned income and so on. Hence the popular distinction between `social enterprises' (earned income, CICs, business-driven, professional) and `charities' (donated income, amateur, lacking in sustainable income, values driven).

I think this is unhelpful. There are not really two `camps' in the sector. This is something got up by the media and fuelled by the sector's big personalities. Most organisations I know are a combination of attributes. Indeed DSC itself is one such. A lot of its income comes from trading: Books, conferences, training. It is professionally run and yet also incredibly values-driven. It is a hybrid between the best of `charity' - people-centred, involving, based in values - and business - focussed, efficient and commerical. For me, DSC are a social enterprise as much as a traditional charity, an interesting fusion. Yet the debate forces organisations to make a false choice.

The debate tomorrow ask the big question about the parameters of social enterprise. There is this big fear out there in the sector that the commercial `wolves' will start wearing the clothes of social entrepreneurship and that the `good guys' who are true to the brand will be indistinguishable from the charlatans.

Again, I think this is misguided. There is something going on out there. I talk to a lot of people at the very pinnacle of business. Bright people who, contrary to popular perception, think deeply about the world. And they are worried. Especially those who have kids. This is because they, like any intelligent person, knows full well that the whole of our civilisation is at mortal risk, probably in the next 100 years max, from climate change and its associated problems.

This changes the picture entirely in terms of global capitalism. For long-term profitability, there needs to be a long term! How we run our economies will increasingly have to reflect the pressing social and environmental challenges we face.

For this reason, I believe we are now entering a post-CSR age. Corporate Social Responsibility was once a fig leaf to cover the indiscretions of companies, somewhere to send the people who were not really up to it in the business. Now, we're seeing organisations like M&S and Vodaphone looking very seriously at how to deliver a double-bottom line - an account of their social impact which, in terms of accuracy and depth, matches their financial reporting. Sure, this is just starting and hasn't yet hit the small and medium sized businesses which form the bulk of our economies, but the important thing is that it is starting.

And it is here that the real opportunities for more social enterprise reside. Recently the founder of Grameen Bank, Muhammed Yunus, went into partnership with dairy giant Danone to produce a low price yogurt for the poor of south Asia. The returns to capital are lower than in normal investment scenarios in relation to the risks, but the pairing of Danone and Grameen gives `reach' into the poor communities of Asia which Danone alone couldn't achieve - and, of course, gives those people access to a product which would otherwise be out of reach.

Joint ventures such as these - which enable the massive funds available in the capital markets to be `leveraged' into social purposes - will, I believe, atrophy in the coming years. Just imagine what could be achieved through these kind of partnerships. This kind of activity will dwarf the good done by traditional donor-led charitable work, which, at the end of the day, is limited by the amount of money people will give away. Which seldom goes above 1% or so of income. Solutions to problems which use the normal workings of the economy to create social change are so much more powerful - and do not actually require mass philanthropy to deliver.

For this reason I believe that social enterprise will, over the next 50 years, transform the face of capitalism. I forsee a blending of sectors between public, private and voluntary as all recognise the need to collaborate in new formats to tackle as yet unmet problems.

The real divide then will be between organisations that are entrepreneurial (whether public, private or voluntary) and organisation which are not. Viewed from 100 years hence, our current world will look as absurdly divided up as the world of the early 1900s does today.

Well, its 5pm and I think I have worked out what I am going to say! Its a splendid day outside and my aim to have this cracked by 7pm so I can put the kids to bed, take a brisk walk with the dog and settle down for the Champions League Final. Though I like Avram Grant (anyone with a connection to the Holocaust knows how little these things really matter) I am rooting for Man U. Not because I support them (I am Bolton-till-I-die) but because I like the fact that Man U are an `organic' club, not a bunch of assembled superstars. So come on you Reds!

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The Joys of Travel

My Blackberry buzzed on the short walk from Bury St Edmunds station to my home. The message said `Futurebuilders'. Ah, the email rebuff, I thought. But no, they want me for their Investment Committee, just what I wanted too. I felt as elated as I have for a while, a bit like when a major deal comes in. I so want to be near the action in social investment and, after all I have learned from the Impetus experience, I have something very real to offer.

Got home, heard all about how Ruby had done her first business on the potty and my good news was lost amid the family `high' about this key milestone in the life of my two year old. Lost to me too, I have to say. That's the wonderful thing about coming home to young children. Win, lose or draw, their world is bigger than yours.

