Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Who needs educating?

I enjoyed the third sector bash last night at Barclays, thanks Steve. It was my first opportunity to meet face to face with Mr Curley of the famous "Twitter Wars" (copyright 2009). For those who missed it: Kevin Curley of NAVCA made a few exasperated comments about social enterprise on Twitter in October, wondering if it was a front for more scurrilous behaviour. I rounded with a defence and an offer to take him on a tour of London’s social enterprises, to give him a little more faith in us. Our argument made it to Social Enterprise Mag.

At the time I didn’t get a response from Kevin, but last night I saw my chance! Trotting up I introduced myself, as we had never previously met. Kevin asked me to go easy on him (don’t know what he meant?!) although Toby Blume of Urban Forum, obviously in a mischievous mood was goading from the side lines for me to ‘have a go’. I said that confrontation wasn’t my style but that I would welcome a chat about the issues. Kevin explained that he was fed up with the social enterprise world talking dismissively about grant-reliant organisations, a position I can sympathise with. I told him that I was very much in support of the voluntary sector which was why I had run to join the Board of ACEVO, latterly becoming Vice Chair. He then went on to say that social enterprise is promoted without criticism. I opened my mouth to tell him about the month I’ve been having with the unions who have definitely decided to criticise social enterprise when, sadly, he was whisked away to as it were, fight another day. So Kevin, the offer for the visit still stands - I’d be happy to show you around.

Getting gruff with Kevin Curley...

On the Twitter Wars by the way, I got a number of comments from people like David Floyd of Social Spider, who felt that I had not properly answered Kevin’s point that if some social enterprises are critical of grant based activity, implying only income generation is sustainable, then why do so many of them look for grants? It’s a good point and one I should answer. The truth is that many social enterprises need grants, at least at the beginning, for example Green Works, which started with a grant but now turns over £2 million through income generation. Ultimately start up social enterprises often need investment and sometimes need grants, but moving away from grant based activity should be the objective and it’s that aim that distinguishes a social enterprise from a conventional voluntary organisation. It’s a bit like courgettes and pumpkins. The plants are almost identical but the fruits are very, very different.

I also bumped into Jeremy Swain of Thames Reach who didn’t realise he’d been quoted in Monday’s Guardian on the Andy Burnham position against outsourcing. I was able to get the article up on my blackberry to show him, showing technical prowess I didn’t know I had!

Had an email today from a friend, Carina, in East Sheen where I live, who asked me to sign her petition to No 10. It calls on the government to reverse its decision to legislate home schoolers into a cocked hat through draconian monitoring, when so little is currently offered to support them.

East Sheen is leafy and for the most part prosperous, we have some great primary schools and yet as I have said before in this blog, our secondarily schools are grim. They fall below national average and have unacceptable records of pupil violence. Carina is one of a few brave parents I know who have given up work to home school their children because they believe, in the face of their options, they have to. She has shown courage and commitment to her children and could do with a world of resources to support her, not to mention a quality school to send her children to. What does she get instead? Monitoring, supervision, bureaucracy and an implicit criticism of her choice to home school. Right to choose? I don’t think so. Why is it that so many of the ‘choices’ politicians talk about in fact create no choice at all?

As Toby Young tells us in last Sunday’s Observer, it is in fact very difficult for parents to set up their own schools, as he in Acton and the parents of East Sheen are finding. I think the pioneers of parent run schools should be encouraged. I think the Government needs to get off the fence on whether parents of just local authorities should control the budgets and I think social enterprise can help. SEL’s conference in the spring on the future of education will be the place these things are thrashed out in more detail and hopefully we will see more parents like Toby and Carina eventually getting the support they need to educate their children to a standard they find acceptable. In the meantime I urge you to sign Carina’s petition.

The other thing you need to do this week is vote in the Social Enterprise Awards! Two of SEL's members, Global Ethics and BikeWorks are in the running, so of course I encourage you to vote for them, but the main thing is that you vote - and get friends and colleagues to do the same. This link lets you do it online, so you've got no excuse!

Finally, if you represent a private company (or if you buy anything at all in fact), BUY THINGS FROM SOCIAL ENTERPRISE! SEL has been running a programme to encourage and support corporate companies to put social enterprises in their supply chains. Almost all those we approached have been positive, many have met with us, introduced us to their procurement people, looked at the long, long lists of social enterprises selling everything from paper clips to team building away days, come to the conference we recently held on the subject (with support from KPMG)... and so far, bought very little. So if you want to get involved and, yes you guessed it, BUY SOMETHING, e-mail our magnificant Director of Business Services Lesley Miller.

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