A Social Business Christmas

Image: Christmas learning from Barcelona

Preparing for Christmas we realised that although we have a number of active and complex projects moving ahead into 2017, including more international book and author events, web and communications build-outs for community clients and development of our literacy and book projects, we had no homework!

So we have signed up, via the latest batch of FutureLearn subjects, to a course on Social Business and its development, delivered in partnership with the Universat Pompeu Fabra in Barcelona.

Social Business: a Sustainable Way to Face the Most Pressing Needs of Our Time, as the on-line collaborative course is called, will enable us to test our belief that we are a social business, effectively working as a not for profit company, or rather generating profits with social outcome as the expected significant return.

‘We will begin by defining a Social Business according to Professor Muhammad Yunus, Nobel Peace Laurate 2006. We will look at how a Social Business is different from other similar concepts such as Social Economy or Social Enterprise’.

We hope to see how the theories of Muhammad Yunus match our delivered practice, and to discover how other international social business developers interpret their work through the academic theory and practical dialogue that the ‘Pompeu Fabra course will deliver.

Our course starts on 5th December 2016, so there is still time to visit the FutureLearn pages and to sign up. Read more here

The course is free and lasts for four weeks, but is designed to enable you to both learn and share your experiences in just a few hours a week.

We’ll let you know how we get on. Happy Christmas to all our readers!


Awards for Social Enterprise

socialenterpriseawardsLogoIf you are a social enterprise active for two years or more, and can meet the published criteria, you can now apply to the Social Enterprise Awards 2016.

The application process is now open and you will find the criteria and award categories on this page of socialenterprise.org.uk

The full application process is similarly available on-line from the same site. See more here.

Award categories available this year include…

  • One to Watch Award
  • Social Impact Award
  • Buy Social – the market builder award
  • Social Investment Deal of the Year
  • Health & Social Care Social Enterprise
  • Consumer Facing Social Enterprise
  • Education, Training and Jobs Social enterprise of the Year
  • Environmentla Social Enterprise of the Year
  • Inspiring Youth Enterprise Award
  • Social Enterprise Women’s Champion
  • International Impact

There is plenty to go for. Plenty of awards to reflect the diversity, ambition and range of economic activity with a social heart across our regions.

If you do apply, the very best of luck.

Please note: Closing date for applications is Friday, 8th July 2016

(Source: http://socialenterprise.org.uk/about/social-enterprise-awards/2016-awards-catergories (Accessed: 10.06.2016)

Helping enterprise grow…

Venturefest 2015, April 14th

Our Partnership will be exhibiting in the Social Business Hub of Venturefest East Midlands, in Nottingham, on Tuesday 14th April 2015.

Supporting the Social Business Hub visitors in their exploration of the newly emergent Social Business sector.

venturefestLogoWe will be working with Roger Moors of SEEM in Nottingham, our client, helping to create new pathways to social outcome for mainstream business. These outcomes are no longer the sole remit of the Third Sector in the UK, with many SME’s particularly, being interested in how they can build social outcome into their business profile, delivery and surplus generation.

We can help you achieve these aims.

We work collaboratively with a wide range of organisations across the UK, helping establish new projects and sustainable community business ideas in schools, children’s centres, charities, social business and community enterprises of all kinds.

We have a wealth of experience in business case development, business model exploration, budgeting and business plans – as well as expertise in ethical business operations, marketing and delivery.

We are particularly strong in the childcare, education and literacy sectors. Finding new ways to add value to traditional supply chains and helping to introduce new models of ‘learning and earning’ into traditional institutions and settings.

Bringing together the best of enterprise creation, third sector social gain and mediated management across our whole sector experience. We specialise, as a Partnership, in the following areas…

  • Social Business and Charity Development
  • Education, Early Years and Literacy
  • Funding and Governance Support
  • Web, New Media and original Content Creation

You can still register for your free ticket for Venturefest East Midlands 2015 in Nottingham here.

If you are passing the Social Business Hub, call and see how we might help your business ‘go social’. We’ll be pleased to see you.

See our catalogue of services at Dolphinbookbox here…


Summer redesign…

SmithMartin LLP, project design and delivery...
SmithMartin LLP – taking a refreshing view of your project…

As the summer holidays become a memory in 2013 we have brightened our Autumn reading by installing and loading a fresh new design and layout for ChangeThinking, the news and reflection website for SmithMartin LLP.

We hope we have made browsing the range of our content on the main page easier, with a much more prominent Read more… button to take you to the full articles that interest you.

The individual articles still offer our usual suite of images and downloadable content wherever applicable.

Don’t forget you can check out our other core services at the Partnership, which we have listed below. As the Autumn gets busier and the projects in hand become more pressing as budget finals loom in the Spring, don’t forget that our range of expertise will have some professional support for your social business, school, charity, young people and children’s service or community web need.

