Monday, September 28, 2009


Every so often, you have a day that takes you back to your 1970s childhood. When the sky is blue, your cares seem not to exist, pleasures are simple and everything flows.

One such day for me was Saturday as I hooked up with five old friends to climb Whernside in the Yorkshire Dales. We had come together from all points of the compass on Friday night to meet in Kettlewell, a stone-built village tucked between high ridges of millstone-grit. We have all bar one been at university together and our friendships span the last 20 years.

One of the good things about men as they get older is that they become less competitive and almost more feminine in their approach to friendship. There is great care taken to include, no bragging or ragging people to discomfort - the things about all-male company I have often struggled with in younger years. Also, beneath the beery bluster, there is a shared recognition of our connection and its meaning as the years take us forward.

The Dales were magical. Tucked away in the north of Yorkshire, they are less trodden than the Lakes and the Peaks but just as captivating. In the bright September sunshine, we ascended Wherneside and rested at its peak, with the Lakes rising visible on one side and Wharfedale spread out beneath us. We all sat in silence for a few moments, surveying, each in their own place, in tacit appreciation.

If there is one thing I have learned as I have become a little older, it is that life is precious. Even the difficult, anxious times. A choice between life and no-life, even a trying one, is, for me, no contest. The fact of life is a joy and a privilege, something lost on me in my youth, but something I now feel quite fiercely.

And never more so than at moments like this.

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.

Handle with Care

I sometimes get asked to do talks at local events on the social enterprise agenda. This is what I said at a recent on I did in Suffolk:

We have an opportunity – Suffolk County Council will have a quarter to a third less resources within 5 years – but the same amount to do. It cannot afford to do it.

They are talking about growing social capital as a solution. I am not sure most Tory Councillors could tell you what social capital was, let alone how they are going to grow it to levels that take up the slack of an over-expanded state. In truth there will be a hole where services used to be and a bit of money to fill it. We could be part of that solution and still do OK I believe

However,we need to be cautious about the public sector. Suffolk grew from 18,000 to 31,000 employees during the boom years. They looked after themselves. Other sectors grew too but not nearly by so much. Rather than put new business out to other sectors they took it on themselves.

Now that crisis is here the business isn’t there for them – and they want to find others to help them.

Fine, but I think you can see we’re dealing with an organisation with interests. Therefore we need to take care. If they want us in, they need to share risk and be a banker to risk-taking if necessary.

We also need to push them on the bits of business they would like to keep (the ones with safe Government money attached, I would predict).

What about social care management? What about children’s homes? Fostering services? Children’s centres? All expensively lodged in the public sector. We can do it better, cheaper I am sure of that.

But we cannot take all the risk or be taken to the cleaners – as Councils will tend to do once you’re off their generously funded books.

Finally, we are a tiny barely understood sector and need to develop alliances. The public don’t know who we are. Councillors think we are just part of the third sector. So too do most businesses. We are not significant players.

Therefore we need to build alliances with other sectors – especially business whose strengths tend to offset our weaknesses. Not all businesses are the same and we need to be sensitive to that.

To expand into what are currently public services will require working across sectors and not being precious what whether or not something qualifies as a social enterprise. Look at Serco and Turning Point if you want to see the shape of the future of public services.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Cameron's Love Bombs

We (the Lib Dems) will be doing well to hold onto our sixty-odd seats. Gains in the northern cities will be wiped out by losses to the Tories in the South and West.

Rawnsley is right, there is an `Anyone But Labour' mood out there which is pitching people towards Cameron, whose progressive rhetoric is capturing the attention of the under 40s - who are temperamentally liberal.

Our best - and only - chance is to try to paint Cameron as being like Blair - the ultimate politician, not particularly worthy of our trust. And contrast him with ourselves the `straight-talkers'.

We will also have to use Mr Cable to full effect. His resonance with voters, particularly older ones, is enormous. As a Councillor I knock on doors a lot and the esteem and trust people have for Vince is massive.

At the moment though, I am not optimistic. The Tories have momentum and in Cameron a leader who just about cuts it with the public.

2010 will not, I fear, be our mould-breaking year. 2014 or 2018 however maybe is - as Labour will, effectively, be finished in many parts of the country after next year's rout.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Strictly Wasteful?

I have spent most of the last two evenings watching `Strictly' with my wife, Katy, who loves it. As someone who tries to a probably-unhealthy extent to fill every hour with worthwhile "stuff", you can imagine how this must be for me. The programme's conclusion (after about 2 hours - it is interminable) fills me initially with relief then that crushing feeling that I will never get that time back. An unenjoyable indulgance, like the fourth pint or the second pack of McCoys.

