The truth about (social enterprise) communications

October 29, 2013 by · Leave a Comment
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Our most recent social enterprise breakfast was an illuminating affair for me. We have been holding these breakfasts for a couple for years now so it was high time that we focused on communications, and specifically how we approach communications in the social enterprise sector.  We were joined by Peter Gilheany, PR Director for Forster Communications, a communications agency which was set up by Jilly Forster in 1996.  Jilly’s aim was to set up an agency with similar ethics to her previous workplace, The Body Shop.

Peter explained how Forster works with socially focused businesses; they don’t like to get involved in definitions of ‘social enterprise’, hence the emphasis towards working with those with a social purpose.  He went through some of the considerations when communicating your social enterprise; the why, who (ie. audience), what and how.

Your messaging should be a conscious exchange with your audience, matching up their motivators and answering their perceived barriers.

He reminded us about the importance of identifying what motivates your audience and the barriers to them using your service or product. Your messaging should be a conscious exchange with your audience, matching up their motivators and answering their perceived barriers.  This seems like common sense but I think many organisations get caught up in the running of a business and probably don’t stop to double-check they are still actively doing this.  He also suggested that your internal audience can be maximised as advocates, and starting with a few key stakeholders, you can start to analyse what your barriers are; and to have a key stakeholder from your audience in your governance arrangement is good practice.

Peter gave us a lot of useful information but here are three key points which stuck for me:

comms tower x150Point one: the best marketing tool is you/your impact/your opinions
As a social enterprise without marketing budgets or a team to carry out the communications, the best tool you can use is ‘you’- ie as the founder/director/CEO of an organisation. Your ability to tell your story and that of your enterprise is one of your most powerful tools.  It has the personal touch so try to scout out speaking engagements, blogs and editorial articles as much as possible.  If time is an issue make sure you can still communicate your impact in a clear, dynamic and relevant way. Similarly if you are not someone who likes public speaking, try to identify someone in your team who can be the ‘external face’ for your organisation.

Point two: the difference between owned, shared and non-owned channels (and don’t spend so much time on your website)
When we spoke about the ‘how’, Peter highlighted the difference between owned channels (those you have control over, like website and newsletters), shared channels (mainly social media sites where you produce the initial content but it can be forwarded, interpreted and translated) and non-owned channels (essentially the media which gives you little control but high influence). Most people spend far too much time on their owned channels bearing in mind how much (or little) traffic and promotion they generate.  Having said that, if your website has a high hit rate, having a slick, clear and well-structured website is worth it – so find a balance.

Point three: people don’t care whether you are a social enterprise
Now, this last point has got me thinking since Friday’s breakfast – when I asked what was the biggest mistake made by this sector with regards to communications, Peter said that telling people that you are a social enterprise is meaningless: it means nothing and “why should they care?” This jarred with me slightly, as surely by the fact you are helping people/the environment/society (as a social enterprise or social business) people should and will care? But then it hit me – the ‘social’ aspect of a business is secondary or even tertiary to demonstrating a quality product or service and being able to convince people why it will benefit their lives. You can then follow up with the fact their money is going towards a good cause but don’t lead with it.  It comes down to cold, hard business sense that you have to be relevant and convenient for people to spend their money on you – even if you have the most amazing story.  

The ‘social’ aspect of a business is secondary to demonstrating a quality product or service and being able to convince people why it will benefit their lives.

So that was our journey on Friday morning.  Thanks to everyone who came along and in particular to Peter for giving us much to think about.  It was a reminder for me that the Social Entrepreneurs Network is a great resource to have your thinking challenged.  I remember a Fellow once saying about the network, “no-one I know thinks how you all think” which can only be a positive thing.  You can get involved in the network by visiting the online group. The next breakfast will be on Friday 29th November at 9am so I hope to see you then.

Sarah Tucker

Fellowship Communications Manager
Follow her @SarahTucker10

Should a social enterprise crowdfund?

September 30, 2013 by · 2 Comments
Filed under: Fellowship 
  • What makes a successful crowdfunding campaign?
  • How can it help my social enterprise?
  • Why should I do a crowdfunding campaign?

These were some of the questions on people’s lips at Friday morning’s social entrepreneurs breakfast as the focus was social enterprise and crowdfunding: how can it help me? We were joined by student makers festFellowship Councillor Ed Whiting and Alex Watson, our RSA Catalyst manager, both of whom have overseen the launch of RSA crowdfunding.  Ed ran a crowdfunding platform called WeDidThis and so is well versed in the benefits, drawbacks, ups and downs of crowdfunding campaigns.  You can read previous blogs from Ed about crowdfunding and the RSA’s role in it. There are currently seven projects up on the RSA crowdfunding page ranging from a game which reduces social anxiety to a cinema project in Kenya which uses films as an educational tool. You can take a look at the RSA page here.