The day started with a check-in call with Mark Griffiths, one of my mentors. Mark runs Ideal Word, a brand consultancy and his power with words and ideas helped shape the message of Speaking Up and, later, my book.

As usual he was juggling several projects, from a new brand of powder for bodybuilders to a new product for the Gay market (he wasn't specific). And as ever, he was reassuring and resourceful about the loss of 75k of venture funding which, by this morning was hanging over my head like a tequila-hangover.

The 0856 train to Liverpool Street from Bury is, I believe, one of the better train journeys to be taken in the UK in 2008. You get on when the train is virtually empty and thus have your choice of seats. It is clean, calm and nearly always on time. People join down the line but the carriage only gets full near to London when the loud hordes of Essex (with their unbearable accents) all pile on and ask if the seat next you is free - or demand you move, as happened today. The mobile phone signal is good all the way and there are no tunnels to chop up your call. You arrive in London at half-ten feeling almost human.

My morning meeting was with Matthew Smerdon, who is an extremely bright lad who I first met doing the Living Values project in 05. He's now working for David Cutler at Barings, running a grants programme ranging from global warming through to parents with disabilities. We spent some time discussing the debate about the third sector and public services (the more I talk to people, the more I believe that most sensible people think the same thing) and then I pitched some ideas for Barings' latest programme on strengthening the sector.

Our kids are about the same age so we finished off comparing how outragiously early our children rouse us in the morning and swopping tricks on how to keep them in bed as long as possible. For the chicken-clock trick, Matthew, THANK-YOU.

Lunch with Helen Warrell from Third Sector Magazine... Helen is expanding their social enterprise news coverage and is very sensibly building contacts and getting a sense for where the stories are coming from.

She made the very good point that there is very little critical reflection about anything to do with social enterprise at the moment and that this cannot be a good thing. I agreed with her saying that there has probably been a reluctance in the sector to `talk ourselves down' after waiting so long to receive the political backing we have. Now, I agree, its time for a bit more in the way of real investigation of what's good and what's not in the sector - for its own good really.

Like all of the sector journalists I have met, Helen is very well informed, has superb contacts and is actually very positive about the sector and its potential. Its easy, I find, to trust her and open up. We will, I think, be working together on a few things this year, which I know I will enjoy...

The train back was the reverse journey in every sense. We were relieved of Essex within the hour and I could get down to some proper work for the remainder of the trip. Had a very useful call with Vik Anderson of CAF (Charities Aid Foundation) who has this amazing network that spans all the sectors. We discussed how she might be able to help us to address any gaps left by the venture-fund-that-wasn't which was incredibly helpful.

At Stowmarket I get switch trains and phone the office. My part-time PA who also does admin has gone on the sick and sounds like she won't be coming back. She was a temp so we're getting another in tomorrow.

I briefly mourn the loss of my old PA, Anna, who moved to another part of the UK. With a Board meeting next week, I try to avoid thinking about what isn't being sent out in good time to our Trustees.

A bright Suffolk sun cheers me as I step onto the local train for the final leg home.

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...

Sunday, May 18, 2008

The Week Ahead

Had a brilliant hour up with my Mum (who is visiting) and my two little kids, Wilf (5 months) and Ruby (just two) up in the verdant West Stow Country Park, just outside Bury St Edmunds where I live. Its all managed by the Forestry Commission and, like most things in East Anglia, incredibly under-used. We saw two people in the whole hour. Until that is we went to the kiddies playground! There I watched over the infant while my Mum braved the slides and sandpits.

Snatching an hour while my children have their afternoon nap.... Monday I have an interview for a Non Exec role with Futurebuilders which I need to think about. Meeting Stephen Bubb and his CEO Jonathan Lewis who I have met once and rather liked for his straightforwardness. Its one of the things I like about the best people from business - they make everything simple. I remember seeing Allen Leighton speak once and it was the same. Arresting, amusing, challenging. Noble exceptions aside, most third sector CEOs send me to sleep inside five minutes. Not least because they either play it incredibly safe or think that by being `intellectual' they are also being interesting.

Am hoping I get the Futurebuilders role. By now I have a pretty good nose for what is real and otherwise in the third sector. I also look forward to the possibility of being part of some kind of breakthrough in the financing of high potential organisations. We are due a sea-change in this country. Impetus and others have been showing what is possible when you stop pretending all charities are the same and get behind the really good ones. Let's now take that wider....

