I imagine problems with the Dartington estate broadband system prevented Nick Temple from continuing his insights into last week’s SSE residential. Either way, I’m happy to pick up the baton. I was at the residential as a member of this year’s SSE London block group. While the highlight of my week was undoubtedly joining fellow mental health social entrepreneur, Steve Light, in a karaoke interpretation of Sugarhill Gang’s Rapper’s Delight, my stay in Devon also provoked some thinking about how we do social enterprise.
The Social Enterprise City of the Future format created by the SSE team certainly generated plenty of discussion and – eventually – plenty of productive activity too. Although the situation was a necessarily artificial one, the problems of building groups and forming partnerships with others mirrored those faced by social entrepreneurs in the outside world.
One of the most interesting questions raised by this process was that of how we deal with the challenges that we (social entrepreneurs) encounter when we try to work with each other. There’s plenty of discussion in the social enterprise world about the potential difficulties of working with councils or more traditional charities but if you put together 20 or 30 passionate individuals with a strong motivation to achieve (often similar) social goals in (often very) different ways that poses problems in itself.
My instinctive approach – not especially suited to last week’s challenge – when working on a project involving a large group of people with different ideas about how things should be done is to sit and wait until all the shouting’s over and then try and work with anyone who’s left in the room to do something practical and useful. That’s a reflection of my personality rather than my professional opinion and – in my day job or my real life voluntary roles – I’ve found a little bit of well targeted shouting (or robust point-making) is often the necessary thing to do to break a logjam.
The big problem for my team in the Social Enterprise City of the Future lay in overcoming the challenge of deciding who was in charge and what needed to be done quickly enough for something to actually be done. This is one problem that social entrepreneurs don’t usually encounter when working with public sector agencies or funders on a fairly small scale. It’s usually clear that party (a) has some money and party (b) hopefully has the ability to do something with that money to achieve positive social change, if only they can persuade party (a) to give it to them – either in a chunk or based on some agreed results.
If, as many of us hope, one of the positive by-products of the current economic challenges we’re facing is that there’s more opportunities for groups of social entrepreneurs to get together and make things happen on a larger scale, that we’ll need to deal find ways for lots of people with the drive, passion and ideas to change the world to work together – despite their inevitable differences in experience and approach. That’s definitely a good thing but, last week’s experience (and other experiences in the past) suggest it won’t always be easy.