Two of the Fellows with current live crowdfunding projects were able to join us at the breakfast. Lisa Oulton who is running Student Makers Festival sets young designers up with stalls at local markets (currently in Folkstone, Kent) to sell what they have created. The young people she works with are students, unemployed young people and graduates based in an area struggling with high levels of youth unemployment. Lisa would like to raise £2000 to fit out a production workshop and exhibition space and help support young designers to fulfil their potential. Her campaign is currently 40% backed with 33 days to go and she describes the highs and lows of the campaign as being on a rollercoaster.  One of the reasons she has run this crowdfunding campaign was to introduce her young people to the possibilities of crowdfunding for their products and to galvanise their networks into promoting the campaign.

rick hallRick Hall’s 3-2-1 Ignition project is trying to bring science to the masses and our local high streets in ways which demystify science and show that it is for everyone and not just the archetypal wild-haired scientists (think Doc Brown and the flux capacitor – though that’s just the 80’s child in me!)  Rick’s campaign is currently at 33% at 31 days left.  He says the key thing he has learnt is that just having a good idea doesn’t make a crowdfunding campaign – you need to define your project campaign, focus on the tangible outputs and finally be able to articulate it.  I was interested why Rick has chosen to go ahead now with the campaign and he said two points which I liked: 1) if you get an opportunity (like the one the RSA was offering) you should go for it and 2) he was at a stage where he wanted to test whether his idea and social enterprise was viable.  He has his first shop and wondered whether he could grow the idea and take it to the next level.  Which is where crowdfunding comes in particularly hand; it is also a type of market research.  A lot of these points also came up at the RSA crowdfunding launch event on Monday 16 September which you can view online on RSA Replay.

What are the top tips for crowdfunding?

Out of our discussions, we distilled the key tips for crowdfunding campaigns down to these points:

  1. Define your project – you can’t just focus on your cause; what is your project and how are you going to get people’s ‘buy-in’?
  2. Set realistic targets – you might want £200,000 but is this realistic bearing in mind your reach, rewards and project?
  3. Use it to test your viability – it is an excellent market research tool so use it to test what works.
  4. Offer exciting outputs/rewards – part of defining your project is to work out what rewards and gifts you can offer to those who donate.
  5. Use your networks – promoting to those you know and getting friends of friends and friends of friends of friends involved is vital in the momentum for your campaign especially at the beginning.
  6. It is ‘forced’ promotion – a good point was raised about using crowdfunding campaigns as a marketing tool in that you HAVE to promote it. The campaign will fail otherwise. It is reliant on you to build momentum so it can be used for the slightly-more-reticent promoters to push their projects out into the ether.

Crowdfunding was suggested as a ‘fun’ way to raise finance amongst a number of different options social enterprises have. Whether as a social enterprise you are going to be more or less successful as a crowdfunding campaign is questionable – are people more likely to give backing to your social enterprise based on the feel-good factor of helping a good cause?  The jury is still out on that but Ed did highlight the difference between a project and a ’cause’. One of the things that a crowdfunding campaign (and in this case Kickstarter) will do is to force you to package up your idea and think about the tangible products your enterprise or project can offer. Just stating you want to help reduce youth unemployment or carbon emissions is not enough – you need to focus on the outputs.  This made me wonder whether giving to a crowdfunding campaign appeals to our selfish motivations of having ‘stuff’ and especially as a momento that reminds us of the good deed we performed to help out another person. This is a personal element of the social side of crowdfunding.

It is exciting times ahead for both the current projects live on the RSA crowdfunding page (good luck to Lisa and Rick and everyone else looking for support) and for those to come.  Help them to reach their targets.  Two things you can do now:

  1. Find out about all the projects on the RSA crowdfunding page, see which one inspires you and support them from as little as £1.
  2. Join the Social Entrepreneurs Network online here. The next breakfast will be Friday 25 October so we hope to see you then!

Sarah Tucker
Fellowship Communications and Events Manager

But wait there’s more – the next generation of the Social Entrepreneurs Network (part two)

August 9, 2013 by · Leave a Comment
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As you may have seen in the first part of this blog, over the last year the Social Entrepreneurs Network has been going from strength to strength, connecting people and solving some of the challenges from the Social Enterprise Spotlight folk.  You can witness this activity in our new video:


What’s happening next

The Social Entrepreneurs Network is evolving; we will continue to run events but they will be every six months alternating between events inside and outside of London. The next event will be in London in the autumn. The breakfasts will continue to be held the last Friday of each month at the RSA – we want to get some of our RSA Fellowship partners more involved as they have a wealth of expertise to tap into and work with lots of inspiring people.  We hope to arrange some interesting opportunities over the coming year.  The next breakfast will be on Friday 27th September at 9am and will focus on crowdfunding, as the RSA will be launching a new ‘curated’ crowdfunding area in September (more on this below).

The most important aspect of the network though definitely won’t change; the peer-to-peer learning and the interaction between those involved.  As Maria Ana Neves, one of the Spotlighters said, the network provides “the most magical resource – people, ideas, experiences”.

As Maria Ana Neves, one of the Spotlighters said, the Social Entrepreneurs Network provides “the most magical resource – people, ideas, experiences”.