So why was I in there watching Strictly and not in here watching the Lib Dem conference online? Well, it is to do with being married. Because if I didn't watch `Strictly' I wouldn't have done a single thing with Katy this week. Or, rather, a single thing we didn't have to do (sort out the kids) or that I wanted to do (she goes online when I am writing/blogging/working in the evenings.

Watching Strictly therefore is my way of saying that I know it's not all about me and just plainly and simply being together in a way that we are not most of the time. Therefore, no this time is not Strictly Wasteful (though I still mourn the opportunity-cost) but actually Time Well Spent. For without it, I might end up without my dancing partner, which wouldn't be good at all!

Friday, September 18, 2009

Social Capital & Social Fantasy

`Social capital'. This is the talk of the moment. It is the idea being bandied around by panicked councils as a solution to the fact that the state is now in retreat.

But the talk about social capital in relation to the pending crisis is a bit like the talk about `technology' as a solution to global warming. People don't actually know what it is, how to make it happen and how it will actually address the kinds of problems we face.

For now it is just a word people are using as a proxy for a solution that isn't actually in place yet.

But is `social capital' a solution? Let's start with what social capital actually is. Essentially it consists of the sum total of mutual support, positive networks , and community activity in a particular area. Social capital is intimately linked to levels of trust and feelings of safety and satisfaction with ones environment.

It tends to be high where communities are stable, self-confident and cohesive. It appears to positively correlate to affluence though there are some very mutually supportive communities in the poorest areas too - where other factors lock in social capital - such as strong community institutions or a shared history.

So, logically, social capital can be further developed and relied upon more as an alternative to the state more in areas where it is already existent ie. affluent areas like Bury St Edmunds and poorer but for historic reasons, socially cohesive areas like, for example, West Belfast.

And, to continue this line of thought, it will be less plentiful and reliable in areas that are already fragmented, troubled, untrusting. This means, therefore, that social capital will be lowest in precisely those areas where it will be most needed - the poor, fear-filled estates of East Manchester, West London, Liverpool 8.

Where does this leave us? Well, it seems to me that the idea that social capital will somehow bridge the gap left by the state is somewhat fallacious.

Even if we devote some new resources to generating social capital, you're actually assuming that this can be generated as a prior thing to those aspects of society which actually produce or reinforce it: success, confidence, trust, community.

Of course this isn't how it works. Success begets success and vice versa.

Yes, the idea of social capital saving the day is I think nonsense. There isn't enough of it where it is needed and you can't just magic it up from the desperation that defines the most run-down parts of the UK.

There is no magic bullet - it is better we admit this and stop this silly talk about social capital.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Big Splash in My Small Pond

Well, I can barely contain myself. I seem, on a small level to have contributed to a change in direction on a major issue. When I ran for Council, my main issue was the retention of three tier education in this area - something about to be ended by the Tories. The idea was to replace all secondaries using big new Government money and expand primaries on current sites. People round here didn't like this. They didn't believe it would improve things. Or that the money was there.

The Council were late to cotton on to this important truth. It seems an announcement of the climb down was coming at some stage but, as the result of a motion I and a colleague put into the Council yesterday, a statement was rushed out last night, ahead of the motion's being debated next week saying the plans were on ice.

The fact that they have done this reflects some difficult realities on the ground for the Tories here in Bury. In an election where they swept the board across Suffolk, here in Bury they lost three Councillors and myself, an indepdendent and a Green took their place. Since then, the self-styled `Bury Three' have been all over this issue in meetings, forums and the press. We have helped create a difficult environment for this policy to move forward in Bury without the full finances being there for it. Had Tories been in place I suspect they might have taken more risks.

I am pleased because all along people have told me I was chasing a lost cause, this was a done deal etc. This just goes to show that it is important to hold your line until events prove, beyond doubt, that the debate is over. This one isn't quite over yet but looks to be. Plans are on ice until finances become clearer or better - and I can't see that happening give that `Building Schools for the Future' seems to be at the top of any respectable right-wing think-tank's list of schemes to be culled under a new Tory Government.

So a victory of sorts and proof that politics does matter. Even at my level.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Let's Embrace Outsourcing

The 2010s will I believe be the decade that Councils stopped doing things. Or rather stopped doing things themselves and focussed on their core business of making sure things got done. For that is actually their purpose. They are not there to do things. And when they do, they're not normally very good at it (I can say this, I am a Councillor!).