SmithMartin LLP:

Project management and development expertise, helping devise governance and management strategy for social business and community projects of all sorts. We have strong expertise in evaluation, social business planning and governance in both charity, education and business settings.


Our community web business, strong in ethical design, hosting and content creation for charities, schools, education settings and social businesses.


You can buy retail children’s books on-line here. We also devise, procure and install all equipment and books for school and community libraries. We can also offer, through the baskets of DolphinbBookShelf , a great way to encourage reading, volunteer engagement and fund raising in any setting. Ask us how.

Books go Walkabout:

Our international authors and young people project. Using new technology to have real time conversations with writers and illustrators across the globe. See more here…

BgW is now a publishing house in its own right – we are always looking for authors with new writing, or  traditional print back-catalogue, coming out of licence, who wish to explore e-publishing and how to get their work into the electronic eco-systems of the major online retailers. Our current theme for 2013/2014 is Writing about AfricaAsk us about eBook publishing here…

Just a flavour of what our Partnership can offer and how our skills mix can help you deliver a development project, capital or revenue. We are alway happy to be the LLP which helps you see your project with new eyes, without any initial commitment.

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Social Incubator North now active…

seedlingPic44There is a new feeling of enterprise and social business generation abroad in the North of England.

Social Incubator North is now taking applications for the new fund, offering support, encouragement and practical assistance to entrepreneurs and nascent social businesses in the North.


The Fund offers…

  • On-going, specialist advice and support
  • Assistance with your staged development
  • Up to £25k of investment available with contacts to other investors
  • 80 hours of one to one development support
  • The opportunity to network and learn from peer groups

‘Social Incubator Fund is Government initiative that offers investment, bespoke business support and access to expertise to grow entrepreneurial ideas into glorious fruition.Its aim is to nurture social businesses from a grassroots level.

Social Incubator North received just over £1m from the UK-wide £10m Social Incubator Fund from the Big Lottery Fund on behalf of the Office for Civil Society. This was match funded by the delivery partners to create a total fund of just over £2m’.

You don’t need a fully formed idea to apply to the fund, just a competitive and innovative new idea. See more on the Social Incubator North web site here.

(Article by Tim Smith – Tim is a board member of SEEM, a regional partner in the Social Incubator North delivery framework).

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Public service co-operators

cooperativeBusinessPicMoving from the wrap around direct support of the pubic sector and taking services into another social business form can be an amazing journey. It can also be a rocky road fraught with misunderstanding and hesitancy.

Co-operatives UK, working with Mutual Ventures, have produced a short primer on how to take public sector services into the cooperative domain.

Their guided journey manual, an overview on developing the big idea, taking your plans to realisation and how to get started, is available online here (.pdf document 564Kb).

This document is of interest to those considering the emergence of public sector mutuals, however it does also offer sound thinking and guidance on frameworks of action for any social or charitable business getting ready to flower.

What is it we should be thinking about? Co-operative Business District: a guided journey to discover your own public service co-operative destination can tell you.

Peter Marsh and David Fairhurst, writing in The Guardian recently have sought to take the current temperature of how the government’s new initiative on employee owned co-operatives is proceeding.

Their early findings are ‘…that it is a lot of hard work, but well worth it’.

TPPlaw also have a Mutuals for Local Authority Service Delivery document available from their website. (Free subscription to download).

TPP offer their professional wisdom on governance cases, development and change in the work force and how estates management inside a local authority can be brokered under a mutuals banner.

Are mutuals the governance form for the Big Society?

Realism in social business development

The short video below tells the story of an organisation and team, in this case, in the technology sector, that burned through 40 million dollars of capital in five years and failed on a titanic scale.

If you are starting your community cafe, developing a small manufacturing adjunct to your charity, or setting up a retail outlet to support the funding of a project, then these numbers and the scale of the doomed process can be dizzying.

What does the speaker tell you that can be relevant to your social and enterprise outcomes?

Surprisingly, the entrepreneur in this case, Eric Ries, offers viewers three important lessons learned from the spectacular failure of his business.

How to embrace reality, how not to assume you automatically know what your customers or clients want and to be flexible enough to change the plan when you need to.

All lessons that even the smallest social business enterprise team can benefit from…and he’s still upbeat and engaging after his experiences too.

(Source: Original video Achieving Grandiose Failure – Stanford University Entrepreneurship programme)

Startup Britain – a useful web resource?

The machinery of social business developmentThe ‘Startup Britain’ web site has the support of the Prime Minister – but is it, as some commentators have cynically described a government backed web link-farm – offering already available resources to a jaded audience?

If you have been working in the Third Sector for some time, the notion of volunteering, enterprise generation at a community level and the support of young people and the economically disenfranchised will not have the same bright patina as the media and government might suggest. You will have been doing all of it for some time.

