Kylie Eastley is from Tasmania, where she is involved in Branching Out, a two-year project exploring the potential of Social Enterprise ventures to build sustainability in Community Arts and Cultural programs.
It's been an intense, but rewarding two days at the 2010 World Social Enterprise Conference
and Summit. Practitioners from across the globe have shared their stories and provided valuable insight into the world of establishing, maintaining and building business ventures that traverse a range of social issues.
The thirst for more is clear. More knowledge, more support, more understanding and more enterprising and innovative approaches to dealing with the world's problems.
Key note speakers Chip Heath and Dan Pallotta inspired, ignited debate and provided insight into the broader philosophical discussion of how we see change and charities. While neither Chip nor Dan show signs of letting up, a changing of the guards, or perhaps a little respite, seemed to be on the minds of social enterprise stalwarts as they heralded in the young social entrepreneurs through the development of networks, enterprises and skills building activities.
SAGE, a global movement that engages high school students in developing social enterprises, was one of a number of enterprises represented. Its mission is to help create the next generation of entrepreneurial leaders whose innovations and social enterprises address our world's major unmet needs.
Two such leaders were recognized in the first Social Enterprise Alliance Innovation and Leadership Awards for young people, announced at the Young Professionals Party held at the popular nightclub Temple. Itself a social enterprise. This was one of a number of social events arranged as relief for delegates.
Suzanne Smith has been consulting in the area of SE for many years, has helped many ventures and is being recognized for her work in supporting the sector. Jodi Rosenbaum founded a SE in Boston with a book store/cafe/gathering place that provides employment programs and a new chance for young people. Where others saw a lost cause, Jodi saw an opportunity.
Incoming Chair of the local San Francisco chapter for SEA, Antonio Aguilera, has a clear focus on engaging, inspiring and recognizing young people in this growing global industry. This sentiment was mimicked by Jerr Boschee , interim President and CEO of the Social Enterprise Alliance.
There is an energized group of young people excited about Social Enterprise. They are ready to go out there and change the world.
But many committed organizations in San Francisco have been changing lives for decades, working with the community to identify the needs and changing to meet those needs. In between plenaries, workshops and networking, delegates toured the city, seeing the best of the best in SE.
Golden Gate Community Inc, established in 1981, originally provided emergency and crisis care to the homeless, but later changed to establishing programs in skills development, job training and supportive relationships. It also changed its focus to young people and its name to New Door Ventures (NDV).
Ashbury Images is one of 2 businesses that NDV has developed, the other being Pedal Revolution. Ashbury Images employs young people, training them in a range of life skills that help them take the next step towards education or a career path. Conference delegates met with Richard Lawless, the General Manager of Ashbury Images, who talked about the balance between developing a business that is competitive in the market place while maintaining the vision of the organization and supporting the client group.
While the aim is to be financially sustainable, any shortfall is covered by the parent company NDV, with funds raised through other ventures and philanthropic support for the organisation. Ashbury is like any other business. It competes against other companies, it needs to price competitively, provide a high standard of product and while there may be some advantage in promoting itself as a social enterprise, the bottom line is that the customer is after a good deal; especially when they are also not for profits.
Ashbury Images' story reflects some of the key strategies that successful social enterprises adopt:
• 'Borrow from Peter to pay Paul' - get help from another program/ventures when times are tough
• 'Don't put all your eggs in one basket' - diversify, to ensure that you have a range of revenue raising options and assets to fall back on
• Get the right people for the right job - being real about what people are employed to do. Needing a business manager to manage a business & a social worker to support individual young people. They are part of the same team, but some of their objectives will differ and
• Be flexible, innovative and willing to change with your market demands.
These strategies were repeated throughout the conference along with the call for greater information sharing and marketing of social enterprise. Whilst countries may differ on approaches and scenarios, they also agree on the need for improved government involvement and commitment to Social Enterprise through policy development.
What would it take for government to take on social enterprise? That's the question posed to the panel of Anne Jamieson, Toronto Enterprise Fund , Kathleen Martinez, Assistant Secretary for Disability Employment Policy and Peter Holbrook, CEO of the Social Enterprise Coalition, UK at a plenary session.
A glimpse into the international situation, gave delegates three experiences; Canada, United States and the United Kingdom. Anne painted Canada as a community that dabbling in Social Enterprise, with little comprehensive governmental support. While there are a small number of social enterprises, the industry appears fragmented with no formal framework to support emerging enterprises or advocate for existing ventures.
