Tag Archives: Liam Black

Shine 2011 – part two

Day two of this year’s Shine Unconference at Hub Westminster began with Liam Black, formerly of FRC and Fifteen – now running Wavelength, delivering a presentation called ‘How to screw* up at being socially enterprising’.

The bulk of the presentation focused on Black’s ‘Seven Deadly Sins of Social Entrepreneurship’ which were (in some cases paraphrased):

  1. Convince yourself that having a good idea (in itself) changes anything
  2. Be really vague about your purpose
  3. Come to believe that your unwillingness to pay attention to detail is a charming quirk
  4. Make sure you hang out with people just like you and avoid the nasty people in the private sector
  5. Disregard your customers and their problems
  6. Create a culture in your enterprise which is a reflection of your brilliance
  7. Take on one of the following leadership identities: messiah model, superhero model, Stalin model or invisible leader
Black illustrated the sins with examples from his own working life. One of the highlights, under sin 3, was the example of when an employee at FRC in Liverpool, Stan the upholsterer, saw an quote in the local newspaper in which Black had outlined exciting plans for social change in the city and sent him a short note: “Liam, I read in the Echo you want to transform Liverpool. You can’t get my wages right. Good luck with Liverpool.”
In explaining sin 7, Black challenged the ‘Messiah model’ that sees social entrepreneurs as a vehicle for solving social problems through individual genius and showers them with awards and invitations to high level international conferences. The risk being that you “feed the model that the world is going to be saved by this Premier League of social entrepreneurs – it’s not, you’re not a miracle worker and you get crucified.
The presentation finished with a ‘Recipe for success’ with a list of ingredients including: ‘A tonne of hard work’ and ‘one good pinch of opportunism’.
In the afternoon, I attended the panel session ‘Small Fish & Blue Chips – Can big business & social enterprise work together?’. The overall answer to the question seemed to be ‘yes’ but panellists – ably prompted by Dan Lehner from Unltd – had a range of ideas about the best way for them to do so.
Bob Thust, Head of Corporate Responsibility at Deloitte, was partly there to promote Deloitte Social Innovation Pioneers, a new programme that will see the company ‘showcase up to 50 socially innovative businesses from across the UK and provide them with a package of support to help them mainstream, go to scale and become investment-ready‘.
His comments including the message that (as a social enterprise) it’s important to know what corporates are getting out of a relationship with you because, if a partnership is going to work, it needs to be a partnership of equals. He also suggested that language barriers – social entrepreneurs and business people expressing themselves in different styles or using different terminology – didn’t have to be a major problem if both sides worked on building relationships. He emphasised this position by pointing out that ‘corporates are organisations made up of people‘.
Social Entrepreneur, Richard Tyrie, founder of recruitment website Jobsgopublic, wondered whether the audience viewed social enterprise as a science or an art and got strong support for his position that it is primarily an art, before adding that this can often be a problem. He felt that ‘some of us are too hung up on the social side – the business of business is business‘ and that ultimately social enterprises needed to find the right blend of science and art to take their ideas to scale – working in partnership with corporates to ‘sit in the slipstream of the private sector juggernaut’.
David Barrie, one of the people behind The People’s Supermarket, focused on some ideas about what social entrepreneurs have to offer to corporate partners. In the case of his social enterprises this included useful human contact in the community and experience of implementing projects beyond the planning stage. He suggested that this kind of experience meant many social enterprises had the potential to fulfil a role as sub-consultants for consultancy firms, and do so more cheaply than conventional private sector competitors.
Social enterprise éminence grise, Nick Temple, Director of Business at Social Enterprise UK, said that his organisation received lots of calls from corporates interested in working with social enterprises but there’s a wide spectrum of interest, from conventional CSR to organisations who were genuinely keen to form partnerships with social enterprises. He said it was natural for social entrepreneurs to ask the question ‘do they really mean it?’ when corporates expressed a desire to work with social enterprise but that, for many companies, it was a case of being on a journey towards understanding social enterprise.
Contributions from the audience included the point that, with the passing of Chris White MP’s Social Value Bill imminent, many companies that carry out a lot of public sector contracts would have an added incentive to work with social enterprises.
Overall, while Shine 2011 wasn’t entirely able to banish the feeling of gloom-tinged expectation that hovers over the social enterprise sector in the current economic climate, it did provide a good mix of entertainment, healthy debate and practical ideas for starting and developing socially enterprising activities – along with an opportunity to meet other social entrepreneurs in a relaxed, positive environment. I expect there’s going to be plenty of changes in the social enterprise sector before this time next year but Shine 2012 should provide a good place to reflect on some of them.

