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Local pubs and blogs could help build a Hyperlocal Chamber of Commerce

I love it when stories join up … or rather when I can spot ways to join them up. It’s seems particularly relevant when they are about network building.

The other day I wrote about RSA research into how local stores (particularly B&Q in this case) can act as local social hubs, and also about RSA work networking local Changemakers in Peterborough.

Now Tom Matchett has blogged his ideas for a Hyperlocal Chamber of Commerce, which would further catalyse social connections between local businesses and residents, to the benefit of both.

I’ve chatted to Tom over the past few weeks about that, and also about his previous work on how local papers can combine traditional print with online publishing of their content and that from citizens reporters.

In addition, there are models emerging for “reverse publishing” content from hyperlocal blogs in small local advert-heavy publications, and maybe sharing some revenue with the bloggers.

Tom’s idea for the Hyperlocal CoC goes a step further, by adding into the mix one or more local business hubs, then running events and other activities to build a stronger local social and economic community. He writes in his blog The Digital Bohemian:

The Hyperlocal Chamber of Commerce will be established as a social enterprise exploring and developing methodologies to create new (and strengthen existing) hyperlocal business and community eco-systems.  It will build through engagement, education and collaborative activities to establish commercially successful, sustainable hyperlocal business models.

The project will then roll out on a broader scale with supporting educational collateral from the initial pilot projects documented online and on film. As a key part of its modus operandi we will try to work closely with existing hyperlocal bloggers to assist them in creating a sustainable financial model to support their activities and drive long term commitment to their work in hyperlocal.

The first two proposed locations for the initial pilot schemes are Highgate Hill and Stroud Green both of which are very local spaces to me, this is important at this stage as it will fit very well with my other commitments in terms of consultancy work.

The first venue will be The Old Crown on Highgate Hill, which has limited footfall during the day (and so space for meetings) coupled with a lively and diverse clientele in the evenings. Tom adds:

My questions are, what if we could use their space as community and local business convergence hub in the daytime that would create new very localised business and community networks? Additionally, what if you could build around this and other hubs to build networks and develop models that are then self-sustaining?  How can you engage hyperlocal bloggers, businesses and the community to create a co-promotional media and marketing network?  How do you make this a “win” project for all parties involved?

I suggested to Tom that he might like to apply to join RSA, where the social entrepreneurs network should provide further support – as well as connections to the projects I mentioned earlier.

I was very impressed by the range of enterprising projects I heard about when I went along to a Spotlight event at The Westminster Hub recently. I shot some video with the help of RSA staff member Clare Reilly, as you can see here. We didn’t get sound level right on all the interviews, but I think you’ll get a sense of the enthusiasm and optimism.

There’s more information in the cleverly put together time-lapse video on the RSA vimeo channel.

Chatting with RSA staff at the event led to an invite to meet up with the Fellowship team, led by Michael Ambjorn, and talk further about social reporting. I think there could be scope for staff and Fellows to collaborate in reporting on both projects and events.

Maybe I can make some further connections to the work I’ll be doing with community network builders in Manchester, that I wrote about here. What’s the similarities and differences between using reporting for network building in an organisation like the RSA, and in local communities? Or in developing a Hyperlocal Chamber of Commerce?

One of the most interesting spin-off conversations with the Fellowship team was about how Fellows and staff could use social media to recruit more Fellows. If you are interested in RSA Fellowship, there’s information here.

I digress … but that’s the nature of networky storytelling. Follow the strands, and you usually bump into interesting people and ideas. If you can’t make use of the connection immediately, blog a piece and it will come in handy later.

Maybe that’s the difference from some other forms of more journalistic writing, where there’s greater pressure to come up with a hard angle. And maybe it’s why I bridle at over-labeling reporting in communities as citizen journalism.

Hmm … social reporting as networked narrative? Which I find has brief a Wikipedia entry … and will lead me on to other ideas ….

All posts Entrepreneurs

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.

All posts Organisations

Creating friendly places for the re-emergence of mutualism

The SHINE09 unconference gave me a chance to catch up with Ben Metz, UK director of Ashoka, who I last met in December when he spoke in Lisbon, at a social innovation conference, about the emerging ecology of support for social entrepreneurs.

Since then the landscape has changed still further, and not for the better. The collapse of the capital markets makes things tough for any type of entrepreneur. On the other hand, social media enables organisations like Kiva and Zopa to raise funds in a highly distributed fashion.

This opens the way for a shift in the ownership, governance and management of enterprises with, perhaps, increasing interest in mutualism and cooperatives and more concern for values that profit. I summarise …please listen to the interview, where I ramble around and Ben is admirable clear. read more »

shine shine09

Brief reflection on Shine 09

Just wanted to capture some quick reflections on the two days of Shine 09. Am sure there will be more over the next few days, + more photos and videos to be uploaded.

Overall, as one of the co-founders and organisers (SSE), I’m pretty delighted with how it went. Massive congrats and thanks to Sam, Lizzie and all at Germination for all their hard work in making the event a reality, and one that ran pretty smoothly. And all on a shoestring budget.

The four partners started the event because they felt there was a need for an accessible, affordable, practical, well-networked, dynamic event that was less about long powerpoints and plenary speeches, and more about one-to-one support and moving your business on. I really think Shine 09 delivered on that concept, and, overall, it felt like more ‘business’ was being done at the event than last year. Or, as Cliff Prior (UnLtd CEO) summarised to me, Shine 08 was about inspiration, Shine 09 was about perspiration…or about implementation. I saw a couple of SSE Fellows walking out at the end of Friday and they were listing the work they’d got, the contacts made, and the practical advice they’d received…which was very much music to my ears.

Highlights for me on the Friday were the 1:1 areas, where organisations like Lovells, Futurebuilders, UnLtd, Ashoka and ourselves got little respite from social entrepreneurs thirsty for advice and information. Some of the workshop sessions were a little more mixed, going on anecdotal feedback, but I heard positive things about the Mind MOT session and Jackie Westlake’s DCLG session(s) in particular.

On Saturday, the vibe was relaxed and enjoyable, and What If gave a load of bespoke consultancy to those who were there (and booked in). The Social Collaboration game was great, and its hypothetical MP expenses endowment fund almost became a Twitter hoax, before being stopped in its tracks. Finally, the pitching session was great, with four excellent projects, and the judging panel giving supportive and constructive feedback (though I say so myself). Martin Sherrard won the popular vote, and an UnLtd Level 1 Award, for his walled kitchen garden project.

As ever, we will learn from this year and the things that went well and that didn’t. The balance between structured and unstructured felt good this year, and the Kings Place and the Hub Kings Cross were stellar venues. The only challenge with Kings Place was the split levels (which meant it felt slightly less of “one event” together) and lack of natural light in the downstairs rooms, but it’s a great and well-resourced place to have an event. The Hub has a great vibe and, as at Kings Place, the staff and team there could not have been more helpful and accommodating.

Final big thanks to all who made it possible: Germination as I mentioned above, the funders and sponsors (Lovells, Futurebuilders, CCLA, DCLG, OTS et al), the media partners, the founding partners (especially Ben@Ashoka, Jonathan@theHub, Cliff and Nic@UnLtd), all the volunteer UnConsultants and helpers, David Wilcox for this site, and to all the social reporters and twitterers who helped make the event one that others could be involved in even from miles away.

Till next year then… ;0)