Building from the ground up individual provinces have developed projects, some policies and adopted effective models. But the sense is that this is just the first step and more needs to be done. There are pockets of strong support within different sectors of the government, but a need to encourage more comprehensive understanding and support for the sector.
'Very fragmented but lots of interest in the idea. We need to build on that and offer policies that government can say yes to', Anne Jamieson.
In a similar story, US Social Enterprise has been built from the ground up, with little support or commitment from the government to date. Kathleen Martinez believes that while we are further along than we were a year ago there needs to be greater information sharing and learning to inform government.
Whilst President Obama initiated the Office of Social innovation and Civic Participation a year ago, positioned low on the Government website, the sense from the local practitioners represented at the Conference was that there needed to be greater involvement in discussions around policy making to support the sector.
The UK situation appears much more optimistic. Peter Holbrook described it like being on a high speed train.
'There has been a huge take up of the principles. Much has happened in the last 7 years to drive the concepts of SE into the policies of government. All parties agree on SE and agree that it has the capacity to tackle some of those issues that government has struggled to deal with.'
So what next? Around the world Social Enterprises have and will continue to be built and developed. This conference provided a platform to share some of these incredible stories. After all that's what this is about; people, communities and stories. That is what inspires us, moves up and mobilises us to find innovative and responsible solutions.
The challenge is in finding better ways to support social entrepreneurs and ideas to ensure the continuation of sustainable and profitable programs that will address the big social issues. Is Social Enterprise the next big movement? This conference showed that we are well on the way to change thinking about the relationship between the non profit sector, business and government.
South Africa's Johannesburg takes the baton for hosting the 2011 Social Enterprise World Forum. No doubt this country will provide its own unique stories and complex social challenges, along with a vibrancy that was demonstrated at today's conclusion with African drumming and dancing.
Tristan is a writer and social media guy from Minneapolis. He writes for SocialEarth and Ashoka.
When I go to a conference I'm looking for a mind switch. I want conventional thinking to be proven wrong. I want to be taught something new. Because of this my two largest takeaways from the 2010 Social Enterprise Summit and World Forum were from the two keynote speakers Chip Heath, author and professor at Stanford Graduate School of Business, and Dan Pallotta, author and founder of Pallotta TeamWorks.
Heath's presentation proved to me that one doesn't always need to look at the bad side of things to try changing a problem. There are "bright spots" that can teach us about what is working in a specific environment. One of the stories Heath told was about a researcher who traveled to Southeast Asia. The researcher wanted to help the poorest of the rice farmers whose children were malnourished. Instead of addressing the problem through conventional thinking, the researcher discovered a few families whose children were healthier -- a bright spot. He found out their mothers included additional items in their daily rice meals, including small rice paddy crustaceans. By teaching this information to the other families the researcher found a way to improve the lives of the rice farmers without making drastic changes, but by modifying the situation.
Pallotta's speech also stirred my skull. He discussed the unfair disadvantages that nonprofits face due to public perception. The part that stuck me the most was how he addressed the question: What percentage of my donation goes to the cause? "Don't ask it!" Pallotta exclaimed. The question isn't able to show the effectiveness of a nonprofit and is part of a double standard that unfairly labels nonprofits with less flexibility than for-profits. Corporations take risks, try new ideas, hire visionaries and spend millions to market their ideas, but if they fail or spend excessive amounts it is considered part of their business plan.
On the other hand, nonprofits tend to be looked down upon if they try a million-dollar fundraising campaign, hire and adequately compensate a new visionary leader, or take new risks to try and further their cause -- many of the same steps successful businesses take. Instead donors, the media and other charity evaluation methods label the lowest overhead as the most successful, even if that low overhead means shoddy management and services.
Overhead is part of the cause, Dan explained. Running a nonprofit efficiently and effectively takes manpower, marketing dollars and more. Recently the founder of the nonprofit watchdog Charity Navigator stated, "Overhead ratios and salaries are ineffective in evaluating a nonprofit's impact." Impact should be the most important evaluating device.
Tristan is a writer for BestBuy.com, SocialEarth.org and Tech.mn. You can read more of Tristan's posts from throughout the conference at the Social Enterprise Alliance blog.