Social Enterprise Spotlight and our crowdfunding work

As for the fate of Spotlight, you may have read a recent RSA Fellowship blog from Fellowship Councillor Ed Whiting about our upcoming RSA area on the crowdfunding platform Kickstarter.  This will launch in September and will be a big and exciting piece of work, giving Fellows a chance to appeal for financial and ‘in-kind’ support from Fellows and the wider world to make their vision even bigger and better. We’ll have eight to ten projects in each round of funding.  These projects will make up the next round of ‘spotlighted’ projects and ventures.  We’ll be focusing on their successes and challenges as they continue their journey during and post crowdfunding. Keep an eye out for the September issues of the Fellowship newsletter where you’ll be able to hear more about how the crowdfunding platform is going to work and how you can get involved.

Taking the Social Entrepreneurs Network to your area

We would like to see a Social Entrepreneurs Network in every region of the RSA and in every country of the world – particularly the 40 where we have RSA Connectors.  Getting a group of people in the same room who not only want to change the world, but are acting on their wishes, is a very powerful thing.  Taking a break from the daily grind of running an organisation to reflect on your work, its impact and how you could do it better can be invaluable.  Having limited time can be an issue, but getting inspiration and support from others is definitely worth it.

We have been running regular breakfasts for a couple of years now which are an effective way to meet other social entrepreneurs and don’t take up too much of your time.  If you want to get something similar started in your area it is relatively easy – and it doesn’t need to be a breakfast, it is whatever works for you.

I would say you need four things though:

  1. A place to hold it in (such coffee shops who are often more then happy to have extra customers; partners spaces; hub spaces etc)
  2. Willing and interested social entrepreneurs (you can use the online group to find support)
  3. Someone willing to decide on the place, time and focus
  4. A focus or theme (if you are a social entrepreneur what are you struggling with? This is your opportunity to get advice from others and see what they are doing or how they dealt with it.)

Alternatively you can ask other support organisations to get involved.  A good example of this is that Manchester Fellows’ have a thriving partnership with UnLtd in the north west. Or Caroline Veal FRSA along with other Fellows has instigated some excellent activity around those working in social enterprise in Sheffield. She has long had contact with the support organisations in the area and has used them to great effect!

Use the online group for the Social Entrepreneurs Network to find other social entrepreneurs who might be interested in kicking something off, start discussions, seek advice and get involved. There are also tools you can use like the four ways to engage, and the Changemakers handbook (PDF, 210KB).  If you are a Fellow working in social enterprise and would like to kick something off where you live, you can also talk to your local team in your region.  You can find out who they are by visiting your region via the Where you are web page.  The local team are there to help you engage with the RSA and its activities, so get in touch and we hope to see you soon!

Sarah Tucker
Fellowship Communications Manager


Read part one of this blog
Visit the Social Entrepreneurs Network online
Watch the video again on our Vimeo channel

But wait there’s more – the next generation of the Social Entrepreneurs Network (part one)

August 7, 2013 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Fellowship 

They say all good things must come to an end, and the same is true of this year’s group of Social Enterprise Spotlight entrepreneurs. I have had the privilege to work with this group of social entrepreneurs over the last 12 months or so, looking at their successes, challenges and what is next in store for them. You can see a list of those involved here. We had the wrap-up event a few weeks ago – and what an event it was!  It had all the ingredients that constitute a Spotlight event: stories, expertise and tales from those in Spotlight but with a small tinge of sadness (for me anyway).  No longer will I be privy to the insightful conversations of this inspiring group.  However fear not, we will be back. But more on that later.

Here’s a quick re-cap on what we have covered since we began our journey in summer 2012:

  • Social media event in July 2012 – Spotlighter Eugenie Teasley with help from Trudy Thompson from Bricks and Bread (and a Spotlighter from the first year) and Rina Atienza from Synacapse covered social media and why you should definitely use it.  Read some useful tips on how to use Twitter from Trudy Thompson.
  • Growth part 1: an internal perspective in Sept 2012 – we were joined by Dai Powell of the HCT group who spoke about the need to be aware of your market and that money is a good thing!  You can see Dai’s presentation and outcomes from the event online.  We then broke into groups looking at sales, operations, your business model and putting the right people in place around you. We held this event with BiTC’s ARC project and Ravensbourne; where we also learnt about business incubators and Ravensbourne’s work over the last few years.
  • Growth part 2: an external perspective in Jan 2013 – from an 11th story building over-looking the O2 arena and led by Richard Raynes at SportInspired, we focused on what you need to do to achieve growth; from sales to funding to establishing your culture. Chris Mould from the Trussell Trust reflected on his journey with the explosion of their foodbanks around the UK and highlighted that you must live your values. Read more about what happened.
  • Impact (from a human perspective) in Apr 2013 – for the first time the network went outside to London to Oxford to join the good folk at OxfordJam.  We ran a session looking at impact with two fab Fellows Steve Coles (@steve_coles) and one of our amazing Spotlighters Becky John (@beckypants). Read more in this previous blog.
  • A celebration of the last year and how best to tell your story in June 2013 – finally we come to our most recent event where we heard about the stories over the last year with a focus on story-telling.  Karen Lynch, the CEO of Belu Water spoke about the need to make your brand and social enterprise different and better.  Check out the tweets fom the night. We then heard from all the Spotlighters and what their personal journey’s has been like – all inspiring, all carved from graft and hard work and above all passion.