In fact let us all be OFSTED'd or something! That would really sort out a few of the laggards - and there are many. One of the shabby things about our sector is how the worst organisations often somehow survive and the best fall away through lack of support at key times. Speaking Up very nearly - not for Impetus - would have been one of them. If Futurebuilders is about backing the very best, I want to be there.

Its a heck of a week actually. I have to present at the Professional Fundrasing Conference (How trading saved my charity from closure) and do a head-to-head with Debra Alcock Tyler from DSC on whether social enterprise is a sham or not. She seems to think it is. DSC, though I love em, I think are behind the curve on this. They seem to think social enterprise is a big new threat to the small voluntary sector while not actually realising that social entrepreneurship actually defines most of these organisations!! What bugs me a lot is that the whole discussion tends to be boiled down to one about your legal structure and how much you get from grants or contracts. What matters a lot more is about how you think, how creatively you approach social problems and whether you are willing to take personal action or not. In short, are you (socially) entrepreneurial or not? The real division in this country is between organisations that are not entrepreneurial and ones that are. It is the latter which offer the best hope for social progress, just as it is only entrepreneurial companies that will save UKplc from its long-term decline as an economic power.

Managed an hour with the paper in the park while Wilf (kindly) went to sleep. All the talk was (again) of Brown and what-if-he-loses-Crewe). Personally I think he will lose Crewe, the question is by how much. The Tories haven't won a by-election against Labour in 30 years so it will be a key staging post to inevitable victory for them. So far they have benefited from `protest votes' but I suspect that once they unveil some half-decent policies (they have the excellent Policy Exchange doing their thinking for them) that will be enough to `seal the deal'. Like most people I feel a bit done-over by Labour. I earn just over 60k, I have two young kids and my wife doesn't work. I can get tax credits but, like many people with busy lives, I can't be arsed. Especially now some people are getting nasty letters demanding repayments. I just want to pay a bit less tax. Were we living in a country with the reformed public services - the liberated schools and hospitals dreamed about by Blair but blocked by Brown - I may feel differently. But I don't. I like in country whose public sector is largely unchanged, saddled with 1m more mainly unionised staff (all with lucractive pensions), who don't like what organisations like Speaking Up - with our aspirations to public service delivery - offer. Well, my answer to that is Screw You. You've broken my trust, you've ripped us all off and you've blown your chance to create a better society. Let the Tories have a go. It can't be any worse, surely.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Social Enterprise - Macedonian style

He stood out a mile did Vlado Krystovski. He was one of two hundred or so people at a conference in Brussels all about reducing social isolation for disabled people. As the Eurostar pulled in, I knew an interesting time awaited me an event that included Beyond Welfare of Iowa, the Finnish Association for Disabilities and the Bulgarian Stammerers Association.

At lunch, I met Vlado, a young social entrepreneur from Macedonia. After running refugee camps in the Balkan civil war he studied social work. Today, his organisation – Poraka – or MESSAGE in English – helps young disabled people and their families plan for the future. Vlado is working with big numbers with little money, a dodgy government and a society that kept disabled people banged up till a few years ago. Yet here he was: eager, keen to share and learn. Not bitter. No sense of entitlement. In sharp contrast in fact to the po-faced miserabIists I frequently encounter in the UK third sector (and, now and again, in my own organisation).

This event was interesting for me personally as it brought disability-inclusion and social enterprise together. This is only just starting in the UK, where people like me are a bit of an oddity next to the recycling businesses, eateries and employment specialists. By contrast, in Eastern and Southern Europe, everyone in the disability rights sector is a social entrepreneur. They have to be. If they don’t act entrepreneurially, they can’t survive.

One effect of not being spoon-fed by the state is that people get creative. Some of the work Vlado is doing is streets ahead of many UK organisations I know with big grants and well-paid staff. What the guy lacks in money he makes up for in his openness to learning, his amazing networks and his ability to inspire support locally and globally.

Which brings me onto sustainability. In this country, we think of sustainability mainly in financial terms. Vlado’s story shows us that sustainability is principally about resilience. Which you build by being entrepreneurial, clear on your values and close to your supporters. Indeed, UK social enterprises at risk often lack Poraka’s type of resilience as much as they lack hard cash.

So the next time you’re facing a `crisis’, don’t just look at the figures. Think resilience. And ask yourself what Vlado would do…