Saturday, 4 July 2009

Are social entrepreneurs key to rebooting Britain?

It's hard to deny that we're in a bit of a mess. The economy is facing its toughest challenges for decades, public services are being hit by ever increasing demands and trust in politicians is the lowest level it has ever been. With all that in mind, NESTA has organised Reboot Britain, a conference in London on Monday which will focus on how by embracing modern technologies and business practices, such problems can be overcome.

Looking through the schedule - which is probably one of the most impressive line-ups of conference speakers I've seen for a long time - there is a heavy emphasis on social enterprise. It's clear that the old way of doing things haven't worked and it's now time for the social entrepreneurs out there to take charge and make good things happen.

I'm going to be at the event and in the app below I've outlined the sessions I plan on attending.

In particular, I'm looking forward to the 'Building An Entrepreneur Country' session led by Julie Meyer, founder of Ariadne Capital and star of the BBC's online version of Dragons' Den. I'm a huge fan of Julie and hers should be an inspiring speech. One thing she believes is that the UK should be embracing the ever increasing number of entrepreneurs taking a social approach to business.

Previewing the event, Meyer wrote an excellent piece in The Independent earlier this week. Here's an extract:

"Entrepreneurs are some of the most generous people I know. They ‘send the elevator down’ to the next generation, as the overwhelming majority of them remember that they have been helped by others before them. Provoke their generosity by giving tax incentives for their work.

"Social enterprise is a hot area where many leading entrepreneurs are flocking, whether it’s Hoult’s Yard in Newcastle, or DoTheGreenThing out of London, or Bono’s Red led by Seb Bishop, the founder of Espotting, or Just Giving which is transforming charities. Not only do entrepreneurs know what to do to fix social problems, they do it."

If you're going to Reboot Britain, do say hello if you spot me. If not, I'll be tweeting and blogging as usual.

Monday, 15 June 2009

Social enterprise on the doorstep

Social enterprise can turn up in places where you least expect it as I discovered recently when I popped down to an event taking place as part of the Bristol Design Festival.

I'm a big fan of the festival. From humble beginnings in a room above a market in 2007, this year's spectacle stretched to 30 venues across Bristol. Not bad for an initiative which is run entirely by volunteers.

Flicking through the programme, one venue in particular caught my eye - the Jamaica Street Studios. Situated in Stokes Croft, an area of the city with a reputation for being far from salubrious, my visit confirmed you should never judge a book by its cover!

It turns out that the studios have been based on Jamaica Street for an impressive 20 years and currently house 43 artists. Over the past two decades, the resident have developed a collective which serves as a mentoring group to encourage and nurture new talent. As I spent time wandering around the building, it was hard not to be inspired by the creativity and energy oozing out of every nook and cranky of the cast iron and wood beam architecture that is the studios.

Next door to the building is the People's Republic of Stokes Croft, a not-for-profit social enterprise. As well as its fabulous name, PRSC has a laudable aim; to prevent what it calls the gentrification of the area and promote it as Bristol's cultural quarter. In this video, founder Chris Chalkley explains how street art is being used to provoke social change:

The People's Republic of Stokes Croft and the Jamaica Street Studios are perfect examples of how social enterprise can bring real change to an area. Building yet more luxury apartments won't deal with the social problems faced by the local residents but empowering them will.

Unfortunately, the studios are threatened with closure. Once the 10 year lease is up in 2010, the landlords intend to put the property on the market. The 43 artists are attempting to raise the money required to buy the building but with between £800,000 and £1m needed, it's going to be tough.

However, I'm one blogger who supports their cause as I hope those other social enterprise fans reading this post do too. We need more organisations of the likes of the Jamaica Street Studios and its social enterprise neighbour. They represent the social change that the UK and other nations desperately need.

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

A new dawn for UK social enterprise?

Amid all the talk of government help for business in this time of recession, it's about time social enterprise got a mention. Thankfully that moment arrived today with the government's Social Enterprise Summit.

A press release arrived in my inbox this morning proclaiming the summit signifies "unprecedented government support for social enterprises". Strong words but let's hope the impact of the measures prove as such.

Announced was a new ministerial working group to ensure a "level playing field" for social enterprises and charities to compete for public sector contracts, a new guide to social return to help public service leaders understand the social value that social enterprises can bring to local society and a £45.6m Futurebuilders Investment Plan to help social enterprises deliver public services, through a new fast-track investment process.

Mandelson also revealed that changes to the Enterprise Finance Guarantee Scheme (EFG), the initiative set up to provide bank loans to small businesses struggling to secure finance because of the economic downturn, will free up £20m to social enterprises in disadvantaged areas.

All great stuff but now the hard work begins.

The headline grabbing announcements are all very well and good but they're worth nothing if they don't get to the social enterprises they are designed to help.