You can see the thoughts and feedback of the people who came to the last event in this word cloud:sarah wordle

As you can see a lot has been covered this year and we don’t think it should stop here.  We made a video capturing the network, with snapshots from the last event and our recent monthly breakfast.  It shows what we have done, why it is so powerful to get an inspiring group of people in the same room and gives you the tools and the inspiration to set something up where you are:

Many thanks to everyone who got involved in the making of this video, especially those who shared their thoughts and tales and to those who contributed to making the year a success.

And what’s happening next? Well the network will continue and the next breakfast will be on Friday 27th September, 9am with a focus on crowdfunding.  Keep an eye out for part two of this blog where you can find out more about our future plans.

Sarah Tucker
Fellowship Communications Manager


Read part two of this blog
Visit the Social Entrepreneurs Network online
Watch the video again on our Vimeo channel


The Big Idea: Transforming young people’s health and happiness using community sport

July 1, 2013 by · Leave a Comment
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In the week following the Social Enterprise Spotlight event on Wednesday 26 June (you can read the tweets from the night to find out more), we have asked one of the social entrepreneurs involved, Richard Raynes, to tell us about his social enterprise, SportInspired:

The Big Idea: Transforming young people’s health and happiness using community sport and private sector role models and resources.

Myself and my best mate, Peter Thomond, founded SportInspired in 2009 in recognition of a serious social need and as a thanks to the sports coaches who inspired us both as kids. We had witnessed for a number of years in London, a severe lack of partnership working within local communities around sport. This meant that, other than for those young people who enjoyed playing football, many were missing out on the various physical and wellbeing benefits of regularly participating in local sport.  Our mission is to improve confidence, activity levels and life skills of young people who need it most. To achieve this mission we’ve created a unique platform – SportInspired Games – to enable role models from business and local communities through the power of sport; businesses with a purpose beyond profit use our platform to achieve talent, brand and community development goals. In doing so, they help local schools, public and third sector organisations to improve social cohesion, youth attainment and health.

A typical SportInspired Games is a six to nine month programme, centred on a cleverly designed competitive multi-sport festival to deliver community-building and sports development in three steps:

Step 1 – Co-create:

  • recruit corporate and community stakeholders
  • agree stakeholder objectives for getting involved
  • co-design festival to meet local needs and deliver stakeholder objectives

Step 2 – Festival:

  • an inclusive one-day festival of sport, delivered by role models from business and local young leaders
  • 200-500 children and 10-200 business volunteers compete in 6-10 local community sports (including disability sport) – the focus: team spirit!

Step 3 – Legacy:

  • a smart follow-up programme to ensure kids get into sport and all stakeholders achieve their objectives


The story so far

We’re about to deliver our 100th programme, and it’s clear that we have developed a sustainable platform that is a proven, customisable turn–key solution for business and community leaders.  Businesses with a purpose beyond profit use our Community Games to: connect communities and their own people to their brand; dramatically increase volunteering numbers; boost staff morale & engagement and develop leaders.

This in turn helps our community stakeholders (who tend to be local schools and their students, local sports clubs, councils, 3rd sector organisations, and the businesses who fund the programme and run the multi-sport festivals) to do a number of things:

  • increase the confidence, activity levels and life skills of young people
  • boost membership of local sports clubs
  • access new adult volunteers
  • improve pupils’ attitude towards learning and being active, and
  • build positive connections across the community – especially between schools and sports clubs

In the last 12 months, our corporate partner Sky has engaged 672 staff as volunteer business role models who have worked with us to deliver 15 projects.  In doing so, 97% of the employee volunteers reported that the programmes have helped them to better connect to Sky as an employer, better connect to each other, and enhance their communication, leadership and team-working skills.

SportInspired has been a great initiative for our students as young leaders….it’s created self-confidence where there was once self-doubt.

Corporate partners like this enable our growing team to achieve great outcomes:

  • 80% of sports clubs surveyed in 2012 report have been ‘strengthened’ as a result of taking part in the National Community Games.  They made connections with schools, recruited volunteers from business partners, recruited new members, learnt from other clubs and provided new coaching experiences for next generation club leaders
  • 95% of teachers reported improvements in pupils’ relationship with sport and PE, and would recommend SportInspired’s Games to other schools
  • “SportInspired has been a great initiative for our students as young leaders….it’s created self-confidence where there was once self-doubt”. Roy Page, Deputy Head, Oxted Comprehensive School

I believe there really is a sport out there for everyone.  It’s a real privilege to be on this journey with so many amazing people. Seeing our initial vision come to life and have real impact over the last few years has only made me hungrier to scale our efforts. After all, every child deserves to be happy and healthy.

I believe there really is a sport out there for everyone.  Seeing our initial vision come to life has only made me hungrier to scale our efforts.

