Wednesday, 27 April 2011

On sticking together to work out which way to go

Adversity can bring out the best in people and having spent today in Birmingham with my fellow directors of England's social enterprise regions, I am glad to say some of the best people are in social enterprise. Having not found a good time to mention this, I was keeping quiet about my growing feeling that social enterprise has started to sing a little off key.
Today has reassured me that for at least some of our communities' best and most established leaders, that is not the case and in worrying about direction, or lack of it, I am not alone.

To kick off we spent a couple of hours swapping news about our members and their concerns. Between the eight of us we have nearly 4,000 members from all over England and, comparing notes, it seems that a growing number of those are struggling. Working together, we thought about how best to help these social enterprises and we looked at the strategies each region has adopted to make sure they are really handy. The reality is that our resources to act as a front line for our members is under severe pressure due to the cuts, and, when we looked at what investment was left for each region as compared to the same time last year, it would have been easy to be glum. But that is what leadership is all about, taking care of those you have a responsibility for and not letting the buggers get you down.

As an aside, "Don't let the buggers get you down," was my dear old Dad's daily farewell as he dropped his girls off at the convent school we attended – unusual advice from a pillar of the community to his young daughters, but typically useful. In fact on the subject of Dad's pearls of wisdom, a couple of others spring to mind: one was "Never back up further than you have to," and a really strong theme throughout our lives, and spot on here I think, was "Make sure you're being useful."

My job is to make sure SEL is useful to social enterprise and I am delighted that our passion to help, inform, assist and connect is shared between all the regions. We might all be feeling weak as rats at the moment (another expression of my Dad) but our desire to make the difference is undiminished.

Together we talked about what each could offer the other. SEL's Transitions training for those interested in public sector outsourcing was a piece we put into the pot; others were, for example, SEEE's Micro coaches designed to quickly give folk the tools to get the right business advice and support they need, RISE's Social Enterprise Mark for social enterprises to boost their brand and our host SEWM's new, a new social enterprise product directory to be launched next month, just some of the great ideas that had come from the regions. In fact every region had something to offer that they had developed which, through us all working together, we can make available to all our members. That, you will not be surprised to hear, was our conclusion.

When the proverbial hits the fan, there are two ways to go: you can split up and squabble about who's is bigger in front of an ever-diminishing audience or, in the best tradition of social enterprise, the business model that doesn't leave anyone behind, you can stick together. That's what we aim to do and I hope our efforts are met with the support they deserve, from everyone.


  1. Alison, couldn’t agree more, it was a really positive and productive day, were are striving to retain our original aim of supporting, coordinating, advocating and challenging the world of Social Enterprise in the North West and believe we have a growing strong sector both regionally, nationally and internationally.... Its the parts that make up the whole, not the whole that make up the parts,

  2. It was great to see you Val, thanks for the comment. I was so cheered at the creative resilience of each of us and clearly the dramatic increase in demand for our services experienced by us all mens that even though the recession is still in full swing there is continued growth and interest in social enterprise. Lets hope we can keep up with the demand.