The EFG has already received extensive criticism from businesses that loans are still hard to come by mainly because of confusion about the system among bank staff. We're told that £344m of eligible applications from 3,071 businesses that have been granted, are being processed or assessed, while 2059 firms have been offered loans totalling over £186m.

A good start but much more is needed.

Like Liam Bryne himself said, social enterprises are well placed to help the disadvantaged.

The traditional, excessive risk taking and massive profit making way of doing business has let us all down; now is the time for social entrepreneurs to seize the opportunity and prove that an ethical, sustainable approach to business is the future. It's not tree hugging; it's business. But it's business that generates social change.

The press release informed me that the "lessons from the summit will be taken forward across government". I'd certainly be keeping an eye on that one.

Sunday, 29 March 2009

Skoll 2009: Inspirational social entrepreneurs

With 785 delegates from 60 countries and 6 continents at the Skoll World Forum, it was hard to avoid inspirational social entrepreneurs during the 48 hours I spent in Oxford this week. But then, why would I want to?!

From Altanta to Amsterdam and Zambia to Zimbabwe, entrepreneurs are achieving success tackling social, community and environmental issues which those adopting traditional governmental and public sector approaches can only dream about.

Here is just a handful of the many inspirational individuals and organisations I came across during my time at Skoll:

Endeavor: After several months chatting with Elmira Bayrasli from New York-based not-for-profit Endeavor via social network Twitter I had the pleasure of meeting Elmira and her colleague David Auerbach in person at the forum. Established in 1998, Endeavor identifies entrepreneurs with high impact potential in developing countries and provides them with the resources required to break down local barriers to success.

In the developed world, Endeavor Entrepreneurs would be celebrated but in their own countries they are often overlooked, encounter few role models and lack access to sufficient capital and contacts. As of 2007, business owners assisted by Endeavor throughout Latin America, South Africa and Turkey have created 86,000+ new jobs and generated over $2.51bn in revenues.

Nathaniel Whittemore, founding director of the Center for Global Engagement at Northwestern University, interviewed Elmira. Here's what she had to say:

Better World Books: The best business ideas are often the simplest and Better World Books is one such company. Originally established by Xavier Helgesen, Jeff Kurtzman and Chris Fuchs while studying at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana, the company collects used and unwanted books, re-sells them online and donates half the proceeds to literacy projects. To date Better World Books has raised more than $6m for literacy charities around the world and saved in excess of 22m books from landfill. In 2008, Better World Books opened its first non-US subsidiary in Edinburgh.

Here's a short film about Better World Books:

APOPO: If I asked you to name your favourite animal, it's very unlikely you'd sing the praises of the rat. Once you've read about APOPO though you may well change your mind.

Founded by Belgium Buddhist monk turned social entrepreneur Bart Weetjens, the organisation trains African giant pouched rats to search for deactivated landmines in Africa. Cheap, intelligent and, most importantly, lightweight, the 'HeroRATS', as APOPO calls them, have been responsible for the reopening of over 400,000 square meters of suspect land thus preventing the potential deaths of hundreds if not thousands of local people. And if you thought that was impressive, the rats are also now being used for the early detection of tuberculosis in humans!

Here's a short film from Animal Planet about APOPO's work in Africa:

Thursday, 26 March 2009

Skoll 2009: Welcome to the new paradigm

As a journalist, I go to a lot of conferences but unfortunately not all prove to be particularly useful. That description however can in no way be applied to the Skoll World Forum which I had the pleasure of being part of today.

Not wishing to exaggerate but at times it really felt like a revolution is just around the corner. The overwhelming message coming out of Oxford's Said Business School, the main venue for the conference organised by the Skoll Foundation, is that it is entrepreneurs with a social conscience who hold the key to getting us out of the financial mess we're currently all in.

Speaker after speaker stressed that the old order is no longer sustainable. An economy based on extreme risk taking has proved to be unworkable (and that's a huge understatement) so a different type of approach is what's required.

Sir Ronald CoSir Ronald Cohen at the Skoll World Forum 2009hen, the father of the British venture capital industry and a key player in the social investment market, summed it up the best. Referring to a "new paradigm", he told attendees including me at a session entitled 'Capital markets in crisis: Threat or opportunity?': "Philantro-capitalism is an idea that needs to come through strong in the new economic environment and it is up to social entrepreneurs to demonstrate its value to the powers that be."

"The role of the social market", he continued, "is to do what the government can't for the benefit of society. We are here and we will do the job."

That's not to say that the sector's complacent because, as we all well know, it isn't going to be easy. Like Sir Ronald warned, social entrepreneurs will get "lost in the noise" unless they raise their profile by lobbying government, speaking to the press and commissioning research.

It's not like we're stuck for examples of social enterprise in action though. I learnt of some pretty amazing businesses during my few hours at Skoll. I'll be blogging in detail about them in another post but some of my favourites are Better World Books which has raised in excess of $6m for literacy initiatives worldwide by selling used books and Apopo which trains sniffer rats to detect explosives and diagnose disease in Africa.