In the last year, SportInspired and our corporate partners have worked with 15,000 people in 45 communities across the UK. Our analysis of UK-wide health, crime, and social statistics, reveals the need for 400 Community Games programmes in the toughest 10% of communities in the UK. Our next step is to scale our enterprise further to reach that 10% over the next 3 years.

How you can get involved

Being part of the RSA’s Social Enterprise Spotlight programme has, quite simply, helped me maintain my sanity during some of our tough times.  I’ve gained invaluable coaching and encouragement from other Fellows, which has helped me to keep my confidence in continuing to grow the business in tough economic times. To achieve our ambitious goal of scale, our next steps will require investment, new technology, and larger and deeper relationships with corporates. I’d be delighted to connect with other Fellows who might be able to help, especially anyone who might like to see their company become a client of SportInspired, or who has expertise to help smarten up/re-vamp our branding and communications.

Please don’t hesitate to get in touch via:

Twitter: @sportinspired

Rich Raynes
Co-founder, SportInspired

SportInspired and Richard Raynes took part in Social Enterprise Spotlight, a study of the successes and challenges of nine social entrepreneurs over the course of  a year – designed to help them and the rest of the network develop.  To find out more, please visit the online group for the Social Entrepreneurs Network – and keep an eye on this blog.  More information will be coming soon!


Creating jobs for amazing women: Ideas and inspiration from the Social Entrepreneurs Network

April 22, 2013 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Fellowship 

A couple of weeks ago we were lucky enough to hold an event at OxfordJam.  A three day fringe festival, Oxford Jam runs parallel to the Skoll World Forum, ensuring that all the great and the good in the social enterprise sector descend into Oxford for three days of inspiration, making connections, and learning from all the varied work going on. We held one of our quarterly Social Enterprise Spotlight events there; find out more online about Social Enterprise Spotlight, our case-study of nine social entrepreneurs.  Employing the skills and expertise of two brilliant RSA Fellows, the event titled Who do you help and how do you know? set out to look at impact measurement from a more human point of view.

It is important to stop and take a moment to remember why we do what we do.

At the session Steve Coles (Director at Intentionality CIC or as we called him, social impact ‘ninja’) gave us five top tips about what to measure when thinking about the impact you make with your social enterprise.   You can find his top tips here. He also made the valuable point that in order to fully understand our impact it is important to stop and take a moment to remember why we do what we do.  Which leads me to our other speaker at the event and one of the nine RSA Spotlighters, Becky John.

The Big Idea: who makes your pants?

Becky John runs Who made your pants? a Southampton-based campaigning lingerie brand which started in 2008 and is concerned with two things – amazing pants and amazing women. They create jobs for women who’ve had a hard time, primarily refugees, by producing beautiful underwear from reclaimed materials. We heard Becky speak passionately about the women she helps and the impact they are making, including how one woman has set up her own independent email address without any interference from her family, and another who has decided to stand against tradition and not go through with female genital mutilation for her young daughter.WhoMadeYourPants_79

Many of the things that occur on a daily basis at Who made your pants? are an example of ‘non direct, unintended’ impact, such as their daily lunches together  – not something that was planned or originally measured but definitely contributes to the  well-being of all the women involved. Becky’s story and desire to help the women she works with is one that may resonate with many social entrepreneurs about why they do what they do.  As Becky says on her blog, the reason and idea for Who made your pants?, “came from a passion for equality, a love of pretty underwear and a huge personal change.”  Becky’s impact is very clear and her hopes are to continue to positively affect the women she helps and take over the world, “we have come so far since 2008.  We want to help more women over the next three years, including making our current team full time and taking on a second team, if not more.”

The reason and idea for Who made your pants? came from a passion for equality, a love of pretty underwear and a huge personal change.

How you can get involved

Who made your pants? has one full time member of staff, Becky, and around ten part time workers (which can change due to the unpredictably of people’s lives).  They also have had lots of regular volunteers doing everything from website building to answering the phone and drafting legal contracts. Recently however, a couple of the lynchpins in the organisation have left so Becky is now looking for someone (or some people) to fulfil an office management type role.  Becky has written about what she needs so if you are interested, or know someone who might be, you can read about it on her blog.  You can find out more about the organisation on the Who made your pants? website and for the Tweeters among us, you can follow her on Twitter @whomadeyour and @beckypants.

More from the Social Entrepreneurs Network

The next Social Entrepreneurs Network event is one of our regular breakfasts held at the RSA House, the last Friday of each month – the next one is Friday 26th April at 9am and will be on social enterprises overseas.  You can visit the Social Entrepreneurs Network and find out more online.   Our next quarterly event is on 26th June where we’ll be sure to hear more inspiring stories so join the network and hopefully we’ll see you next time.

Sarah Tucker is Fellowship Communications & Events Manager. 
You can follow her @SarahTucker10

Shining a spotlight on culture, ownership and social enterprise

February 6, 2013 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Fellowship 

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.

The quarterly event was held at Digital Enterprise Greenwich, with amazing views over the area.

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.