But who would expect them to be any good at any one thing? These are ridiculouly over-diversified organisations. Indeed what other organisation would credibly claim it could competently look after abused children, manage the roads, support carers of older people, redevelop towns and empty the bins? All of these are specialisms. Councils are doing the football equivalent of playing in all positions when in truth they can do only one remotely well.

Barnet, Kensington and Chelsea, Hammersmith, Essex. All of these Councils are leading the way in asking `Why should we deliver this?' and, if there is no compelling reason why, finding someone who can deliver best and cheapest. Although these are all Tory Councils, and I am a Lib Dem, I think history will prove them to be right and that all parties will live with this eventually, rather in the way they did once the Tories did what no-one else thought possible by smashing trade-union power.

The result of Councils asking themselves that big question is that they rapidly come to the conclusion that No, they ought not to be trying to run everything. No other business could run so much well, so why should they? Plus few other businesses are lumbered with the disatrous long-term costs that the public sector still bears (the six months paid sick leave, the king's pension etc). It makes sense to have fewer of these people on the books.

The logical outcome of all this is a much bigger future role for the private and third sectors. Now, the private sector is already limbering up, getting ready to run on the pitch. The third sector dressing-room, however, is a less unified place. Some players are hungry, keen to run into the new territory, seeing the possible improvements that can be made to the dismal offer made by local authorities to vulnerable groups.

Others though, while on the team-sheet, are more half-hearted. They want to do things but have reservations about what this might say about them as players. And a small minority are not going on that pitch for love or money. They line up with the Dave Prentice's (Unison leader) of this world and say that the state should continue to do most things and take the rap when it all goes wrong. Because that is democratic and at least the public sector is accountable.

Well, excuse me, this is where I come in, Mr Coucillor. Public services, just because, they are provided by local authorities are not more accountable to elected members than those provided by Capita or Turning Point. I would argue in fact that in-house services are less accountable. Because, essentially, they are `family'. Giving your family - the people you employ- the hard time they deserve is a lot less difficult than giving it to people in whom you have no other interest than what they do for you (or are saying they are doing). Outsourcing means more accountability, not less.

We stand at an important junction. In 1995, Suffolk County Council employed about 18,000 people. Today that number stands at about 30,000. An increase of over 50%. This is about to change. Not only is there less to spend, we now know that markets must be opened up. It has taken a long time but we're nearly there. The third sector needs to recognise that its time has come and get out on that pitch, determined to win.

Friday, September 11, 2009

In Praise of League Tables for Charities

I know league tables are supposedly going out of fashion. I actually like them. For, whatever their flaws they tell us something. They satisfy our need for comparison. League tables are something people in the third sector get very edgy about. We just don’t seem to like the idea of a ranking. But this, of course, is to pretend we are all equal. That all charities deliver. The truth, and we all know this, is that not all charities do. Many are no good at all. And some actually probably do positive harm. Yet we hold back from saying this, fearful, I suspect, of what it will do to our brand (people trust charities, we mustn’t let them know that many of them are crap).

Personally I would welcome league-tables. Yes, I know they wouldn’t be perfect but that isn’t the point. They would give me an idea of where the organisations with which I am involved either as a donor, a trustee or a CEO, actually stand. Central to these league tables should be user-satisfaction. This would force charities to get some data on what users actually think of their services. Not a perfect measure of outcomes, I know, but a fair proxy that is easy and economic to find out. Don’t find out and this bumps down your rating. This would actually get charities taking users and customers more seriously than they do now.

However, I am not stupid. This won’t happen, I know. The sector is far too comfortable with the status quo to bother with any of this. Its marketing departments know that income depends more on corporate PR and flashy impact reports than the actual truth of a charity’s performance. Leaders in the sector are often cowardly when it comes to being properly transparent about their organisations. When did you last hear a charity CEO say publicly that they felt a particular programme or approach had failed or that their charity actually wasn’t the best thing since Mighty White? In truth, behind closed door, CEOs are willing to be very open about the shortcomings of their organisaiton but never, strangely in public.

As a donor this personally makes me very suspicious. I put money into organisations that tell the truth about themselves, even when this isn’t all good news. Because then I know I can trust that organisation. None of the causes into which I have put money or time would probably baulk at a league table. Openness is part of their culture and intent. It is part of learning, getting better, becoming more efficient, a better servant of the common good. We have allowed our sector to be hi-jacked by our marketing and PR departments, fearful that if we tell the truth support will drain away – or go to others.