Apopo was one of seven social enterprises which received a grant of £500,000 at the Skoll Foundation's annual awards announced in the magnificant surroundings of the Sheldonian Theatre on Thursday evening.

Hosting the event, Skoll Foundation CEO Sally Osberg also welcomed the dawn of a 'new paradigm'. In a rousing speech, she told delegates: "The old order is crumbling as we create a morally justifiable and sustainable world. Social entrepreneurs are humanity's scouts looking for opportunities and returning with news of what real change looks like."

Now who wouldn't be inspired by that?

I'll be tweeting from day three of the Skoll World Forum on 27 March. Follow me at

Sunday, 15 March 2009

How Twitter is changing the way charities fundraise

If press reports are to be believed, one major casulty of the recession is charitable giving. Indeed a poll released last Friday by claimed 22% of Britons have reduced the amount they give to charity as a result of the economic downturn.

There's no doubt that when times are tough, many people are put off from dipping into their pockets for a good cause. Charities and other organisations with social aims certainly face hard challenges over the coming months but those who think innovatively about they way they get their word out could emerge from the recession in a better state than when they entered it. How? By embracing the power of social media.

The research mentioned above was released on Red Nose Day, a UK fundraising initiative which raised a staggering £59,187,065, the highest total in organiser Comic Relief's 21-year history. That doesn't suggest compassion fatigue now does it!

In my view, the key to Comic Relief's success was the way it embraced social media. From YouTube to Facebook to Flickr to MySpace, Red Nose Day was there but it's Twitter on which I'm going to focus.

I didn't buy pop down to my local supermarkt to buy a plastic red nose this year but I did buy a digital version for my Twitter profile image. I didn't call the fundraising hotline during the Friday night telethon but I did spend £9 on a book of jokes created to raise money for Comic Relief. Why? Because of Twitter.

Through clever use of the web, thousands paid a £1 for a digital red nose and to encourage greater take-up, a Twitter page informed tweeters that their profile pic sporting the red nose would be displayed on the official website for the world to see.

Equally innovative was the TwitterTitters initiative which in just four weeks gathered jokes and printed a book to raise money for the cause via Twitter. It even managed to gain the backing of Dave Spikey, co-creator of award winning British TV show Phoenix Nights and comedy legend and Twitter-addict Stephen Fry.

I think you get my point.

Using Twitter, charities can spread their word instantly to thousands if not millions of people. By our very nature, us humans like being part of something big and that is certainly the case among the Twitter community. But we're also quite lazy creatures so being able to participate in something massive by a simple click of a mouse is perfect.

Red Nose Day isn't the only time when Twitter has been harnessed for social change. More and more charities and social businesses are realising its power every day.

One of the biggest success stories to date is the Twestival, which raised in excess of $250,000 for charity: water. I was part of it and organised the Twestival in Bristol, south west England. Like the 184 other parties around the world, we put our event together in just five weeks and pretty much entirely through Twitter.

Through the network I was able to connect with interested parties instantly and gather donations, funding and other support much quicker and in greater numbers than I would have been able to without Twitter. Here's a short film showing what we achieved:

Another key driver behind Twestival's success was charity: water's willingness to step back and let the volunteers get on with it. Too often, many socially driven organisations fall short by imposing excessive rules and bureaucracy on its supporters. By their very nature, social media communities are put off by such an attitude so it's important charities give them the space to innovate.

Another current initiative is doing just that. Launched at the South by South West festival currently taking place in Austin, Texas, organisation Epic Change, is encouraging people to tweet messages of good luck to friends and followers and at the same time raise money for schoolchildren in Tanzania. Here's the official TweetLuck video:

Twitter is increasing in popularity every day which opens up more opportunities for social organisations to be innovative. Yes, the recession means it's not going to be easy but rather than sit back and wait for the worst, charities and others need to get out there and embrace social media in all its forms and prove the doom mongers wrong.

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

10 online resources for social entrepreneurs

What is it about lists?! Everybody loves 'em! That was certainly the case with my last blog update. My tips for the social entrepreneurs to follow on Twitter was easily my popular post so far so as you like lists so much, I'd thought I'd write another one! This time it's my favourite websites for social entrepreneurs.

Social Edge is a network for social entrepreneurs. Set up in June 2003 , it is sponsored by funding group the Skoll Foundation. Social Edge contains blogs on issues of relevance as well as a useful Wiki which can be edited by members. The site also organises regular webchats with well known social enterprise experts, all of which are archived.

Third Sector Forums is a newbie on the internet scene but is fastly establishing itself as one of the places to be for social entrepreneurs. Established only a few months ago, the site is building up a loyal following and all through word-of-mouth. Use the site to network and share ideas with other social entrepreneurs and those interested in charities, volunteering and non-profits.

