The 100 Social Enterprise Truths

Much discussed, much re-tweeted, and full of 24 carat, crystal-pure verity, here is the full list of the 100 Social Enterprise Truths.

1. Measuring social impact is about improving what you do, not just proving how well it works

2. Choose legal structure after getting clarity on mission, activities, financing, governance

3. It’s not the size of the profit, it’s what you do with it that counts

4. More-than-profit is better than not-for-profit (profit’s not a dirty word)

5. Successful social entrepreneurs build trusted, authentic relationships

6. Social entrepreneurs aren’t individual heroes; they build teams, create networks, mobilise movements

7. Social entrepreneurs can work at community, local, national and international levels

8. If a pound was donated each time a social entrepreneur quoted Gandhi, no-one would need to fundraise

9. Teach too many men to fish and you screw up the entire marine ecosystem and deplete the fish stocks

10. Scale of impact is more important than scale of organisation (or scale of ego)

11. A particular legal structure doesn’t guarantee an organisation won’t be rubbish (or that it will be brilliant)

12. You don’t need an MBA to be a social entrepreneur; you need a JFDI

13. Successful social enterprises have a ‘network mindset’ not an organisational one: focus on the mission

14. All money comes with strings attached; that’s fine as long as you know what they are

15. Social enterprise isn’t a panacea; but it can provide a treatment for some social ills, and help prevent others

16. Social entrepreneurs’ work has a ripple effect: mobilising and inspiring others to get involved

17. There is nothing more tedious than a social enterprise definition debate (apart from two of them…)

18. Not everyone is a changemaker (FAO Bill Drayton)

19. The thing that connects most organisations that have successfully scaled is length of time

20. Social enterprises overestimate what they can achieve in the short-term, and underestimate it in the long-term

21. Organisations are powered by people, and they should be trained, supported and invested in

22. Networking is important for social entrepreneurs: be generous and genuine, and it will be reciprocated

23. Even if you call them a client, an end-user or beneficiary, the customer is still king

24. Social enterprise leaders need to look after themselves; if they burn out, often so does the organisation

25. Populate the organisation with radiators not drains

26. Before you get the right people in the right seats, be sure you’re driving the right bus

27. Enjoy it: it’s not called “earnest-and-worthy-and-dull” enterprise; humour is allowed (& often necessary)

28. All organisations live or die by the quality of what they deliver (at the price they do it)

29. Buy from other social enterprises, and get them in your supply chain: but only if they deliver

30. Underpromise and overdeliver: all too rare in social enterprise

31. A crisis might be a terrible thing to waste; it’s also a terrible thing to cause (#bigsociety)

32. There are more holy grails in social enterprise than in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

33. When talking about asset transfer and finite resources, don’t forget the most important assets + resources are human

34. For ‘niche in the market’, read ‘need in the community’ (and vice versa)

35. Addressing market failure probably won’t have a commercial rate of return

36. Learn by doing, learn from others, learn from failures, keep learning

37. A 3-year government contract is no more sustainable than a 3-year grant

38. Sustainable financing comes through not being over-reliant on any one source of money

39. Optimistic pragmatists and realistic opportunists flourish

40. There a lot of good social enterprise business plans, not many good businesses

41. If the motivation isn’t really there at the start, it certainly won’t be when times get hard

42. Charm and ‘being nice to people’ are enormously underrated

43. Edison was right (1% inspiration, 99% perspiration)

44. The “Facebook for social entrepreneurs” is Facebook

45. Newsflash: your social network for a niche community won’t fund itself by advertising

46. Honesty builds trust builds credibility builds support: ‘calculated candour’ is the way forward

47. Diversifying too early usually means doing lots of things averagely rather than one thing well

48. Don’t scale up before the model’s proven, however much noise & encouragement there is

49. There’s more truth spoken over drinks and meals at a conference than on the stage

50. BigSociety, Social Enterprise, Civil Society, Third Sector: it’s more important what we do than what we call it

51. Believing your own hype is the start of the downward spiral

52. The biggest challenge for spin-outs is not technical but cultural

53. The UK is a pioneer in the field; but first mover advantage also means first mover mistakes

54. If the government created an investment fund for construction, it would be called BuilderBuilders

55. Measuring social impact is where financial reporting was 200 years ago (so don’t beat yourself up)

56. Too many people confuse innovation with novelty; an idea is easier than continuous improvement

57. It is possible to go to a social enterprise conference or seminar every working day of the year

58. There is a difference between having great contacts and actually making use of them

59. Work is needed on better exit strategies for social entrepreneurs (no more ‘life president’ stuff)

60. More than 146,000 new species have been discovered since the first Social Investment Task Force began

61. UK social enterprise debate is too internally-focused: huge amount to learn from international models

62. Mission isn’t about a nice statement: it’s for decision-making, communication & planning

63. Beware the ‘self-styled’ social entrepreneur; normally means it’s more about ‘self’ and ‘style’ [see Melody on the Apprentice]

