Shining a spotlight on culture, ownership and social enterprise
We had two great events from the RSA’s Social Entrepreneurs network in recent weeks; a quarterly event on culture and branding and a monthly breakfast on sharing the ownership of your social enterprise.
Both were very different; one was a huge event in association with three different partners (Ravensbourne/Digital Enterprise Greenwich and BITC’s arc service) with 100+ people in attendance, a guest speaker, and 5 different breakout groups running simultaneously – a feat of organisation which to be honest probably added another grey hair to my curly locks. The other was a monthly breakfast; a focused discussion of much more modest size, with people all passionate about social enterprise or lending expertise where they can.
Both events had excellent points and their own value – which I’ll go into later – but it got me thinking about group dynamic and what the best situation is to dissect the key issues a social enterprise faces. Or whether these situations are just the starting point to build those deeper relationships and contacts that are vital to help you keep going.
Chris Mould of the Trussell Trust kicked us off at the quarterly event on culture and branding with a moving and highly timely account of the growth of his foodbank organisation over the last few years – sadly an organisation like his is needed most when somewhere in society something has gone awry. The organisation was involved in a recent BBC documentary highlighting the problem. Great work but also a sad reflection of the current economic climate. With now over 250 food banks, Chris spoke about the challenge of keeping the culture of an organisation in multiple locations consistent, and what is the ‘non-negotiable’ in an organisation which must be maintained. Some of the social entrepreneurs involved in the Social Enterprise Spotlight project then joined in the conversation. Becky John’s (of Whomadeyourpants?) suggestion of culture was bringing your workforce together through social time, cake and glitter. Read the Storify of the event for some of the highlights.
What is the best situation, size and context to dissect the key issues a social enterprise faces?
We then split into breakouts groups on branding, culture, growth, money and people. They were led by contacts of the BITC’s arc programme, people who are experts in their field and shared their extensive knowledge and expertise. You can see who they were and read a summary of the outcomes from these breakouts on the Social Entrepreneurs Network online group – find out what happened.
You can also see some thoughts from the attendees of the event in this word cloud:
This was taken from a new questionnaire we have introduced in the Fellowship team – more about this will be coming in a forthcoming blog…
Moving onto the breakfast on sharing ownership, a few of the key questions (as well as ascertaining whether people were a trustee/volunteer or had managed either) asked were: Sharing leadership: Why is this hard for a social enterprise founder? Sharing ownership: What’s hard about sharing ‘ownership’ of a project with your team? Shifting power: Within your social enterprise, what significant shifts have you seen in your role?
Sharing leadership: Why is this hard for a social enterprise founder? What’s hard about sharing ‘ownership’ of a project with your team? Within your social enterprise, what significant shifts have you seen in your role?
I am not sure we got any definitive answers to these questions (as it is a matter of individual preference and context) but they will be returned to at a later event. What we did get was a collection of key tips from those who attended about trustee boards and volunteers. They were:
- Be clear on the roles you are giving Trustees – what are the deliverables, what are the ground rules. And reiterate these each time a new person joins.
- Trustee boards with all the expertise and experience are notoriously difficult to manage – you therefore need a really strong chair to corral and ensure when taking decisions they are evidence based.
- Don’t make trustee boards too big – if you are a small enterprise, remember you need to make decisions and move forward – but three is too small so be wise with how many people you ask.
- BUT be ambitious with who you ask.
- Volunteers should be given a clear role – what are they there to deliver, what is the infrastructure for them to succeed, what rewards are there. The issue also came up about recruitment (it was mentioned you should be slow to hire but fast to fire – a controversial statement but it’s about making sure you get the right people into your organisation – another thing to cover in due course).
But back to group dynamics; I am going to err on the side of obvious and say that both are useful but in different ways. The key to big events is promotion, networking and inspiration. Small events however enable depth, bonding and genuine collaboration – the combination is very powerful. But both are about peer-to-peer learning; a powerful way to increase your knowledge and understanding about where to head next. One of the RSA’s greatest strengths and resources is the incredible diversity of our Fellowship, so ensuring we offer a varied manner of ways to engage and share is a key opportunity for the Fellowship team.