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State your purpose

This post raises lots of interesting points. Liam Black’s point about Grameen’s success in a country where there is no effective state is well made but it doesn’t necessarily explain what social enterprises should do in a country such as the UK where – in a comparative sense – there is an effective state.

Black is right that social enterprises shouldn’t expect eternal grants and subsidies from the government just because they’re nice people trying to do good things but the relationships between government agencies and social enterprises are more complicated than that.

I reckon the fact that the UK government can comfortably provide the basics of existence for its citizens without necessarily needing the help of social enterprises is a good thing but it does mean that both the useful role of social enterprise and the relationship between social enterprise and the state is fundamentally different to the role of social enterprise in Bangladesh. Leaving us with the question of what that role and that relationship should be.

While I’ve got a good idea of the answers from the point of view of my own social enterprise, I think the general answer is currently unclear. In fact, it’s a political issue that’s likely to resonate beyond ‘the social enterprise movement’ in 2010.

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Apply within?

The small number of people in the UK with a strong interest in social enterprise leadership issues have spent the last week or so struggling to contain their excitement at the news that Social Enterprise Coalition(SEC) CEO, Jonathan Bland, is heading off to Finland in October.

The print version of the new Social Enterprise magazine offers an interesting assessment of Bland’s legacy, describing him as ‘Jonathan the juggler’ for his ability to juggle the interests of a diverse range of players in the Coalition and gain significant political support for ‘the movement’. In terms of the task facing the next CEO, reporter Chrisanthi Giotis’s discussions with sector commentators predict an ongoing juggling act with the feedback being that: “The SEC leader must take this opportunity to enshrine social enterprise in a new British economy that may be emerging, they said. Yet, at the same time, they said, the new CEO will have to focus on the grass roots, build up communications between members, segment the sector to offer tailored products from SEC and boost understanding of the different models of business.”

Sandwiched in the middle of the article, with its implications under-explored, is a suggestion from former Social Enterprise Ambassador, Liam Black, that raises big questions what the SEC should actually by trying to do. Black’s line is that rather than concentrating on promoting the formation of more entities that can be defined as social enterprises, the SEC and the social enterprise movement in general should be focusing on transforming the way all companies do business.

This is a road that the SEC under Jonathan Bland has – possibly out of genuine strategic conviction – feared to tread. The SEC under Bland has done a great job popularising the social enterprise brand (particularly with politicians) and incorporating a wide range of disparate organisations – often fairly unconnected in terms of structure, practice or philosophy – under its banner but it hasn’t had anything much to say about the wider economy and how it works.

Given that social enterprises that are not the Co-Operative Group, the John Lewis Partnership or social lending institutions make up an infinitesimally small % of the UK economy – in fact if you chuck Greenwich Leisure into that list, I’d guess the rest of us struggle to match the turnover of a medium-sized inner city Borough between us – this approach seems to have a very limited scope.

If the SEC’s line really is to keep plugging away until all businesses actually become specifically structured social enterprises, it seems as sensible as a plan to achieve broad improvements in animal rights by demanding that everyone becomes vegan. Surely a more useful focus for the social enterprise movement – if it is going to be a movement rather than just a collection of tangentially linked small businesses – would be to start by looking at the economy as it is and then make practical arguments for making it better.

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