A league table of charities would be a great leveler for those charities who deliver bang for buck – but who don’t have the PR machine to pull in the big donations. It would tell us what we needed to know about which organisations large and small actually did the business. I can’t see what any decent org would have to fear from this. So why aren’t we doing it?

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Maximum Human Discomfort

Maximum Human Discomfort.

This is the phrase which came to mind today as I wandered around Liverpool St station. I wanted to pee – but didn’t have the 30p in change needed to go. I wanted to sit but there are perhaps 20 seats in the whole place. I wanted a cafĂ© and there’s only a micro-Costa in a far corner.

25 minutes passed this way until the relative comfort and relief of the 1530 to Norwich. Does it have to be this way?

Do London stations have to be this bad (Kings Cross is just as bad?). Staff are dour and unhelpful should you need them.

They could all learn lessons from another main line station – Stowmarket.

As an experience, Stowmarket station is actually gratifying. Not just adequate but a positive contribution to ones day.

It starts with the staff. All helpful and empathic to the needs of the traveler. The shop is well stocked and sells cups of tea for a quid and employs the friendliest person in East Anglia on the till. The toilets are a dream. Pristine, hot water, towels. And free to all station-users. On the platform there is a lovely waiting room, all warm and nice-smelling.

But overall the experience of using Stowmarket station is one which recognizes one as a human being. In this sense it is additive to total happiness in the world.

By contrast, a place where you can’t pee, sit or relax is the opposite. Miserable, inhuman, nearer to a cattle-market than a key travel centre of the UK, Liverpool St station captures the very worst of this country.

When people ask me why I live in Suffolk, Stowmarket station is up there on my list of reasons.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Give Me Sunlight

This week I made good on a long-held promise to myself - to go see the work of Peter Holbrook and his team down at Sunlight in Gillingham, Kent. I travelled down there with one of my Trustees, John Willis, who was hoping to find inspiration for the renewal of Huntingdon Community Learning Centre - something of a White Elephant so far - but packed with potential.

So what is Sunlight? Well, one one level, its very simple. It's a `community anchor' type organisation. It is housed in a big building in the middle of a deprived area and within its doors lie a panopoly of resources for people to tap into, from the offices of of public sector and third sector organisations through to an alphabet-soup of informal self-help groups led by volunteers. On top of this, Sunlight runs a major catering operation and a number of community cafes in the town.

`All very nicebut what accounts for all the media and politician-attention this place gets?' I am hearing you say... `Is it all spin or is this something that merits special attention'.

I am glad to report that, for once, the hype lives up to reality. This is not just another high-octane community centre. There are a number of differentiators from most of what I have seen so far.

1. The business model. There are two aspects to Sunlight - the Development Trust and the Community Interest Company (CIC). The CIC pursues commercial opportunities - and now runs the whole of Medway Council's catering operation. Profit from this is used to support aspects of the Development Trust's work such as their offer of free space to new community groups or one-off grants to residents for key pieces of equipment (e.g. the new set of chef's whites bought for a local lad just off to college). Having profitable elements creates the space to ignite community action which otherwise would founder early through lack of support. The result is a much larger number of self-help groups than one would expect. And that means lots of good outcomes for little financial outlay.

2. The ambition. Most third sector organisations like to stay in their box. Manage public services? No thanks, that's government's job etc. Sunlight aspire not only to provide workspace to the GPs and Social Services teams in the area, tney want to run these services and plough the profit back into the community. The Sunlight team have bid, so far unsuccessfully, to manage the primary care & GPs surgery run from its building - but have been blocked from doing so by the PCT. Should they eventually pull this off - and add perhaps an outsourced Job Centre Plus - you've got a model of public service provision that could be the template for the 2010s and beyond. Which accounts for the interest of one D. Cameron and his team I suspect.

3. The community's involvement. Most community centres are run by well-meaning middle class people and follow a low-risk public sector template. So if you are poor and or vulnerable you can use the place OK but that is very much as far as it goes. You'll never work there, expect perhaps as a volunteer doing something very marginal. At Sunlight most of the staff come from the community. Many are former `users' of the centre and have developed into employees. Sure, this doesn't make for the smoothest of receptionists or the most cleanly polished floors I have ever seen - but it does make the place BELONG to the community. Obviously there are difficulties - the story of an overpromoted local finance officer made me wince - but these outweigh the benefits.

