Welcome to the first in a series of guest blogs from some of the world's leading authorities on social enterprise, related or indeed unrelated fields. I might not share these or other views but I welcome the debate. SEL has always provided space for the development of new thought around our movement where all views are welcomed. In that tradition I share with you reflections from Liam Black, co-founder of Wavelength and former CEO of Jamie Oliver's Fifteen Foundation.
I’ve long been a fan of your passion, relentlessness, honesty and your jolly hockey sticks good humour. You’re a gal who divides opinion. And that makes you my kind of gal! You’ve asked for my advice.
I'm no longer part of the ‘Social Enterprise Sector’ but I am a fully signed up member of the Movement of the Socially Innovative and Enterprising. One of my mantras for years has been ‘socially enterprising is what socially enterprising does’. Ownership models in themselves do not make one either less or more socially responsible or enterprising.
I love helping entrepreneurs who want to change the world. Some of these are running ‘not for profit’ social enterprises others have opted for private companies. I’m so over social enterprise theology. I focus on providing the world’s best leadership development, to enable them to hone their business skills, build their confidence and expand their connectivity into new places and markets to increase sales, profitability, good governance, verify impact and build resilience. Simple as that.
So I mentor, I hook people up, I get them inside really cool places to meet people who have much to teach and I take them to where the action is which could be with Yunus in Dhaka or the leading innovators in Silicon Valley. Wavelength members include leaders of well-known brands like Wise, Eden and Divine, and upstarts from the likes of Livity, MyBnk, Sidekick Studios and Bikeworks.
The other members are leaders from big businesses such as John Lewis, Deloitte, Vodafone, Molson Coors and Centrica. I operate a cross subsidy business model which means cash strapped entrepreneurs can get equal access to the world class inspiration, education and connectivity typically only open to senior executives from the private sector. The business has no public sector subsidy, was started with our own money and our goal is to keep dreaming up stuff which people wont think twice about wanting be part of – and thus pay for. I would rather close than take a penny in grant money. Seriously.
Allison, put at least as much energy into creating and sustaining relationships with the private sector as you do into impressing and sucking up to the Cabinet Office and assorted ministers.
Be very very careful about this whole ‘social enterprise can run public services better than everyone else’. Get over yourselves. Some might, some might not. Who knows because there is very little independent verified data to prove it one way or another is there?
And beware, Allison: under Labour – which let us not forget kick started the social enterprise sector which the coalition wants to co-opt. – there was plenty of money about. Intermediary bodies sprouted up everywhere and much horse shit and awful service poured forth!
Now with no money about (and a coalition which contains some very unpleasant Thatcherite types), you must be careful not become simply the tool by which the welfare state is gutted and poor and vulnerable people hurt again. The unions do have a point here which needs answering rather than writing them off as Stalinist brontosaurs who don’t get the whole cool Etonian ‘big society’ vibe.
So, Allison, keep up the good work, stay close to your customers and members and make your new year’s resolution to combine passion and skepticism in equal measure.
And obviously tell all your members they should join Wavelength. But in 2012 because we are sold out for this year!
Lots of love