Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Playing with the big boys and girls

If you weren't there last night, you missed a fun one. In partnership with PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC) and our very own LDA we put on quite an event for social enterprise leaders. Entitled 'Question Time for Leaders in Social Enterprise' we had some fantastic speakers who told us what we needed to know to face the tough times ahead.  I am always delighted when I hear new stuff. Stephen Dawson of Impetus Trust told us how to address the elephant in the room, (which elephant, you ask? All the presentations were filmed beforehand and are on our website) Philip Wright of PwC gave us the means to weather the 'cold winds of the recession' and Rod Schwartz of ClearlySo, told us that we needed to stop being cute, grow up and look for investors.

Rod's stuff on investment capital was challenging and exciting. In my humble opinion he is one of the best commentators in the social investment world and although he and I have disagreed in the past, most notably on the social stock exchange, I think he is always worth listening to and has probably as much experience as anyone at the coal face of financing social transformation.

What struck me whilst watching PwC's opening (excellent) film is that if the assertions it makes about the impact of social enterprise are genuinely held by the organisation (as the presence as chair for the evening of the impressive Keith Mansfield, London Chairman of PwC testified to), then we have come a long way.  Don't get me wrong, its not that I don't take social enterprise seriously until Government or in this instance the mutinational world does; it's that looking at us through their eyes as we did last night makes you realise just how interesting we are.

Philip's assertion that insolvency is not always a bad thing was a shocker, but so was his rationale, which proved pretty compelling.  He talked about the need to close streams of activity down before they bring the whole structure to its knees and mothballing organisations before they lose their intellectual property as well as their assets. Food for thought.

We also heard from Anne Humphries, former board member of John Lewis and current board member of the London Development Agency. I was delighted that she voiced pride in her association with the UK's leading social enterprise, John Lewis.  I know there are those in our movement who think JL isn't a social enterprise, but I'm not one of them. I think the way they have thoughtfully constructed a business model around profit distribution, staff ownership, ethical behaviour and customer satisfaction is a thing of beauty and their recent success is something we should be proud of.

I woke up this morning to lots of lovely texts and emails from those who had come last night saying how much they enjoyed it.  The use of the word 'superb' more than once helped my early morning tea go down very nicely. Thank you to all who took the time to come and especially those who fed back afterwards. I forwarded all your comments on to the SEL team, who of course worked their socks off.

Tomorrow we host a lunch to discuss procurement.  The purpose of the event, which is being run again in partnership with the LDA, is to bring a handful of folk together (from government, social enterprise and the private sector) who know a thing or two about it, and to discuss how we can empower social enterprises to win more business. I think it should be gripping and I am especially pleased that my co-chair Sophi Tranchell of Divine Chocolate is bringing along Angela Smith MP, Minister for the Third Sector, who, wonderfully is shadowing Sophi for the day under the Coalition's tremendous Social Enterprise Ambassadors' Programme.

Our Sabina, who is organising the event tells me she wants it in the style of me 'hosting it in my own home'.  That was a stretch for me since there will be no children suddenly deciding to practice the trumpet/piano/guitar as soon as the guests arrive and no rabbits and hampsters hopping and wheeling about to the dulcet tones of the ever rotating washing machine. In fact it won't be like being at home at all. I shall have to improvise.

Last Thursday I met Angela's new Director General at the OTS, Rolande Anderson who kindly gave me an hour of her time to chew her ear about social enterprise. I hope she found it helpful, she seemed really engaged. I often come away from meetings like that feeling sorry for folk who are continually subjected to lobbyists like me, but hey that's the job.  Mine to put our case and theirs to hear it.

I have also met up with loads of social enterprises this week, all at different stages of development, all with different needs and all absolutely inspiring. I am currently trying to make sure I have done everything for them that I said I would, again that's the job: to give (hopefully) good advice and to open doors. One person who doesn't need me to open any doors is the lovely Ed Mayo who I had a chat with on Monday. Ed is the new CEO at Coops UK and quite the nicest, most considered man I have met in a long time. We really put the world to rights and I'm excited (as the Americans say) about working closely with Coops UK as we did when my mate Pauline was at the helm.

Finally, and thank you so much to all of you who have enquired, after a lot of huffing (her) and puffing (me and my super sis Sue) my Mother's move is complete. I did manage to end last week with a rather unattractive nervous twitch in the left eye, but after a weekend with the family, gardening and watching Miss Marple re runs I can now hold a steady gaze. My Mother is adjusting rather well to her lovely cottage and has only locked herself out once, although Monday's revelation that she had managed to leave her passport at the old house did, I have to admit, feel like a step in the wrong direction.

I'm off now to fleece my bulbs, which bravely sprouted in last weekends clement weather and will now get scorched in the latest of what seems like an endless line of cold snaps. Life's so like that isn't it?

1 comment:

  1. Another reminder of why I joined SEL (although I really must use my membership more) - great events and great showcasing of what social enterprises have to offer.
    I'm with you on John Lewis - I always quote them as an example of what a social enterprise is (as far as I can see it ticks all the boxes) and think that those who reject it as one only do so as it doesn't fit with the 'recently invented' tag - 81 years and still going. Also worth mentioning that its' founder was voted Britain's greatest ever business leader in a poll a while ago, ahead of names like Joseph Rowntree and even Mr Rolls and Mr Royce (though not sure if those voting knew they were voting for a social entrepenuer!).