Thursday, 11 October 2012

Is social enterprise really sustainable?


Well I don't know what they are feeding them in Northampton, but it has been a long time since I have come across such an enthusiastic group ready to tackle the challenges of social enterprise.

Talking to a packed house
Yesterday marked my first official presentation as the newly appointed Visiting Social Enterprise Fellow at Northampton University and not only was the room packed, but after they had wedged over 120 people in, they started turning people away, which was amazing.

The theme of my talk was the sustainability or otherwise of social enterprise and the presentation is available from the university.

I focused on the common characteristics of success and learning the lessons of failure, which seemed to really capture most people's attention. I illustrated my points with examples of social enterprises I know and love and as for the grizzly question of definitions, I had a slide that explained the official definition augmented by my 'profit for the many and not just the few' phrase, but inevitably fell back on my trusty duck, you know, the old 'if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck it's probably a duck', and if you are having problems convincing people that you are a duck, you're probably not one.

At the reception that followed I got talking to the fantastic head of the university's Bag in Bag enterprise, Priyanka Rajdev, featured in the video above and I also encountered the ebullient Shena Cooper from the Secret Seed Society who realised she had met a kindred spirit when she told me she had founded the society on the basis that children needed to know how food was grown and cooked.

Thanks to those two women and the many others that joined me on Twitter yesterday and who I hope to see at further events with the social enterprise team at Northampton, which has recently been recognised by the government as the most entrepreneurial place in the country. Thank you also to the team there and especially the Vice Chancellor, Nick Petford, who took a very discreet chair at the back of the room to listen to my talk and stayed for the reception afterwards, introducing me to colleagues and entrepreneurs now working with the university on their exciting social enterprise programme.


  1. I would like to say the enthusiasm comes from them all feeding on scrumptious home grown veg.....but I don't think Secret Seed's work has quite spread that far yet! Thanks muchly for the shout out and I hope we will meet again soon.

  2. The Secret Seed Society is such a great idea Shena, the need for kids to understand more about food production is essential if we are to combat ignorance and obesity. It was such a pleasure to meet you and find out about the work you are doing in schools to make veg growing fun and fruitful. But you are so right we need you doing more so I pleased to be able to help you spread the word!