Saturday, 3 December 2011

Never getting board

The Divine Sophi, a welcome addition to any creative meeting especially as she brings the choc!

The Social Enterprise London board has always been a source of inspiration to me. From the very beginning, it has been made up of some of the country's foremost social entrepreneurs. Co-chairs Mark Sesnan of GLL and Sophi Tranchell of Divine were supporters from the start, seeing the importance of a London-based agency promoting social enterprise. Other social enterprise stars joined the party later. These are busy people with often large businesses to run and in today's economic climate no one is unaffected by recession and has time to spare for the non-essentials.

So I continue to be humbled by the active and energised support of all our stalwarts. We had such a productive meeting this week, again well attended (SEL board meetings have never come close to being inquorate) and with some really strong and creative contributions. Sophi was very generous with the chocolate, which added to our clear thinking, and my thanks to June O'Sullivan for the use of her Marsham Street LEYF nursery as a venue.

SEL is going through a period of change in that we know our job is to ramp up social enterprise development, but the reality is there is very little money out there to pay us to do what we do best. We have known for some time that we face a double, triple even quadruple whammy as central government cut 90% of the contracts they had previously deployed to support social enterprise and regional growth by shutting, among other programmes, the RDAs, business links, Government Offices and Future Jobs Fund. Local governments are coping with swinging reductions in their budgets and have similarly cut much of their economic development initiatives. Those contracts that remain on offer from government or grant funding bodies now face hysterical levels of competition due to their scarcity and most crucially social enterprises themselves have diminished resources to pay for the business support they need. Any plan to achieve sustainability through the direct payment of fees needs to ask itself some hard questions.

What we face is a perfect storm with social enterprise in general and SEL in particular being asked to do more than ever with unprecedented low levels of resource. I have always been a fan of Blue Peter but even I am not sure what I can do for social enterprises with a cereal packet, toilet roll and some sticky-back plastic.

What we do have, however, is a solid reputation for delivery, a loyal membership and a perfect board. Their combined skills, experience, commitment and enthusiasm is an extraordinary resource in itself and one I shall be deploying heavily in the months to come. I have to say that although the cuts are a real pressure point, I enjoy the entrepreneurialism the new climate has teased out. I do not subscribe to the view that only the best survive tough times as I have already seen some good social enterprises go to the wall because social value is still a concept ahead of its time, but I do think at times like these you find out what you do best and who your friends are.

Its going to be bumpy and to ride this out, our offer to our 2,600 members must to be spot on. Watch this space, we will be calling on members for feedback and welcoming all interaction. You are going to be hearing a great deal from us so please do let us know if you like, or not, what you hear.

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