Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Social Enterprise Ambassadors programme comes to an end: What did it achieve?

Here's an article I wrote earlier this week for my day job as editor of
The three-year government-funded Social Enterprise Ambassadors programme, set up to promote social enterprise with high profile entrepreneurs, came to an end last week. editor Dan Martin spoke to the programme's manager Pauline Milligan to find out what it did for social enterprise in England.
If the recession has done one thing, it has increased the interest in doing business for social or environmental reasons rather than solely to make pots of cash. Although social enterprises, the modern, collective term for businesses which put all or the majority of their profits into a social cause, are nothing new, high profile companies like Jamie Oliver's Fifteen and Divine Chocolate and Cafe Direct, two of the UK's biggest Fairtrade companies, have helped drive up interest among the general public and aspiring entrepreneurs.

One way the last government attempted to boost that interest was through its funding of the Social Enterprise Ambassadors programme, an initiative which bought on board 33 social entrepreneurs who toured England trumpeting the benefits of the social enterprise model. Among those who got involved were Tim Campbell, winner of the first series of The Apprentice and John Bird, co-founder of The Big Issue.

The programme, which cost a total of £860,000 and was run by the Social Enterprise Coalition, came to an end last week with a celebration event filled with tears and hugging. But why has it ended, what has it achieved and what's ahead for how social enterprise is promoted in the UK?

The end
Programme manager Pauline Milligan says the programme was always only going to last three years and participants decided not to push the new government into extending the initiative. "We felt it was going to be a risk to watch and see whether the government would continue funding and thought it was better to celebrate the achievements of the programme and the legacy which will continue in many ways."

When asked what Milligan considers are the scheme's greatest achievements, a deal with telecoms company O2 is top of the list. "The company has launched new packages and a whole host of other activities to support social enterprise whether that be communications work, promoting social enterprise to business customers or looking at introducing a new award for social enterprise," she says. "O2 is promoting and supporting the social enterprise sector in a way that hasn't been possible before using the power of a huge, powerhouse brand."

Milligan is also proud of the programme's work in public services, particularly with the National Offender Management Service through which ambassadors were matched with senior civil servants at a 'speed dating' event who then spent time within social enterprises learning how former offenders can be helped back into work. "The social enterprise concept can be quite hard to grasp but it is brought to life through individual stories," Milligan explains. "It has been hugely effective in helping civil servants to 'get it'. As a result, there are lots of pilot schemes working with offenders around the country."

Responding to criticism
The programme hasn't been without its critics however. In 2008, some of the ambassadors attacked the programme for lacking direction and earlier this year, social entrepreneur Ben Metz wrote an article for The Guardian in which he said the programme "makes a lot of noise and wastes a lot of taxpayers' money in looking good and talking about themselves while effecting no legislative or policy change whatsoever".

Milligan accepts some of the criticism and said when she joined in early 2009, it was one of the first areas she focused on. Three taskforces, she claimed, tackled the direction problems and bought "real change".

When it comes to altering government policy, Milligan claims the programme wasn't set up with the aim of "changing laws" but says it has "influenced the debate and helped civil servants and ministers understand what social enterprise is all about".

She also claims one major success with the programme’s role in calling for added value to be taken into account when public sector spending decisions are made and contracts are being awarded. Chris White MP is currently tabling a private members bill calling for a greater awareness of social enterprises during the procurement process. "This was not solely down to the ambassadors but we had lots of meetings with key civil servants, ministers and the media in order to influence the outcome", Milligan says.

Enterprise education
Educating young people about business is another area Milligan is keen to stress the programme's success, in particularly through the recent introduction of social enterprise as an area of education taught by Young Enterprise, which works with 30,000 children and students in schools, colleges and universities.

Young Enterprise hit the headlines recently when Dragons' Den judge and National Enterprise Academy founder Peter Jones criticised the organisation for "putting good money after bad". Milligan says that is an argument by which she is "not impressed" adding: "I've met many of the young people who've taken part in Young Enterprise and they're very inspiring. They've set up profitable businesses and are doing some fantastic stuff so it's really dismissive of Peter Jones to disregard the organisation in the way he did."

One of the dragon's arguments is that enterprise education needs to be more coordinated and he has called for his National Enterprise Academy curriculum, currently running in three colleges, to be rolled out nationwide.

But Milligan says having one single scheme in place isn't necessarily a good thing. "There are lots of organisations working in the space and it's important they join up but I also believe there are different ways to do things," she says. "I wouldn't want to see a monopoly of one programme being used against others which have got a proven track record."

Public perception
So how does Milligan believe the public perception of social enterprise has developed during the three years the programme has existed?

"Things are shifting but there's still a long way to go," she says. "When I joined in 2009, we started to look at how to make it more focused and one of the things I quickly realised was that going out and trying to raise awareness among the general public was not the right thing to do.
"What we needed to do was get to key decision makers and organisations. Once we'd converted some of those, we could then move onto the general public. Through schemes like the Social Enterprise Mark and the deal with O2, the concept of social enterprise is starting to be taken out to a bigger audience."

