Category Archives: Entrepreneurs

Starting to stock the Good/Big Society DIY store

Recent blog posts by Nat (now Baron) Wei, unpaid adviser to the Big Society programme, give further clues to government thinking about the way that local services should evolve, with more support for groups at neighbourhood level. (Earlier posts here). I’ve been pulling together some tools and links that may be useful – including reports of a couple of sessions using a neighbourhood media version of the SocialbySocial game. I played the one above last week in Holland. read more »

Social entrepreneurs add zest to RSA's civic innovation mission

I’m really hopeful that the RSA social entrepreneur’s network, launched last night, will bring a fresh burst of energy to the contribution the 250-year-old organisation can make to social action and civic innovation. The RSA has an excellent events programme, staff-led projects … and some 28,000 members (Fellows) across every profession and sector.
This diversity is a great strength – but as I’ve written before, this means there is no one shared passion around which people gather. The aim of the Fellowship, expressed in a draft Charter, is in part to work together on projects for social benefit. The Charter currently says:

In order to achieve this, we commit to working collaboratively and practically to make a positive difference to the world around us. We will be open to new ideas and committed to spreading the best of them. We will be supportive of others and respectful of differences. We will be honest, courteous and transparent in our working methods. We will be generous with our time and abilities not seeking personal or financial gain and measuring our success by the impact that we have, not the recognition we receive.

Implicit in this is the idea that Fellows will voluntarily collaborate on projects for social benefit … but not make any money or further their business interests. So far this approach hasn’t been very successful. Back in 2007 the RSA chief executive Matthew Taylor  promoted the idea of the Fellowship as a network for civic innovation, with a very successful event where lots of idea were generated. However, in practice it proved difficult to follow through on any scale – there’s wasn’t strong enough motivation or support. There’s now a Catalyst Fund to support project ideas from Fellows, but sums are small, and Fellows can’t get paid. Useful, but again modest.
I think the social entrepreneur network can add a complementary dimension to this very worthwhile voluntary work of the Fellowship and its Council … now bubbling up on the central networking site and many other local sites.
Social entrepreneurship recognises that you can develop an enterprise for social benefit while also making money. As Malcolm Scovil of Leapanywhere, who is promoting the network, said when I interviewed him last night, its OK to have a business that makes profits as well as making an impact  on society, particularly where those profits are re-invested in the enterprise. Making money is not a bad thing – so do well by doing good. Malcolm wrote in the network group:

My two cents on whether social entrepreneurs should be rewarded financially if they build successful, profitable organisations…hell YES.
However, would-be social entrepreneurs shouldn’t wait around for somebody to deliver a profitable social business model on a silver platter.
Those of us that want to create real sustainable impact in the world need to innovate even more than the average entrepreneur.
We need to rack our brains and try and try and try again not just to get a good idea off the ground but to get both good AND sustainable ideas off the ground.
This network should become an invaluable platform for showcasing social business models that work for both society and for the risk takers (that means real economic benefits to investors, founders and the teams in the trenches!).
Indeed, we can go further than that. This network already has over 175 social entrepreneurs committed to the future of business for the common good.
We can challenge each other to generate new models and to merge existing ones to come up with better businesses. Then we can set these in motion, learn from mistakes, make them succeed and then mentor the next generation in how they can do the same.
Action action action.

Malcolm thinks that William Shipley and other founders of the RSA, meeting in the coffee shops of Covent Garden, were early social entrepreneurs.
I think the social entrepreneur network is important for the RSA – and social action – on several counts. Most importantly, the people who turned up last night, and the many who couldn’t make it to London, have great stories to tell about how individuals and small groups can make a difference in the world. We heard four brief presentations last night, and I’m sure it could have been 40. These stories will provide substance to Matthew Taylor’s latest mission, which is to develop a 21st century version of the Enlightenment that fostered the origins of the RSA.
The recognition that it is OK to use RSA networks to make business connections, where these lead to social benefit, should release a lot of energy. The connections made will, I suspect, benefit not just the people and projects involved, but also increase activity online and face to face across the RSA’s diverse Fellowship. It will increase the social capital.
So what’s next? There was a comments and ideas wall at last night’s event, and I’m looking forward to a summary. Meanwhile my suggestion for a start is modest: meet up and tells good stories.
It is difficult to get a room at RSA HQ without paying for it, and the bar is rather small … but there’s now a coffee point on the ground floor where Fellows are encouraged to gather for a chat. Why not fix a time each week, and see who turns up? That’s the way the now hugely successful Tuttle Club started. (I think ace-networker and entrepreneur Oli Barrett has ideas on this front, so there’s a good chance something will happen). Then invite anyone interested to tell their story in a three minute video, posted to the network, with an invite to people to get in touch. Once we got started I’m sure there will be no problem in developing the idea, and – most importantly – coming up with ways of working outside London.
Last night’s event was made possible by the work of RSA staff including Sarah Tucker, Laura Billings, and Clare Reilly … and that’s just who I spotted. I’m know there’s been more work behind the scenes. Thanks.
Maybe I’m being over-optimistic, but I thought the event was the most interesting step towards realising the civic innovation potential of the RSA since the November 2007 get-together. There’s now a chance that some bottom-up personal passion may match the top-level thinking from Matthew Taylor on 21 century enlightenment, now clearly set out in yesterday’s blog post.