4. The ethos. Ethos is a difficult thing to pin down. It is everything but nowhere is it written down formally. The ethos of Sunlight is clearly one of what MBA students call its `core competencies'. People know what matters in Sunlight and align their behaviour accordingly. One example. In the cafe while we were there a woman three tables away burst into tears following a visit to the GPs (bad news, obviously). Within moments, a member of the cafe staff had come from the kitchen with a free cup of tea and was with the lady for half an hour. This is obviously beyond contract stuff, not in any job description - just the way the place works. No formal Compassion Policy. No Charter of Care or operations manual. Just a great ethos.

5. Entrepreneurial Leadership.
Peter Holbrook, the CEO of Sunlight, doesn't like being talked up. He is very quick to point out that it is others, not him, leading the many facets of Sunlight's work. However, he provides an example of the kind of entrepreneurial leadership that makes the difference between an ordinary place doing ordinary things to an extraordinary place that is creating a new paradigm for how we tackle the challenges of our most deprived communities.

If cloning were already possible, I daresay that Peter and Sunlight would be rich from selling his DNA (as well as being a talented and energetic man, he is one of kindest and most compassionate people I have ever met). However, the fact that we can't yet recreate Peter at scale doesn't mean we can't support people like him to make things happen in communities all over the UK. You see, in the public sector, someone like Peter would probably lose his job or get burned up very quickly. He'd break some rule, take some level of risk deemed `inappropriate' and refuse to accept the glacial pace of change that public sector organisations seem to believe is acceptable. His counterpart - the drone we currently entrust with millions of pounds of public money does none of these disruptive things. But he doesn't do a lot else either. A socially enterprising government needs to say to PCTs and Councils that they have to support the Sunlights of this world (and without tying them up in constricting service-agreements) - or the people leading councils etc will lose their jobs. Sounds a bit harsh, crude, simplistic etc - but I can't see any other way to galvanise change.

6. A Whole Person Approach. Most services in this country are set up by people who have done a very long specialist training and believe that what they do is most important thing in the very world. They then fight with other professionals (who believe the same thing about what they do) for resources and before long you have a whole health and social care system set up around the people leading and managing services. Clients (me, you etc)of course come with a whole range of needs, some of which don't require a professional at all, just the company of others, or support from someone who had been there themselves. At Sunlight, a lot of the things on offer are not professional-led, they are led by residents. There is a recognition that people might want to do other things, access other areas. This is positively encouraged. People are not `owned' - or indeed seen as the `responsibility' of others and shunted off. If someone comes to Sunlight in crisis, having been beaten up and thrown out by their husband, they are not `signposted' elsewhere. There is an immediate and effective response. Someone stays with them through the process they need to go through and they aren't allowed to pinball around agencies or fall through gaps. Very different from the public sector and indeed many third sector agencies.

Overall my visit to Sunlight confirmed a lot of what I already believed. The bits of Sunlight occupied by the public sector were very telling of what is wrong and what any new Government needs to deal with quickly. Offices were large for the numbers employed, though often just full of junk and big piles of paper. You needed key-codes to get in even to offices. Peter I noticed couldn't easily access some areas. The Social Services assessment bit, for example, is full of kids equipment which, couldn't be used by the community even through it is empty much of the time. Although people were perfectly pleasant, there was still a touch of that feeling of `This is Us, you are the public/other, we have our rules and systems, fuck-off and wait till we're ready to see you'. People naturally don't trust this as much as Sunlight's approach. Which is why Sunlight want to take over those services.

And the third sector...well you know I am often critical. But the organisations I metwere welcoming and upbeat, despite the shitty contracts they had with the public sector and being jammed into their offices like sardines.

We drove away four hours later (Peter had given up practically his whole day for us)not only inspired but INFORMED that there is another way with public services. This is why so many people right now are finding their way to Gillingham.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

What Ordinary Enterprises Can Learn from the Third Sector

I have been asked to give a talk on this in the near future. Here is what I might say....

`How ordinary enterprises can learn from the third sector'. An interesting question as it is normally asked the other way round.

And I am perhaps the wrong person to ask on one level in that I have tended to bring learning in from the private sector to Speaking Up, rather than take my ideas from elsewhere in the third sector, much of which I think is run pretty badly.

But what can for-profit businesses learn from the way we lead and manage the Third Sector?

FIVE things come to mind.

The first is that we are excelent at securing employee commitment - that elusive `beyond contract' dedication. We do this because we are able to tap into people's deepest values. We offer people the opportunity to do paid work which resonates clearly with their personal sense of purpose. Most third sector organisations are able to do this, but particularly the smaller, more shambolic ones. These organisations are often close to the front-line and staff feel near to the issues.