The future
In terms of how the legacy of the programme will continue, Milligan says many initiatives "will continue" although without the coordinated format of a national programme. The Social Enterprise Coalition also plans to stay in touch with the ambassadors and all have committed to open the doors of their social enterprises to the public on Social Enterprise Day 2010 in November during Global Entrepreneurship Week.

But it's not just the programme that has come to an end; so has Pauline Milligan's job. When asked what she plans to do in the future, she reveals initially she is taking a break and spending two weeks in Vietnam "to have a rest and reflect". But whatever happens, social enterprise will likely stay a part of Milligan's life.

"I'm keen to stay within social change and business. I don't know whether that'll be starting my own, going freelance, working for a social enterprise or another business. I'm keeping an open mind but I certainly believe business is the way to do it."

Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Exclusive video: Barchester boss backs Big Society

Last week I interviewed Mike Parsons, the founder of elderly care homes business Barchester Healthcare, for my day job as editor of He has been hugely successful having grown the business into a £400m turnover operation with assets of £1bn. I asked him about the government's Big Society vision and he is a big fan. The video has not yet been published on but I thought I'd give Social Enterprise Focus readers a sneak preview. Parsons also talks about why business owners should get involved with charitable causes, his work with Sir Richard Branson in Africa and his view on social enterprise. Enjoy!

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Live blog from the launch of the SE100 Index

The RBS SE100 Index is a new tool that charts the growth and impact of any organisations that deliver social, economic or environmental change including charities, housing associations, co-ops, social firms, community enterprises and ethical businesses. The Index launches in London tonight and I'll be there. As is usual, I'll be providing a live blog below.

Monday, 12 April 2010

Labour election manifesto: Commitments to social enterprise

Included in Labour's general election manifesto, which was launched today, is a small section on social enterprise. These are the party's commitments:
  • The Social Investment Bank will make additional capital available to social enterprises with an initial endowment of £75 million funded by dormant accounts alongside existing funding streams.
  • Promote the creation of more social enterprise hubs in every community – helping more to get off the ground.
  • Extend the right of public-sector workers to request that they deliver frontline services through a social enterprise. Public-sector workers in the NHS currently enjoy this right.
  • More local organisations run on cooperative principles with an expansion of Community Interest Companies and third sector mutual organisations that reinvest profits for the public good. 
  • British Waterways will be turned into a mutually owned co-operative
  • Promote the use of community shares that support investment in football clubs, pubs, renewable energy and shops.
  • A National Youth Community Service, with the goal that all young people contribute at least 50 hours to their communities by the age of 19
It's good to see the sector now has a place in election manifestos and the commitment is welcome. However, I would also have liked to have seen something which addresses how CICs are structured with efforts put in place to make them more attractive to investors.

What do you think of the plans?

Sunday, 14 March 2010

Twestival: A lesson in real-time and transparent fundraising

Anyone with an interest in charities and social media is likely to be aware of Twestival. Something that started in 2008 as one tweet and a small gathering in London has grown into a worldwide phenomenon which I'm delighted to be part of. I'm organising the Bristol Twestival, one of more than 175 parties due to take place around the world on 25 March. We're all raising money for one cause; Concern Worldwide, which uses education to help the world's most marginalised and poorest children.

I wrote last year how Twitter and other social media tools are changing the way charities fundraise by putting greater power into the hands of supporters. Well, this year Twestival has gone one step further.

Twestival parties haven't even taken place yet but in a secton on the global blog supporters can access details of exactly how much money has been raised and exactly where that money will be spent - in real time.

Too often charitable fundraising lacks this kind of transparency and interactivity but given where the Twestival idea was born it was inevitable that it would be good at it!

Charities - and indeed social enterprises - have a lot to learn. The social media generation craves information. They don't want to wait until an annual report is published many months after a charitable event has taken place to find out where their money has been spent; they want to know now.
Equipping supporters with the kind of information Twestival is providing - even before the event has even actually taken place - not only pleases though converted to the cause but creates cause champions which is turn attracts new backers.
So whatever your cause, think real-time!

Saturday, 13 February 2010

UPDATED: Is The Phone Co-op’s Social Enterprise Mark award an attempt to quell the critics?

I spotted a tweet this afternoon with a link to the announcement that The Phone Co-op has been awarded the recently launched Social Enterprise Mark. This is a high profile development given that the successful telecoms company was named social enterprise of the year by the Social Enterprise Coalition (SEC) in 2008 and its founder Vivian Woodell is a regular attendee and speaker at the sector’s big events.

What is intriguing however is that at Voice10, SEC’s annual conference in Cardiff, Woodell was asked whether he had applied for the Mark. He said he had but had been rejected because his co-operative didn’t fit the criteria. The comment was made during one of the workshops at Voice10, not during one of the main plenaries, but I was in the room when he said it.

The Social Enterprise Mark’s blog post makes reference to the “concern” over The Phone Co-op being rejected but does not say whether the criteria has been adapted or whether Vivian was mistaken when he made his comment in Cardiff.

Since its high profile launch at Voice10, the Mark has been met with some criticism from social entrepreneurs and other interested parties. Most have focused on Clause E of the criteria which calls for at least 50% of profits to be committed to a social or environmental cause. Those running co-ops have also expressed
concern that they are excluded. 