Society Guardian, a major supporter of key events in the UK social enterprise calendar including the Social Enterprise Coalition's annual Voice conference, publishes excellent articles on current issues of interest to social entrepreneurs. As well as regular news stories, check out the section on the award winning Guardian website for blogs, video and image galleries.

UnltdWorld is a social network. Combine the best of Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, add an audience of social entrepreneurs and you've got UnltdWorld. Run by UnLtd, the UK social enterprise funding organisation, the site allows members to connect with others, search and share opportunities, find and list products and services, share and find answers to key questions and support inspiring projects.

Third Sector is the online version of the UK magazine of the same name. Packed with news, opinion and blogs of interest to charities, voluntary organisations and social enterprises, the site also publishes job vacancies, a supplier directory and an events diary.

Office of the Third Sector is the British government department responsible for social enterprise. We may not always agree with the politicians but at least the setting up of the department in 2006 represents recognition from the powers that be that social entrepreneurs play a massive role in the economy. Cabinet minister Liam Byrne recently pledged an even bigger role so keep an eye on this site for whether or not he keeps his promise.

Ashoka proves that social enterprise isn't a new phenomenon. Founded in 1980 by Bill Drayton, this remarkable organisation provides the resources to social entrepreneurs in deprived areas around the world to make a difference to their local communities. As well as details of the organisation's many projects, the Ashoka website includes lots of practical resources including podcasts and articles written by top experts. is a social enterprise based in San Francisco. Serving as a central platform informing and empowering movements for social change around the world, this massive website has dedicated bloggers who post on specific issues including social entrepreneurship. Each week the site also features a selection of causes to which visitors can donate money.

Social Enterprise Coalition is the sector's representative body in the UK and as a British blogger I couldn't ignore it! Some areas of the SEC's website are only available to members but many resources can be accessed by all visitors. A key area of the organisation's work is its Social Enterprise Ambassadors.

Muhammad Yunus is seen as the father of social enterprise and very justifiably so. The Nobel Prize winner is most well known for setting up the Grameen Bank. Founded in the 1970s, it reversed conventional banking practice by giving credit to the poorest of the poor in rural Bangladesh without any collateral. The bank currently provides services to more than 99% of the villages in Bangladesh. If anyone can inspire budding social entrepreneurs, it's Muhammad Yunus and this website tells you all you need to know.

Monday, 5 January 2009

Tweet tweet! Social entrepreneurs to follow on Twitter

If you make only one resolution for 2009, I'd advise to you do more tweeting!

If you're not aware of the phenomenon that is Twitter, then this video will explain. Basically the microblogging services allow users to share with their 'followers via posts or ' tweets' in just 140 characters their thoughts, experiences, rants and opinions.

Twitter has grown massively in popularity in recent years and social entrepreneurs and those interested in social enterprise are among them.

I've been using Twitter for a few months (you can follow me via @socialbusiness) and have found it hugely beneficial. As well as the selfish reason of promoting this blog I have also learnt lots from some amazing people.

There are thousands of individuals with a liking for social enterprise using Twitter and I couldn't possibly list them all but here are some of favourites:

@socialentrprnr - Nathaniel Whittemore, the founding director of the Center for Global Engagement at Northwestern University, tweets on behalf of the social entrepreneur channel of the excellent website for non-profits

@rogerhamilton - Based in Bali, Roger Hamilton updates his 1,000+ followers on his thoughts on social enterprise as chairman of the XL Results Foundation, described as the world's largest network for social entrepreneurs.

@AlbertoNardelli - Alberto Nardelli is CEO of UnltdWorld, the internet social network offshoot of social enterprise funding charity Unltd. Alberto was also key in last month's launch of @tweetminster which encourages MPs to use Twitter to communicate with their consistuents.

@socialactions - The combined feed of several representatives of, the not-for-profit organisation based in Canada and the US which makes it easy for people to make a difference.

@childsi - Showing that the charity sector is flying in the face of its behind-the-times image, this feed is from new charity Child's i Foundation, set up to build a babies' home in Uganda. And it's not just Twitter; the charity's website is positively bursting with Web 2.0 tools!

@ThirdSectorLab - Ross McCulloch tweets on issues related to the third sector. He recently founded Third Sector Forums, the UK's first internet forums for non-profits, social enterprises and charities where you can also often find me!

@rosettathurman - While growing up in the housing projects of Cleveland, Ohio, Rosetta Thurman and her family were helped by the local community non-profits. Now a writer, fundraiser and leadership development consultant, she uses Twitter to encourage the next generation of individuals who will drive social change.

@endeavor_global - Elmira Bayrasli tweets as she travels around the world in her work for Endeavor which aims to transform the economies of the globe's emerging economies by identifying and supporting high-impact entrepreneurs.