Social entrepreneurship – boring?

Nathaniel Whittemore has just published an interesting reflection on the role of business practices in social entrepreneurship. His work appears on the site.

The context of his article was a critique of the management consultancy McKinsey & Co. and their recent debate on whether the language of business is relevant in our sector.

His argument is summarised here…

…talking about “the language and practice of business” and assuming that is a monolith is sort of like talking about “the language and practice of nonprofits” and trying to lump community development initiatives, affordable housing, humanitarian relief, and undergraduate education all together. In other words, it just doesn’t work.

Running our own small business and trying to help others in a diverse range of communities of interest to start social businesses clearly places us well out of the orbit of McKinsey. However, the argument proposed in the piece rings loud and clear to us.

Highly complex and detailed management reporting or business plans, and the knowledge of how to produce them, is clearly an important constituent in delivering effective change in a social business. It goes also to establishing credence and mission based objectives for any organisation.

However, at ground zero of delivery in a local community all strategic analysis and esoteric conceptualising is subservient to the immediacy of solving the current problem, the now of small things.

Not to cope with this aspect of a social business start-up will handicap its development from the earliest stage. We would argue that what makes for the most successfully entrepreneurial organisation is the embrace of theory and methodology BUT coupled to passion, drive and social reformation.

One of our partners, in describing our partnership philosophy, says that we are social radicals but fiscal conservatives.

Not sure that every team member would recognise the model as we believe state spending is an integral part of the enduring social contract, but a great truncation of a sophisticated and socially passionate set of drivers for any group of people who want to effect change – by interacting with diverse communities of interest and power.

As Whittemore has it…

entrepreneurs in general tend to want every single tool they can get in their toolbox. They don’t want to limit themselves to only one approach simply because that’s what has been done before’.

This rings true to us – across the roundabout, under the bypass and into the community centre.

How to lead?

Team work We have been reading our positive psychology manuals this week. We have a number of projects undertaking governance change and developing a positive culture, flat organisations without ego driven collateral damage and still have a leadership presence…never the most straightforward of transitions.

Simplistic  mantras and web lists can be a glib exercise, but from all cliche always emerges a hard nugget of truth.

So, about notions of behaviour and presence when leading and group of people? Do leaders emerge fully formed from the womb? We think not. The best ones learn from their experiences and determine their modes of behaviour from that experience.

Bullies move forward without reflection and their egotism and hard headedness can achieve results, or rather a result emerges, but perhaps not the one that the concensus would deem most appropriate.

In the Third Sector accrued collateral from experiences and developing relationships should be honesty, reflective action in line with the ethos of the organisation and positive outcomes in tune with the social master plan.

Here’s a list…

  1. Be Open
  2. Be Appreciative
  3. Be Curious
  4. Be Kind
  5. Be Real – no false pretenses of positivity

We would add a number 6.

6. Do something unexpected.

That could be anything from buying the doughnuts on a Friday for the whole team, telling people – without asking – what music you’re currently listening to, or being the first up on the stage at karaoke nights.

This is not spilling your ego onto others, its inviting them into your mental landscape. Surprising and effective.

When  you ask the team to do the difficult thing, or undertake the more unexpected project plan…they’re more likely to come with you to storm the barricades. You see!

Our list from 1 to 5 came from a presentation by Dr. Barbara Fredrickson in an article for Positive Psychology News by Elaine O’Brian. Read more here.

Everybody in our organisation can be a better leader, whatever task they undertake.

Memories are made of this…


We really liked this site – MemoryNet .

Devised in partnership with the community of Cullercoats in the North East of England and Tyne and Wear Museums, the site captures the oral histories of a number of residents.

Their contributions focus on a variety of topics from childhood to local music, wartime and the workplace.

We particularly liked the simple and clear layout and the variety of recordings available from each contributor.

It started us thinking about projects for schools and other community based centres. Why not have a ‘memory’ site or oral history of your own, with contributions on themes of your choice from across the ages, genders and cultures that make up your locality.

With digital technology available the contribution of young people might be a particularly strong focus – giving their contrasting view of an area or community that they don’t yet remember changing.

It would be a great way to focus your community’s engagement with your setting or Centre.

Let us know if you would like to explore this idea?

You can visit the memorynet site here.