Sarah Tucker is Fellowship Communications and Events Manager
Follow her @SarahTucker10
Visit the Social Entrepreneurs Network online  


Do We Get the Politics We Deserve?

December 10, 2012 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Fellowship, Uncategorized 

Tom Brookes FRSA guest blogs about a recent RSA Fellowship event during Parliament Week.  Find out what happened, and what he thought:

Do we get the politics we deserve? Is politics all that bad? Are we only interested in scandal? Is the voice of the public heard?

As part of Parliament Week, the RSA  and a panel of prominent politicians and academics considered these questions. Lecturer in Politics at the University of Sheffield, Matthew Flinders, Labour MP Gloria De Piero and Nadhim Zahawi – Conservative MP formerly of YouGov attempted to answer whether or not we get the politics we deserve. They all then set a question to be discussed afterwards by the audience.

Matthew Flinders argued that actually, we get a better kind of politics than we think we do. His premise, and that of his book, is that politics isn’t that bad really. Matthew argued that the public doesn’t hate politics and politicians, submitting it’s more accurate to say that there is a lack of understanding of what politics is and what politicians can do. Problems in politics can trace some of their roots to public expectations – some sections’ expectations of politicians are too high, missing out what the public must do to affect lasting changes. Matthew argued that there exists an ‘expectations gap’ between what the public expect and what politics can deliver. The healthy scepticism of politicians in the UK has slipped into corrosive cynicism. The constant negativity of political satire, for instance, actually matters – and particularly amongst the young – who get a lot of political information from such shows. Do comedians and satirists have a responsibility to society at large – to represent a balanced view?

The healthy scepticism of politicians in the UK has slipped into corrosive cynicism. The constant negativity of political satire, for instance, actually matters – and particularly amongst the young – who get a lot of political information from such shows.

Follow-up question: Has Democratic politics in the age of the internet and ‘digital democracy’ simply become too easy? Or can we use the digital world to genuinely benefit our democracy?

Gloria De Piero MP (Labour) - Formerly GMTV’s political correspondent, Gloria became an MP after noticing the high bar on GMTV for a political story to get through; namely, it has to be particularly scandalous. For instance when expenses broke, suddenly everyone was deeply interested in registering their disgust. Gloria suggested that part of our problem with politics is that if we only tune in when something untoward happens a lasting negative impression is unsurprising. Gloria’s first project as an MP is a survey asking: ‘why do people hate me?’ (me = politicians). Gloria wants to hear, in people’s own words, why they hate politics and went chatting to people all over the country to find out. The first question Gloria asks all the groups is: “what’s the first thing you think when I say politicians?” – and usually receives generally and specifically negative comments. However later into questioning a consensus emerges that there are two types of politicians – and that it is reaching high office which makes representatives loose touch. Those Gloria surveyed generally disliked the adversarial nature of Parliament and Prime Minister’s Questions – one called it “Jeremy Kyle for posh people”.

Those Gloria surveyed generally disliked the adversarial nature of Parliament and Prime Minister’s Questions – one called it “Jeremy Kyle for posh people”.

There was also an assumption that a degree from Oxford is required to get involved in politics. Asking what it was thought that ‘getting involved in politics’ meant, Gloria suggests that it means fighting for the needs of your locality and resolving its problems – a job requiring no qualifications whatsoever. Framed in these terms, many were interested in getting involved. Further instructive comments from survey participants included: “representing your community isn’t advertised at the job centre” – people don’t know how to get involved; but were interested in doing so. Gloria submits we need more ‘normal people in politics’ – that Parliament should ‘look and sound like the country’. Objection from Matt Flinders on this point asking for a definition of a normal person – which is of course impossible, as normality is a relative concept.

Follow-up question: How do we open up our politics so we get a broader range of people to stand for election?

Nadhim Zahawi MP (Conservative) – A former executive at YouGov, Nadhim’s emphasises public engagement and the importance of feedback to the operation of politicscrowd and how politicians ‘tune in’ with that. Is the feedback politicians obtain meaningful and representative of the population at large? Nadhim submits that the UK is notoriously poor at citizen feedback, being one of the worst nations for taking citizen’s views into account. Nadhim’s key reason for this is the way we (politicians) approach people. Use of consultations and focus groups is unwieldy, placing too much emphasis on specialists and lobbyists without precipitating a 2 way conversation between government and ‘ordinary users’ of services. ‘Nobody’s an insider’, Nadhim argued – presumably referring to the universal use of government services ( though Gloria looked as if she disagreed). The research of interest groups is vital, but requires balancing with views of public at large. In Whitehall, Nadhim further suggests the Civil Service is wary of engagement due to a fear that engagement with the public leads to those who shout loudest getting most attention. There are more egalitarian methods of engagement, the e-petition system being a prime example, though it is often ignored. Nadhim thought petitions are a good start, but is concerned with how to improve further and ‘get ordinary people involved’ – Nadhim said a system is needed to make this happen; surmising that it was impossible, in the past, to get feedback from ‘millions’ – but this is possible now, and we should use this ability to improve politics.