64. Empowerment means giving power to and equipping with skills, not ‘asking a few questions’

65. You can’t really solve or change much from your desktop #slacktivism

66. Entrepreneurship is a mindset, an attitude, a set of behaviours (so is social entrepreneurship)

67. You can’t teach entrepreneurship, but you can learn it; learn it by doing and from others

68. Look back after you leap, and work out how you might leap differently next time

69. There are many social impact measurement tools, with more in common than they care to admit

70. Social entrepreneurs are often ‘biographical’: powered by a personal injustice or experience

71. The word ‘synergy’ should be outlawed from daily use

72. Risk literacy and risk awareness are where we need to get to (not just risk vs risk aversion)

73. The best CaféDirect coffee is the Machu Picchu: not too strong, but smooth + robust

74. (Social) entrepreneurs are a little bit born and a lot made

75. A group of social entrepreneurs always ultimately revert to gossip

76. Bad partnerships mean muddied thinking, a multitude of meetings, & compromised delivery

77. There are a spectrum of replication options: it’s not ‘open source’ vs ‘command and control’

78. Social enterprise blends outlooks and approaches; so a blended return makes sense

79. Understanding the problem is part of the solution (tackle the causes, not the symptoms)

80. Imperfect action is almost always better than perfect inaction

81. BigSociety is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma (apols to Churchill)

82. Financial management matters; you need to know your way round a P&L and cashflow

83. Investors and social entrepreneurs don’t speak different languages, they speak different dialects

84. There are as many social enterprise support agencies & networks as actual social enterprises

85. “Build it + they will come” only works if you build it right (& listen to the people you’re building it for)

86. Social enterprise isn’t an easy option; starting a business never is

87. Finding a good social enterprise web designer is like finding a needle in a haystack

88. ‘Be the change you want to see in the world’: with fewer ‘deep’ quotes and more doing

89. If London-Edinburgh trainline was a social enterprise, it would stop outside Newcastle when it ran out of funding

90. Most investors, funders, policymakers to do with this space are in London (it’s not an anti-Northern conspiracy)

91. The dark Divine Chocolate is a bit full on: go for the (lovely) milk / mint / orange / hot chocolate

92. Sectors are diverse + contain multitudes; don’t talk about the public or private sectors (or social enterprise sector) as if they are uniform

93. Survival rate is meant to refer to the business, not the social entrepreneur

94. There is an over-supply of loan finance already, with not enough organisations fit, able or willing to take it

95. Social entrepreneurship isn’t a career, it’s a calling (do something before you take the label)

96. Secretly, most social enterprises are still pursuing the “hope for a sugar daddy or mommy” business model

97. The first social entrepreneur was a Sumerian who started the first library / tax system in 1500 BC

98. Enterprise support agencies are often amongst the most un-enterprising organisations around

99. Despite the cynicism + in-fighting, there are great orgs, great people, real change happening

100. Don’t believe anyone spouting supposed social enterprise truths at you; they clearly don’t know what they’re talking about ;0)

Many thanks to all who’ve provided ideas, inspiration or whose words we have accidentally purloined. And for those who’ve re-tweeted and suggested more.

Please do add any of your own in the comments underneath.

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Mulling over a ‘right to manage’

One of the things that most struck me about POPSe (aside from what a brilliant idea it is) is that the social enterprise space is where you currently find some of the most interesting conversations about democracy; its quality; our aspirations for it here in the UK.

Tuesday evening’s drop-in session provided an opportunity for one such conversation when we mulled over proposals for a ‘community right to manage’ and the prospects for mutuals.

Each of the three community rights-based proposals that are currently out there in the Localism Bill brings real potential to stimulate more vibrant spaces for democratic, participatory engagement.

They all raise concerns, though; because they promise, in essence to leave it to ‘the market of community’ (aka the Big Society) to handle some of the most significant risks.

To put it bluntly, the reality of ‘community’ across the UK doesn’t come with a ready-made cookie-cutter commitment to sustainable development, nor consistently high levels of belief in the value of participation or free association among equals. That commitment is something that has to be discussed, nurtured, debated, traded, and advanced.

