Archive for the 'stories' Category

(un)Question Time for social entrepreneurs

OK – first bit of live blogging. Am sitting in a session with a panel of four social entrepreneurs, chaired by our own David Dimbleby, Cliff Prior (CEO, UnLtd). The intention is to share learning, real experiences (successes and failures) and genuinely interrogate these practitioners.

First up is Ben Ramsden from Pants to Poverty, whose organisation started on the back of Make Poverty History and has grown from there. Interesting (already) that none of them are comfortable with being called “successful”. Sold 3,000 pairs of pants first up, and then went from there. [Shock news: Cliff owns some]

Second up is Davina Roberts of Punch and Juicy, who runs a healthy-living / drinks organisation. She has overcome homelessness, and chalenging illness, to do this work. She emphasised the importance of networking and “smiling while pushing business cards at people”. Punch and Juicy is a great name; + she has “juice masters” who make and create new drinks.

Third up is Annys Darkwa of Vision Housing which supports ex-offenders to access accommodation. Very interesting model (check the website)….and she felt that service user involvement and empowerment was at the heart of her success (alongside having the boxes ticked: policies and procedures).

Finally, Ben Matthews of Bright One, which provides PR to charities and social enterprises. I met Ben last year, and he is one of our excellent social reporters, and Bright One is cool. Going very well: too well, because they’ve had to put a stop to charities etc coming with more projects.

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Into the discussion, which is (I’m going to be honest here) sliding straight into definitions, much to a fair amount of tedium in the room…but Cliff has put a stop to it (through asking us to vote on whether social enterprise is charity 2.0 or business 2.0; most thought the latter, though I would say both….).

Now talking about how you can effectively marry your product with your social mission. Soc ents feel it is largely about relationships and interweaving them as much as possible.

Q: what skills do you need? Partners, partnerships (being able to identify the right partners) are key. Be clear about your core idea, and innovate within it. Communicate with wide range of people. Choose whatever structure is fit to your mission, finance and governance (not structure first). Also about characteristics and traits, not skills. Get them to learn by doing.

Q: Did you ever consider giving up? And what kept you going? Lack of holiday, lack of sleep, constant stream of e-mails, personal investment etc. all coming across as challenges. Career-changing a challenge. Need to stick at it (“survive enough until you get lucky” to paraphrase Kiva founder). Scale of ambition can depress you, but relationships sustain you through. Joy, passion, impact that work creates. + turn a challenge into an opportunity.

Q: We all go on a big learning journey? Who’s given you support….leading to ‘social entrepreneurs’ are most similar to offenders: “they see something and they go after it”; interesting answer from Davina; Cricklewood Homeless Concern, Brent Housing, Groundswell, Nigel Kershaw, Shine 09, Bright Ideas Trust, and weaving her way through the network….+ family! Quote of the session: “my gran said, ‘finally, you’ve got a good idea’”

Q: Question about plagiarism of your idea; all had some experience of it at different levels…or at least as they interpret it. One had competition set up, another had staff poached, etc. Importance of retaining core value. Need to take it as compliment + tools to protect yourself.

If I’m being honest, this session hasn’t really caught light for me. Nuggets of gold, and good honesty and openness, but crowd seem a little subdued. Maybe they are just taking it all in!

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Summary: synergy between social and business is key; learning and going, not teaching / formal learning; belief and motivation (support + thing that reminds you why); use your support network: easier to be brave in company; using the people who say no to you.

One line advice: take holidays; time for yourself; JFDI management (just ‘*!@ing do it!) and learn how to drive! Don’t wait till you’re ready. Recognition reminders.

Live blogging: final pitching event

OK – final event here at Shine 2008, with 3 social entrepreneurs pitching to an esteemed panel for £5000…..MC’d by the ‘compere without compare’, Matt Kepple. I can see David Wilcox doing some video of the pitches, so I’ll aim at an edited highlights commentary.

First up is Minnie from India, who wants to go round Devon doing workshops on climate change, based on things she has learned from her time at Schumacher College. The panel are being very nice about the pitch (which rambled a bit and lost me), but the kernel of the idea came through: a people-powered movement to locally inform and reach out. Questions were about the need for brand, about the need to differentiate, and about the possibility of sharing and working in partnership with others. Minnie gave pretty good answers to most of those.

Second up is Alexia, who used to be the Social Enterprise Coalition membership officer, is pitching for a project….which aims to utilise yoga to tackle mental health issues / eating disorders etc. She wants the money to help inform and advocate the various stakeholder communities (care services, yoga practitioners, funders etc. and so forth), as well as deliver workshops herself. In the first instance, she wants to do some market research as the first stage of her journey. Good presentation, which was very clear and, to her credit, started with a clear outlining of her personal motivation. Questions are pondering the scope of ambition (too much?), planning effectively, and the barriers there may be: not least because it’s about working in the NHS. Good answers, particularly about not wanting to ‘own the space’, but ensure others can learn from her work.

Third up is Ben, who is pitching for a third sector communications agency for those whose projects and organisations can’t afford big budget investment in this area; utilising volunteers (students, but also those with experience from different agencies). Is now explaining the business model, and the potential social impact. Probably the clearest pitch so far: pretty impressive: “at the start of the weekend, I wasn’t sure this was a good idea….but now I know it is”. Questions are around quality control (particularly if using volunteers), about the internship culture already existing (a suggestion around providing the training scheme to the existing big marketing agencies gets a decent response), uniqueness, method:purpose…..

[I have to say, and I am aware that this might be the jaded, slightly tired grump in me, but why are people incapable of phrasing a succinct, concise and clear question? Hey ho....]

And finally, the voting, people are holding up different coloured cards like a low-budget Apprentice:You’re Fired…. and the winner, with the blue cards holding sway….. is….Alexia.

That’s a wrap, people!

Talkaoke lite

Saul Albert and his friends are running a version of their Talkaoke in the final stages of the Shine conference.

This involves a roving microphone, plus a camera and computer throwing a mix of video and snippets of text on screen. I’m shooting some video on a phone, which you will find over here.