Nadhim submits that the UK is notoriously poor at citizen feedback, being one of the worst nations for taking citizen’s views into account.

Follow-up question: How could a form of direct democracy deliver better government?

I chaired a session based on Nadhim’s question, How could a form of direct democracy deliver better government? We started by discussing the concept of direct democracy to the group, and how the question is somewhat loaded – direct democracy is a form of government, so strictly speaking it’s a slightly oxymoronic question as accepting the case for direct democracy means accepting that form of governance. This generated a heated discussion of whether the UK was a democracy at all, which is always an interesting debate but was off question so I explained that what I reasoned the question was intended to mean: how could elements of direct democracy, like consensus decision making and public consultation, improve the representative democracy we have and what are the issues associated with this? The discussion group split into two and again into two subgroups, making separate conversations hard to follow but the three key ideas/concerns with applying elements of direct democracy which emerged were:

  1. The power of an expert to subvert group opinion – i.e. Lobbyists, self interest – concern that the loudest voice wins. The group recognised that this occurs in current political debates too – however were concerned that this would be amplified in a large group seeking consensus
  2. The ability to publicly ‘veto’ or ‘recall’ dissatisfactory legislation to parliament for reconsideration on grounds ‘x’ was popular and seen as beneficial / inclusive. Rather like recalling an MP for poor performance or misbehaviour, recalling a law for reconsideration if its implementation doesn’t marry up to its principles was seen as very pro-democratic
  3. Similarly to point one was a concern over agenda setting – if politics was mass-participatory, who sets the agendas and decides what to prioritise?

Another idea being discussed was how to ensure that debates were meaningful as well as inclusive – focussed conversations centred upon issues; not large talking shops. This seems to answer the concern of point three – agendas set based upon issues and needs makes priorities moral issues as well as practicalities.

If there had been more time, I would have liked to respond to some of the objections to ideas of direct democracy and advance the conversation but it remained deeply satisfying to see that a brief chat about the concept of direct democracy opened up a healthy debate on the very nature of UK democracy and pitfalls of the direct system, pitfalls which could be said to equally apply to the representative system. Direct democracy is a theme that should definitely be explored further – I’d even suggest a lecture title: “The UK’s Problem With Democracy”.

And I throw that question out to other Fellows and readers of the blog – do we get the politics we deserve? What do you think?

Tom Brookes FRSA

Follow @TomBrookes_86

(Un)employment, growth and partnerships – a month in the life of the Social Entrepreneurs Network

October 17, 2012 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Fellowship 

It has been a busy start to the ‘new school term’ (does that feeling ever go?) at the RSA and in the Fellowship Programme team.

In early September, we have had the launch of RSA Action and Research Centre (RSA ARC formerly the RSA Projects team) which included workshops, one of which bought together 50 entrepreneurs under the age of 30 discussing the challenges facing the millennial generation, RSA Events and a special Social Entrepreneurs breakfast.  Sam Thomas, Project Engagement Manager blogged throughout the week so you can catch up on some of the activities which took place. The Social Entrepreneurs breakfast focused on youth employment, a topic on everyone’s lips at the moment, and was led by Matt Lent FRSA.  One of the outcomes of the breakfast was that social enterprises have more responsibility and patience to give people those much needed employment opportunities.  You can watch the video of the event below:

These discussions will continue at the next breakfast, taking place next week Friday 26th October at 9am, hosted by Fellow, Colin Crooks.  Remember the Friday Social breakfasts take place the last Friday of each month and it’s worth a visit so hope to see you there one day.

Ravensbourne college

The next event was the quarterly event from the RSA’s Social Enterprise Spotlight programme (part of the Social Entrepreneurs network). The events focus on the challenges being faced by those social enterprises in the Spotlight programme, using them as the case study and by extension helping the rest of the network learn, develop and make contacts. The focus this time was ‘the foundations of growth’, looking at: sales, creating a scalable business model, getting your operations in place, getting the right skills and advice, and how incubators can help growth. We were lucky enough to have Dai Powell, Chief Executive of the HCT group, join us to do the keynote speech. He gave an engaging and highly relevant talk, making a couple of key points; firstly profit is good, without it you can’t function (often the word profit is a dirty word amongst the social enterprise sector but he said in no uncertain terms that this is not the case) and secondly to get really really good at what you do ie. “if you do buses, get really good at buses”.   View the event outcomes on the online group for the Social Entrepreneurs Network.  The event was held in association at the amazing space Ravensbourne College, an incubator and HE establishment.

Dai gave an engaging and highly relevant talk, making a couple of key points; firstly profit is good, without it you can’t function and secondly to make sure you get really really good at what you do ie. “if you do buses, get really good at buses”.

Part two will be another event looking at growth and branding/culture. This will be in January, again held at Ravensbourne so look out for this in due course.

We also had our regular Friday Social breakfast at the end of September.  This was led by Maria Ana Neves (who is an RSA Spotlighter and Catalyst winner) from Plan Zheroes, a social enterprise looking to reduce food waste through linking catering establishments and charities.  She was joined by a group of Fellows who devised a game to explore partnerships, why you should (or shouldn’t) work with someone, and the pitfalls of potential partnerships. There was a lot of energy in the room so watch out for future iterations of this game.