The risk is that stripping away much of the current policy framework for and local level technical expertise on sustainable development leaves little institutional infrastructure for managing trade-offs or competition between adjoining communities; or even within groups in the same community. Local level traffic calming and parking campaigns, for example, are often a case in point.

All these issues aside, (and they’re points for discussion, not show-stopper objections) The Waterways Project’s proposal for a ‘community right to manage’ deserves our serious attention. For one thing, community groups wouldn’t need to raise sufficient funds to exercise a ‘right to buy’ if they were only looking to exercise a ‘right to manage’. For another, they might be able to benefit from the skills and knowledge transfer potential of asset owners with oversight of lots of community managed assets – so long as those owners themselves were operating within a framework that allowed them to benefit from cooperation with ‘managing’ groups.

There are lots more things that need thinking through, of course, in the ‘right to manage’ proposal. In common with the ‘right to bid’, there may be restrictions in any requirement for a community group to have been accepted for registration as a Charity (the list of charitable purposes can be quite restrictive, for example; and I suspect the last thing the Charity Commission currently wants to have to deal with is tens of thousands of new micro-charity registrations resulting directly from the Localism Bill).

There are some fairly dull issues that would need to be tackled to do with risk and liability (think Japanese knot-weed and other invasive alien species for example; let alone breaches in river or canal banks). And with many of our waterways under-utilised, the idea of ‘canal-side’ or ‘bank-side’ community doesn’t necessarily translate into geographical spaces (6 or even 20-mile long strips) that make sense for the assets likely to be available.

A community right to manage in relation to our waterside assets (and waterways) would likely call for at least a wee bit of community engineering. But if environmental assets such as canals, for example, were more intensively used for transport or recreation, we might find that their associated senses of ‘community’ also stretched out. The trick would be to find a way to ensure that the whole exercise of community management was fun; more about the participation than the risk management; and more about shared space and cooperation than competition for scarce resources and assets.

Halina Ward
Foundation for Democracy and Sustainable Development

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Public service mutuals – a flash in the pan?

On the morning of “Mutuals Tuesday” Andrew Laird got together with a group of social enterprise experts to cast their thoughts five years into the future and think about the potential state of the public service mutuals market (both dream and nightmare scenarios). Participating in the discussion were think-tankers, commissioners, advisors, practitioners and lawyers – so most bases were covered! This paper contains snippets of the discussion plus some additional thoughts on what needs to happen to promote a sustainable market and how that market might develop….

Mutuals – a flash in the pan?

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The previous government talked a lot about “investment” when they maybe really meant spending. Most of us probably do this too – we might talk about “investing” in our young people when we pay teacher’s salaries, for example.

But there is a distinction between revenue, income or funding on one hand and finance, capital or investment on the other. One is money to do stuff. The other is money to help you do more stuff or do it more effectively.

You buy toast but you invest in a toaster. You buy grass-seed but you invest in a lawnmower. You pay rent but invest in shares.

It doesn’t matter much though.

Except it can, for example, when people confuse income and investment for social enterprises delivering public services. The answer to falling income is not more “investment”, it’s more income. Or cutting costs.

If your youth services budget is being cut by 80% this financial year, the Big Society Bank or Social Impact Bonds will not coming riding to the rescue. They may turn up in a year or two and help us grow and develop what we do. But they will not fill holes in your income stream this year.

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Day 5 Poll: What is the main impact of POPse!?

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Day 5: Social Impact Measurement (Trust & Transparency)

So POPse! enters its final day of the week, with an #sealley hangover, dwindling fairtrade coffee supplies, and still plenty of thinking to do.

Today is social impact measurement day, so we’ll be asking the big questions: why don’t we focus on the internal metrics anymore? how many toolkits can one sector produce? is it really better to be vaguely right than precisely wrong?

We’ll also be asking you: What is POPse! worth?

You can join in the #popsechat at 2pm on social impact on Twitter. And you can check out the last 20 social enterprise truths as they are revealed by @popupthinktank… (and we’ll publish the full 100 here as a blog post later).

And towards the end of the day, there will be a top 10 recommendations from the week (before the policy reports are published in the next couple of weeks); the start of the real stuff.

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POPse! Day 4

POPse! Day 4, a set on Flickr.

