Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Social entrepreneurs get their own forums

Internet savvy entrepreneurs have plenty of options when it comes to business forums - not least UK Business Forums which I look after. Thousands of social entrepreneurs are among those that utilise these networks to interact and promote their products and services but there's never been a forum dedicated specifically to businesses driven by social aims rather than profit. Until now that is.

Third Sector Forums launched on 20 November, Social Enterprise Day. I'd heard about the forums ahead of the launch after reading founder Ross McCulloch's posts on UK Business Forums so I was quick to sign up. I'm not alone. Less than a week since it went live the site has attracted 42 members and what's more the registrations have resulted solely from word-of-mouth rather than formal marketing efforts.

Some interesting discussions have already taken place - Is this the end of chuggers? and the value of Facebook for the third sector among them.

Despite the site being in its infancy, the popularity of TSF shows there's a need for such a network. It's important for us with a interest in the third sector to unite to demonstrate to those who don't already know the value of working with us and the huge benefits we can bring to the UK economy.

If you're involved in some way in charities, social enterprises or volunteering I urge you to get involved. Not only are forums great for interacting and sharing ideas with people on the same wavelength but Google loves them so get that link in your signature and start promoting all the great work you're doing. I look forward to seeing you there!

Thursday, 20 November 2008

Social enterprise goes mainstream

If ever there was a day I had to post on this blog, it's today, Social Enterprise Day 2008. For the first time it's being celebrated all around the world which is fantastic.

Days like today are vital to get the word out about the benefits of social enterprise. It seems to be working with several of the mainstream press covering the event.

Speaking of mainstream I was delighted to be present at the National Business Awards earlier this week which as well as rewarding corporate and profit driven giants Rolls Royce and Diageo, handed out gongs to individuals who certainly don't have eyes full of pound signs.

Duncan Goose, founder of One Water, a bottled water company which ploughs all its profits into funding pump water system project in Africa took the entrepreneur of the year title and Harriet Lamb, executive director of The Fairtrade Foundation claimed the outstanding woman in business award.

The National Business Awards is a big deal. The likes of the Duke of Wessex and British Airways CEO Willie Walsh don't turn up to any old do but they were at the Grosvenor House Hotel on London's Park Lane on Tuesday night. But for me, mixing with royalty and business giants wasn't the highlight of the evening; it was the fact that socially focused organisations took some of the honours suggesting that at last social enterprise is beginning to be accepted as a legitimate business sector.

Yes, there are plenty of social enterprise-focused awards scheme but I think it makes more of a statement that a 'general' and mainstream initiatives includes them among its list of winners.

That's not to say social entrepreneurs should be complacent and believe there work is done. There's still a long way to go to convince everyone that social enterprise is the way forward.

I've spoken to many people about the sector and most respond 'don't you mean charities?' NO!! They're not charities; they're businesses. The difference is they make the world a better place.
Admittedly though it's not just public perception that needs to changes. Too many social entrepreneurs start up with a charity mindset and as a result spend too much time seeking grants.

Earlier this week, entrepreneur and social activist Robert Ashton sent me his thoughts on social enterprise. I agree with everything he said so I'll leave it to him to make the case for how the sector can go truly mainstream:

"One day all businesses will be social enterprises. But they will not be structured as they are now.

As public awareness of social responsibility grows so to will people's desire to do business with organisations that support the weaker members of our society. They will not compromise on quality, price or service. They will however positively discriminate in favour of the business that uses its resources in a positive and socially constructive way.

It is often easier to add value to your product or service by being supportive of others, rather than by increasing the specification to gain competitive advantage.

Too many of the people currently setting up social enterprises are starting with a charity mindset and background. This means their sole focus is the beneficiary group and they seek grants to subsidise their trading activity.

Tomorrow's social entrepreneur will focus on his or her marketplace, on satisfying existing and emerging market needs, whilst employing or supporting their beneficiary group."

Sunday, 16 November 2008

Ethical business at first hand

During my career as a business journalist, I've spoken to hundreds of entrepreneurs about the trials, tribulations and immense benefits of running your own business. But despite all the many articles I've written and words of wisdom I've learnt, I've never been directly involved with a new business - until now that is.

A few months ago, Lindsay Drabwell, a close friend of mine, revealed she was launching a new business and asked whether I could lend a hand. I was delighted to help and even more delighted to learn that Lindsay's isn't just any old business; it's a ethical business with eco-principles the basis of everything it does.

DaisychainBaby.co.uk is its name and it's the UK's newest purveyor of some of the finest ethically sourced, organic and Fairtrade baby products. But that's not where the ethics end.

Lindsay is committed to making an environmental difference and is applying her ethical principles throughout her business processes. DaisychainBaby's packaging is recyled as are the company's business cards. Even her web host is run on 100% renewable energy and Lindsay is also a member of Ethical Junction and 1% For The Planet.

I've been leading DaisychainBaby's PR efforts and despite the business being officially less than two weeks old, the press interest has been huge. Several websites have written about it including the Financial Times.

What my involvement in DaisychainBaby.co.uk has taught me is that not only is everything I've learnt about starting up during the past seven years true but, more importantly, setting up in business doesn't mean you have to compromise on your principles. In fact, it's the complete opposite.

I've always been pretty sure that ethical, social and environmental principles are the future of business but now that I'm involved with such a company I know it for definite.