Tories would favour smaller firms for public service contracts

A Tory government, if elected this year, would adopt a post-bureacratic approach and change procurement policies for public service to enable smaller firms to bid, according to Stephan Shakespeare. This could produce a “golden age” for entrepreneurship. He was speaking at the Entrepreneurship Country conference. More here from event organiser Julie Meyer.

Old media declines … social communication entrepreneurs emerge

Conversations at the Euromeduc media literacy conference in Bellaria, Italy, confirmed for me that the story of media change is similar throughout Europe – on the one hand decline of some traditional big players, particularly newspapers, and on the other the increase in media created by individuals and small groups. I also heard about work in community media centres in Holland similar to that developing in the UK.

I first talked to two people who have a good overview of what’s happeningin local media. Peter de Groot teaches media economics, while Simon Strömberg works in the field for the Culture Administration in Stockholm. Both are also involved in the Media Coaches network that trains teachers, librarians, health workers and others to help children, parents and others use the web.
I was particularly interested in the implications for journalists seeing their jobs disappear, and for activists in local communities creating their own blogs and online communities. In the UK local activists are being supported by Talk About Local and Community Voices. read more »

Radioactive reporting at SHINE09

Amidst the online social reporting at SHINE09 I found Max Graef of Radioactive demonstrating the miniaturised radio station he will soon be taking to work with the Kenya Wildlife Service. There in the Tsavo National Park he will be broadcasting to the Masai about how to prevent killing of elephants, stop destructive fires, and other conservation issues.

At SHINE09 Max was interviewing social entrepreneurs about their projects … although this time without broadcasting. He explained that when the 40ft anteana is up the station has a range of about 15-20 miles, and is ideal for areas with low literacy and no electricity.

I last met Max at the graduation day for the School for Social Entrepreneurs, as you see here, with a fine hat acquired on a previous trip.

Join us for the social collaboration game at SHINE

If you want to find out how social technology can be used collaboratively to solve neighbourhood problems, do join me and colleagues for a lively session on May 16 in London at the SHINE unconference for social entrepreneurs. You’ll find

If you want to do it quickly, do it alone. If you want to do it well, do it together.” – African proverb.
Join the Social Collaboration Game on day two of SHINE. Everyone’s talking about the advantages of collaboration, open-source working and social technology to drive through social change. But how do you make it work in practice? Based on real life problems that SHINE participants are facing, get ready for a two hour game where you’ll have to crunch problems, make quick decisions and find ways to work together to get the job done. You will be doing that within the framework of an imagined but realistic neighbourhood where people are trying to tackle problems innovatively as recession bites. There’ll be competing interests to balance, barriers to getting what you need from partnerships,…

read more »

Katie's digital engagement tips: make it simple, fun and really useful

The other day I was doing some social reporting at the World Entrepreneur Society Summit with Paul Henderson – as you can see here – and met up with Katie Ledger, communications coach and TV reporter for BBC Click.

Bearing in mind the work I’m doing on digital engagement I asked Katie what she thought it took to get people interested in technology. She was admirable succinct: keep it simple, make it fun … and focus on the benefits the technology offers. read more »

World entrepreneur summit update


The World Entrepreneur Summit on Friday March 20 is attracting about 250 people, ranging from the European chairman of Microsoft, to a social enterprise working with local agencies Africa to pepare resources before potential disasters. I’m social reporting on the day, and wanted a quick update from organiser Rebecca Harding. It seemed like a good opportunity to try out Call Recorder with Skype.
As you’ll hear, we covered why entrepreneurs want to get together (networking, finding a collective voice, influencing policy), what keeps them awake at night (big opportunities as well as the usual business problems), and what happens after the summit. Rebecca’s aim is to help develop a worldwide society for any type of entrepreneur.
You can join in online at the networking site, and also still register for the event here. If you can’t afford the full cost, there’s an option to just make a donation … so it is inclusive as well as enterprising.

What (globally) keeps you awake at night?

I’m really looking forward to social reporting at the World Entrepreneur Summit on March 20, not least because the organisers are doing some honest agenda setting by asking “what is it about the current global situation that keeps you awake at night”?
As you can see from the programme there are some pretty well-informed speakers on managing through challenging times, focussing on sustainability, and accessing finance.
That’s before we get to the Open Space session on “What will the future of Capitalism look like”?
Summit organiser Rebecca Harding has an impressive record as a researcher and writer in the field, and is encouraging anyone interesting to take the survey here. In true entrepreneurial spirit the  “keep you awake” checklist of possibilities:

  • The future of capitalism
  • The macroeconomic climate
  • Climate change and environmental destruction
  • Widening inequality between the richest and poorest communities in the world
  • Under-development in Africa

… is presented in the next question as  list of possible opportunities. read more »