However, any portal which brings together diverse information and advice, as well as providing access to enterprise offers, will by its very nature offer knowledge to startups and new enterprises, whether social or not, which might remain undiscovered if not aggregated in the way that the Startup Britain site does, we would argue.

There is a lengthy article debating the negative aspects of Startup Britain on the PostDesk site.

Yes, the site does contain offers from commercial sources which are available elsewhere. Just as the Startup Britain web site is itself not by government, but a private sector organisation driven by a group of existing entrepreneurs.

However, starting a community or social enterprise, or even supporting the emergence of any small local business is a complex and resource intensive process. When you are completely enveloped in your own organisation it is easy to assume knowledge, to assume that ‘everyone must know this’.

They do not and the positive contribution that an aggregator site like Startup Britain can deliver is large, we think. The site does allow you to sign up for so-called offers, and yes they are available elsewhere, but there is also a wealth of information and advice on business planning, insurance, finance, funding and getting your basic business idea right in the first place.

The point being that you can review all of it in one place and leaven it all through the ethical and philosophical filter of our sector. Whether your business idea is for mainstream commerce or the community sector, you still need to grapple with the beasts of cash flow, risk, operational delivery, marketing and business planning.

We think Startup Britain is a creditable source of inspiration and ideas, for entrepreneurs in any sector. Some of the sources from the site we liked were Smarta – broad advice and resources for businesses of all types, the Brightideastrust – very innovational support for inner city young entrepreneurs and Springwise – a terrific source of business ideas to get your creativity going.

In the social business sector how you make your money is vital, but when made it’s what you do with it for your community of interest that really counts. Start a social enterprise today…and see the real change you can make. That’s the big idea for the big society.

Creating the right zone

We have been doing a lot of work recently on the creation of good governance structures for a variety of charitable and social enterprise organisations.

Policies and process play a large part in this delivery, but so do relationships. How boards or committees relate to one another, how their vision of what it is they think they are doing as individuals all temper the outcome of organisational development exchanges.

The video below from  EQmentor places stress on emotional safety as a facet of healthy organisational development.

A nicely put argument about the wealth of resources that organisations offer to health and safety of the physical kind, but highlighting the meagreness of consideration often given to enotional support.

We are not totally won over on the office as home concept, which is not really a part of the argument, but the illustration of how at home we feel safe because we talk to each other, know each other very well and have permission to fail does ring a chime.

Governance within the board room is also about emotional safety and should operate along these lines too, we would argue, for an organisation in our sector to be fully functioning.

A group who operate on this ‘home’ principal can be more effective and dynamic. Is this what happens in governance development situations?

Do you agree?

SMP elementals – an approach

carapacePicStarting a new project? Starting a social business? Trying to get the enterprise element bootstrapped in your social enterprise?

When you are starting energy and enthusiasm are great to get you going. Your drive and commitment to your project will carry you a long way.

Then may come the sleepless nights as you worry about that bid, that meeting or that service delivery that might fail. Does that sound familiar?

Relax, other people feel just like that too. That crisp, curt, been there done that corporate presentation – just an embedded position to mask fear. The doomsayer, ‘wouldn’t do that now’ voice in the crowd – offering you ten reasons why not to do something, just a carapace to protect against hesitancy.

Over the years as our work has developed so has a natural philosophy of project development. They are approaches to our work. We call them SMP elementals

1. Will what we do benefit others more than ourselves? (the general…)

2. Will there be an aggregate direct benefit to more people than on our project team? (the specific…)

3. In the doing, can we freely share some knowledge we already have? (the pro-bono…)

4. We need to invoice to continue the work, but will that paper totem represent our philosophy – did they get it whilst we were in motion? (the business…)

5. Does it feel right? (the personal…)

For me the last elemental is the most important. Early in my life journey I spent much time pursuing goals that always left me conflicted with our elementals. Even today we come across suspicion, clashing philosophies and indifference in reaction to social business ideas.

It is important to recognise this and to still keep going, in order to make your project live.

A recent deprecation of working in our sector overheard recently ‘…the liberal, perhaps Guardian reading, charity do-gooder voice you can hear…’ shows that there are still those out there who don’t get the concept of social entrepreneurship.

If, on reflection, you can vision a business model or a delivery system for your idea that uses business skills and ethical distribution strategies but which still means having fun and being effective, but which ‘feels right’, then your social enterprise concept is perfect by the lights of our SMP elementals.

This reflection, by Tim Smith – a partner at SMP, was spurred by viewing If I would have known just one thing. This eBook was created by Shane Mac and contains a series of thirty articles by business entrepreneurs about what they would have liked to have known on their life journey. Read more…

If you are just starting to get your project off the ground then Mac’s book is a great primer for framing your own resolution and developing clear thinking about your goals and your ability to deliver.