As you can see there’s lots going on and activity still to come so visit the Social Entrepreneurs Network, get involved in the discussions and I hope to see you at a future event.

Sarah Tucker
Fellowship Communications and Events Manager (and social enterprise enthusiast!)

Earth Hour – how to turn Fellows into ‘Doers’…

April 17, 2012 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Fellowship, Uncategorized 

Hermione Taylor FRSA is Founder of The DoNation, a sponsorship site that replaces cash with action, aiming to actively engage people in living more sustainably. She was one of the entrepreneurs in the RSA Social Enterprise Spotlight last year, receiving invaluable support which enabled The DoNation to survive and thrive through its first year. Hermione guest blogs here about the WWF’s recent Earth Hour, enabling a community of ‘Doers’ and the potential of the RSA Fellowship:

At 8.30pm one recent Saturday night, hundreds of millions of people, from teachers in Brazil to engineers in Kuwait, from Nelson Mandela to KT Tunstall, were all united in action.

What did they do? They turned their lights off.

It may not seem as heroic, emotive, or headline-grabbing as demonstrating in Tahrir Square or taking part in the #riotcleanup, but together these millions formed a truly global and united movement, symbolic both politically, personally, and visually.

Courtesy of Tristan FewingsWWF’s Earth Hour is an annual event when people and organisations from around the world join together and turn their lights out for one hour. Over the last five years it has become a great sign of just what can be achieved when people act together, at the same time as raising wider awareness of our impacts on this planet.

But as we all know, we now need more than just awareness raising; we need action for more than just one hour; and we need action beyond just a flicking of the switch.

Right on cue, WWF saw the opportunity to make more from Earth Hour this year, using it to inspire and encourage longer lasting and broader behaviour change through their recently launched I Will if You Will program.

Given the clear overlap with my work on The DoNation, I was naturally intrigued to see how they were going to tackle the knotty and troublesome issue of environmental behaviour change.

The idea behind I Will if You Will is to incentivise and inspire individuals to take action beyond the hour of Earth Hour using dares and challenges.

I was surprised when I first saw that they’d set such ambitious targets, but I wasn’t surprised to see that none of them had been met. After all, ‘Dunbar’s numbersuggests that no matter what culture or continent we reside in, each of us has about 150 acquaintances, and only 15 good friends who we can strongly influence. This is also backed up in practice by The DoNation, where the average number of sponsors achieved by any one Doer is a reasonably close 14.1.  Bearing a bit of social learning theory in mind, how on earth could one individual hope to influence 10,000 others through one simple ‘dare’?

So I was completely taken aback yesterday when I saw that many of the challenges had reached their targets, totalling a staggering 200,000 actions in just a matter of weeks.

Has Dunbar’s number been thrown into disarray?  And have I been barking up completely the wrong tree with all my work on The DoNation, reaching 1/100th of this scale in almost 12 months?

Has Dunbar’s number been thrown into disarray?  And have I been barking up completely the wrong tree with all my work on The DoNation, reaching 1/100th of this scale in almost 12 months?

But then I looked deeper. I realised that most of these people weren’t really being influenced by their challengers, they were simply joining in the fun, making a dare, or sharing their good deeds. 

At least half of the people committing to take action already seemed to be doing it (“this is easy, I’ve been vegan all my life” commented one person after committing to going vegetarian for a week). And having committed to an action I received no confirmation, reminders, or advice – but assuming that I was new to this earth-saving action, I’d probably need a little support with it. Finally, even if I did manage to complete my action for the pledged week, it’d be unlikely to form any long lasting change, as it’s known to take 66 days to form new habits.

If all 27,000 RSA Fellows turned their lights off for one hour, we could save 1.6 tCO2 – about the same as three flights from London to New York.

But I don’t want to be too critical – bringing together around a billion people over one hour and uniting 200,000 of them in ongoing action is no mean feat. It’s empowering and it raises awareness in a loud and proud way.

As I said before though, we need more than just awareness raising; we need action and we need it to be cross cutting, long term action. As WWF know only too well, it’s not just about turning lights off, and it’s not just about saving carbon; it needs to be about making our lifestyles more sustainable in every way. 

Being a part of the RSA’s Social Entrepreneurs Network and the Spotlight project, I have seen how inspiring people in the Fellowship are. If all 27,000 RSA Fellows turned their lights off for one hour, we could save 1.6 tCO2 (tonnes of carbon dioxide) – about the same as three flights from London to New York. If we all did just one green action for 66 days, we could save over 2,600 tCO2 (equal to 173 Brit’s entire annual carbon footprint) as well as clocking up some great benefits to our health, wellbeing, wallet, and local environment. And if these actions then became a habit for life, well, you can imagine how it scales…

It’s possible, it’s exciting, but it sure as hell isn’t going to be easy. And it starts with you.

Hermione Taylor FRSA

Visit The DoNation website
Follow Hermione and The DoNation on Twitter

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