Making social enterprise work locally

Whether you embrace the idea of the Big Society as a model for more volunteering and social enterprise – or just recognise spending cuts mean doing more with less – the SHINE unconference last week provided terrific insights into what’s needed when new national policy hits local realities.
At the prelaunch party we had Respublica launching the Venture Society as their blueprint, with a vision of “community hublets” to aid support and development
Then on Saturday we spent two hours working through the practical details: with a couple of dozen social entrepreneurs forming groups to think about what’s needed locally, what’s needed nationally, then comparing notes.
What struck me was how little talk there was of funding, as in “just give us more money and we’ll do good work”. Perhaps that was because of the climate of the times, or because many of those interested were engaged in social business rather than classic charitable activity.
What they did want was better opportunities to connect, build relationships and networks. They wanted more chance to meet other entrepreneurs, and find what’s on offer from different agencies. At this point we might have heard about the great potential of social media – but instead the message was get on your bike, walk about, meet up.
The session had been organised by Cliff Prior, chief executive of Unltd, supported by Geraldine Blake, chief executive of Community Links, and a small team including researcher Nissa Ramsay and Sofia Bustamante who took on the role of ace social reporter, leaving me with the simple task of holding the iphone.
You can see in the video above a very coherent summary from Cliff and Geraldine of a wide-ranging debate. I’ve including group reports in the videos below.

Geraldine made the point that a lot of what’s needed locally is essentially community development work … something that isn’t always specific to projects and so is difficult to fund. But without it there’s much less chance of the networking and support that’s needed. Let’s not invent new mechanisms when existing one may be working well …. so first task for the policy makers is to understand what’s happening already.
Cliff reported from the national group, exploring the challenge of providing support from the top in ways that provided assurance of quality to funders and investors, while allowing flexibility for local initiatives.
National branding can pull in resources local groups couldn’t achieve, aggregate stories and evidence of what’s happening, signpost people to a wide range of activities.

From past experience, national support can often lead to tight regulation to try and ensure quality standards. But could there be another way? What if new channels were opened to ensure transparency – so that investors could see directly where their resources were going, and what impact they were having?

This week meetings are starting in Whitehall to discuss development of the Big Society agenda. The consensus from conversation at SHINE was please don’t roll out as Big Plan. Get out and network first.


  • May 17, 2010 - 4:10 pm | Permalink


    great post! Now regret that I didn’t manage to go to Shine this year!

    Just a quick question: Do you have the contact details of Andre who spoke in one of your videos or the link to his organisation?

    Many thanks!

  • May 17, 2010 - 4:41 pm | Permalink

    Thanks Iris – I don’t have the contact, but Cliff should. There were some great stories.

  • Comments are closed.