The cynic in me would say that today’s development is a publicity stunt and an attempt to quell the doubters but at the moment I can’t confirm that. What is clear though is that the Mark does not yet have the support of the entire social enterprise sector and issues such as this won’t help.

I will do some digging and see what I can find out but in the meantime I’d be interested to hear your thoughts.

UPDATED (16/02/10)

Yesterday, the following quote from Vivian Woodell was published on the Social Enterprise Mark blog in response to my post above:

“It is absolutely clear that we were not rejected at any stage, and I never said that we were. What I said was that when we read the criteria initially, it looked as if we (along with other co-ops) might not qualify, because of what appeared to be rather rigid rules about profit distribution. They did not change their rules to accommodate us, and what Lucy Findlay said is correct – the application was still in process when I spoke at Voice. We heard that we had been awarded the Mark soon afterwards.”

Fair enough. However, my confusion does perhaps reflect the general confusion about how the rules apply. Woodell thought the criteria ruled him out but it turns out it doesn't. Why?

Friday, 5 February 2010

Poll: Does your social enterprise qualify for the Social Enterprise Mark?

The long awaited Social Enterprise Mark was launched at the Social Enterprise Coalition's Voice10 on Monday evening with indoor fireworks and spectacular circus performances.

After a trial in the South West, the team behind the Mark claim it is a watershed moment for the UK social enterprise sector but does your organisation qualify?

Many social entrepreneurs have criticised the application criteria for excluding some businesses whose owners consider them to be social enterprises. Much of the criticism focuses on the fact that to be awarded the Mark organisations must put at least 50% of profits into a social or environmental cause.

Bloggers like Rob Greenland have expressed concern about the Mark as have some social enterpreneurs on Twitter:
What do you think? Do you qualify for the Mark according to the criteria? Take part in the quick poll below. I'd also be interested to hear why you think you do or don't qualify.

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

Live video and blog: Voice10, the Social Enterprise Coalition's annual conference

Live video: Voice10 day two

Live blog:

Video replay: Day one of Voice10

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Live blog: Doug Richard's School for Startups - Growing a successful social enterprise

Sunday, 17 January 2010

'Tis the season to be socially entrepreneurial: Events to attend in 2010

As this is my first blog post of 2010, may I wish you all a Happy New Year!

I'm determined to blog more this year and what better way to kick off than with a list of the top social enterprise coming up in 2010. There do seem to be a huge number this year which bodes well for the future. The more exposure the sector gets, the better off we'll all be!

So here are my pick of what should be in your social enterprise calendar this year. I plan on attending them all.

19 January: School for Startups: Growing a successful social enterprise, London
Would you pay £10 for hours of expert advice from an ex-Dragons' Den panellist? Of course you would! You can do exactly that at this event where Doug Richard and big names from the world of social enterprise will be telling delegates everything they need to know about building a socially driven business. Doug Richard supported my event The Pitch last year and I experienced his expertise first hand. On that basis, his event is set to be a humdinger!

1-2 February: Voice10, Cardiff
Voice is the Social Enterprise Coalition's annual conference and this year it takes place in Cardiff. The theme for 2010 is 'No more business as usual' and features top class speakers including John Denham MP, minister for communities and local government; Carwyn Jones AM, Welsh first minister; Ed Mayo, chief executive, Co-operatives UK and Peter Holbrook, chief executive, Social Enterprise Coalition.

4 February: Media 140, London

Media 140 is fastly becoming one of the world's leading events focusing on the benefits of social media. Despite being founded around a year ago, the not-for-profit organisation has already held events in the UK and Australia. On 1st February, Social Media Week kicks off and Media 140 has chosen to focus on social media and the third sector. Exact details are still to be confirmed but the event will take place in London on the afternoon of 4 February. Keep an eye on the Social Media Week website for updates.

25 March: Twestival, Around the world
Twestival is a charity initiative founded in 2009. Arranged through Twitter, events take place in cities all around the world on the same day with all money raised going to charity. In February 2009, 185 cities took part and £400,000 was raised for charity: water. This year's event takes place on 25 March with all funds going to Concern Worldwide, currently doing great work in Haiti following the devastating earthquake. I have a big interest in this one as I'm organising the Bristol Twestival.

14-16 April: Skoll World Forum 2010, Oxford
Seen as the grand-daddy of social enterprise conferences, the Skoll World Forum is organised by the Skoll Foundation, set up by American billionaire Jeff Skoll. The agenda is yet to be confirmed but with previous speakers including former US president Jimmy Carter; ex-US vice president Al Gore; Mohammad Yunus, founder, Grameen Bank and Her Majesty Queen Rania Al-Abdullah of Jordan, it's set to be pretty good!

13-15 May: Shine, London
Shine is an unconference for social entrepreneurs. Described as the 'antidote to traditional conferences', unconferences have no set agenda but allow attendees to decide the sessions, seminars, discussions and debates. The organisers of Shine promise practical workshops, real stories from established social entrepreneurs and one-on-one advice sessions on all aspects of building a successful social enterprise.

If you'd like to share details of any other social enterprise events in 2010, please post below.