Secondly, we are less hierarchical and more participative. The Third Sector CEO is not the God he is in the private sector. The culture of the heroic CEO just doesn't give. There is a stronger egalitarian ethos in most third sector organisations. As a result, there is a bigger emphasis on consensus in decision-making. People expect to be part of decision-making. Consultation is generally more widespread. This slows things down but ensures there is greater buy-in from those expected to implement decisions. The CEOs role is one of facilitator and broker more than commander.

Is this an advantage? I think it can be. Leaders in TSOs do not often go unchallenged. There is a greater check on left-field decisions. The down-side is that this can block progress, but it also means there is greater scrutiny of what is happening.

Thirdly, we are more stable, less short-termist and go bust a lot less. TSO take fewer risks. They see their mission in long-view. Seldom do they `bet the farm' on a big new idea. They seek to ensure the organisation's ability to do good is protected in perpetuity. We evolve and adapt without necessarily taking organisation-threatening risks. This is in common with many privately owned SMEs so not unique to the third sector. But it is also a result of our Governance arrangements which put the CEO and his team under a Board of Directors with legal responsibility for the mission long-term. The corrollary of this is that the third sector is undoubtedly less innovative and slower to respond to rapid change than it often needs to be- but it means fewer wasteful forays too.

Fourthly, we are trusted and values-driven. Trusted by users, by staff and by donors and commissioners. We are viewed as mission-led. Although our people earn reasonably well, we are viewed as being concerned, principally, with making the world a better place. Third sector organisations feel good to the people involved either as a user, a donor/customer, a volunteer or member of staff. We touch that part of people that wants and needs to be part of something bigger.

Fifthly, we are able to work to a variety of bottom lines. Contrary to what you might think, every third sector CEO has to make a profit. If he doesn't the organisation will quickly cease to exist as reserves are low and the banks don't help us. But we have to operate other bottom lines too, notably our social bottom-line and the interdependencies between them. Managing this balance makes a third sector CEO's task that bit more complex than than a CEO in an ordinary enterprise, I believe. This complexity finds its way into our commercial life too. While we operate in competitive markets we also have to create collaborative relationships with those same organisations we might compete with. Missions such as `Kill Caterpillar' have no place in our sector. Co-opertition is the norm.

Which brings me nicely onto mergers. There are relatively few mergers in the third sector. There just isn't the financial drivers to incentivise them compared to the private sector. While this means that opportunities to merge are often overlooked, it also means that mergers that are not a good idea - where the cultures of two organisations will not work together - don't get off the drawing board.

My own organisation is currently preparing to merge with another. While the strategic alignment has been clear from the off, it has also been critical that we stress-test the cultural fit between the two organisations. If it were wrong (and it wasn't) this would have been a deal-breaker. For the merger wouldn't ultimately have served our long-term purpose. I am personally of the view that a lot of private sector merger activity is driven by short-term goals and doesn't actually deliver much long-term value to either the holder of shares or the customer.
In this sense, the third sector I think has a more realistic view of mergers.

Overall, then, there are a number of things that ordinary enterprises can learn from the third sector:

1. Become better at securing employee commitment by making your company values and actions more consistent with the values of your employees. This means moving beyond rhetorical commitment to company action which makes employees feel they are there to do more than create shareholder value - an important and noble goal in itself, but often not enough to get people to go beyond contract.

2. Become less overtly hierarchical more consensual and participative. This means slower decisions but often better decisions and ones which people feel they own and will therefore implement with more determination. This also helps to build commitment to the company.

3. Take the long view. This is extremely hard for listed companies in which CEOs last on average less than three years.

4. Be trusted by having strong values and showing commitment to making the world a better place. This means going beyond CSR and the usual corporate Greenwash. The young in particular are very sensitised to this. A company with integrity will I believe attract the best `Generation Y and Z' talent in the future.

5. Teach your managers to work to a number of bottom-lines, not just one. We do this and it means that our organisations can account for themselves on a number of levels. I believe in time that all companies will need to account for themselves much more than they do now. Start now by training your managers to achieve and balance different types of success.

My overall view is that there is a huge infusion of learning to be had from the third sector. As part of Social Enterprise Day in November, we are inviting a range of corporate heads to job-swop for a day with a CEO of a social business. The learning of course cuts both ways. I have taken a great deal from the private sector. Your focus, your use of metrics, your professionalism and your ability to move quickly are all facets we in the third sector need to take from you.