Some photos from Day 4 at POPse! Community & Big Society discussions…and #sealley drinks

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Talking Community at POPse! video

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Why we need a Collaboration Prize in the UK

It’s been interesting to see how talk about mergers, collaboration and formal partnerships have snowballed in the sector as the economic circumstances have become more straitened. And also increasing compulsion from funders and politicians to make organisations do so. One recent example was the OCS Strategic Partners funding: those who got themselves into coherent partnerships that made sense (or had even formally merged in the case of DTA & Bassac: Locality) were rewarded / successful. And those that didn’t (hello equalities groups + grassroots community organisations) weren’t.

But compelling organisations to partner and collaborate like this frames the debate around the whole topic in a negative way. To survive, work together. To spread the funding, partner up. To save jobs, merge. Which risks a) organisations not doing it; b) missing the point that it’s about more effectively achieving the mission + c) ill-conceived + rushed partnerships being created.

So here’s one clear recommendation for the sector: let’s import something from the US. The Collaboration Prize. What is it? Here’s the blurb:

The 2011 Collaboration Prize is a national award presented to nonprofit organizations that collaborate effectively to gain greater impact.

In 2011, the Collaboration Prize will award a total of $250,000 to the collaborations that best exemplify the impact that can result from working together. Each of the eight finalists will receive $12,500 and the winner will receive an additional $150,000.

The Prize is designed to identify and showcase models of collaboration among nonprofit organizations. Recognizing the impact that can be achieved from working together, the Prize shines a spotlight on collaborations among two or more nonprofit organizations that cooperate to demonstrate innovative and effective responses to challenges or opportunities.

It started in 2009, and I think it’s a brilliant, positive way of incentivising, recognising and showcasing collaboration in the sector. And it’s allowed them to start to build up what looks like an incredibly useful resource: the Non-Profit Collaboration Database. (worth adding in passing that David La Piana is my go-to guy on this stuff: always)

Come on enlightened funder / infrastructure body: let’s do it in the UK.

[NB – Disclaimer: this post was written in an uncollaborative way :0) ]

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A Right Bloody Shambles?

Cleaning coinsThe social enterprise proposition is founded on an idea that can be captured in one word – sustainability. That long-term economic, social and environmental imperatives can be more effectively achieved if they are aligned in co-operation and mutually reinforcing (or at worst, held in creative tension) rather than pursuing the mutual destruction wreaked through opposition or ignorance. In the simplest terms, businesses won’t profit if the planet burns; we all rely on natural resources to sustain our health and wellbeing; markets don’t work without trust; and capital can help us make more effective use of our time and resources.

So the enemy or antithesis of this model is the enterprise which ignores social relations and which pays no heed to the environmental consequences of its actions. Rootless, blind to the notion of community, indifferent to the spirit of fraternity, that obeys only the law of the land and no more, no moral law and no margin for sentiment. A pure, pure capitalist model with a single profit motive – in fact imperative – which the duty of the Board and the single-minded, yet distant demands of the shareholders ultimately require.

This is a model. An archetype. Yet we know all too well one business which, in such perennial pursuit of profit, failed. Which, through the exchange of personal for impersonal, local for global, trust for tricks of the light, and through the obsession with this one imperative, tripped over and fell. Fell so far and so fast that it threatened to take us with it. We had to catch it on the way down and limp along with it under our arm, weighing us down, while it struggled on, still chasing the same old dream.

So who sponsored this year’s annual social enterprise conference? Who sponsored last year’s? And the year before that? Who sponsored last year’s SE100 awards? Who will sponsor this year’s? Who sponsored the Enterprising Solutions awards 2008? Who wrote the cheque for the Social Enterprise Coalition’s guide to financing social enterprise? Who hosted drinks for the great and the good on Social Enterprise Day 2009? Which single business has most associated itself with the social enterprise movement in the UK? Which business has churned out the most yards of paper telling the world how much it contributes to sustainable enterprise models which help people and the planet?

Sometimes, we can get it so right. The SE100 launch event last year was a triumph for ethical and social enterprise supply chain management with over 90% of the budget spent on social enterprises. Meanwhile, the Social Enterprise Coalition stretch themselves to ensure they live by the principles they promote, for example, when hiring and paying interns fairly and equally. Even the Cabinet Office has started to use social enterprise caterers.

The Socially Responsible Investment (SRI) movement suggests two approaches when thinking about investing your money to make a difference. Either simply don’t deal with those you don’t respect and take your business elsewhere, or ensure that your terms of engagement are as an active shareholder, demanding change and challenging conventional business methods.

So should we walk away from those who don’t match our values and stick to our principles? Or err on the side of pragmatism and work together with those within the structures we are trying to influence? In which case, what should the terms of engagement be? What do we demand? What could we? What should we?

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