Long Division

The Prime Minister has been addressing the nation. A nation, she thinks, is united behind Brexit. This, surely is wishful thinking at best. Those I know, including myself, are not united behind Brexit. I really and sincerely want a nation that’s united; one that is cohesive, tolerant and inclusive. But Brexit is not the flag to march behind. 73% of the population did not vote for it. The “will of the people” reflects only 27% of the poulation.

It has divided communities and even families. If it happens then the division will not be quick to heal. The ramifications will be felt for years. The divorce will take two years and then there will be long negotiations. The economic impact could last a generation. Those who were too young to vote in the referendum will be left picking up the pieces.

The lesson from Brexit is the impact of those who could but did not vote. Something like a quarter of the population. Let’s hope we have learnt a lesson and vote next time and avoid any further division.

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Bloody Insult

I’m not naming names here but I am deeply offended. Not for myself but for the sector I have worked in for the past dozen years. I’m referring to the “Third Sector”. This collective noun for a very diverse range of organisations is, in itself, an insult but that’s not what is pissing me off.

I questioned why there was no Third Sector representative on the Board of a large policy making body that comprised Public and Private sector representatives (with a token academic rep). I didn’t get an answer really. What I got was “the board is already large but there are working groups and sub committee’s you could get involved with.” Maybe that sounds reasonable and innocent to you. It doesn’t to me.

That’s what was said. This is what I heard. “You can’t come to the party in the big house, that’s for important people. Why don’t you go in through the tradesman’s entrance and see cook. She will sort you out with some scraps.”

Am I getting too cynical in my old age? Or, am I just fed up with the crap we get fed. Discuss.

70% of the population of this country – that’s all of it, from birth to death, has a significant connection with the “Third Sector”. For example, Cancer, heart disease, boy scouts, church, Citizens Advice, domestic abuse, Age UK, community groups,  volunteering, Children in Need, Comic Relief, Samaritans, Big Issue, Shelter, volunteering, youth groups, the thousands of Social Entrepreneurs supported by the School for Social Entrepreneurs and others  … I could go on for hours. They all play a vital role. They all have a deep understanding of the problems faced by many in our society. They are trusted by those people they help and the people they help trust them.

So, for fucks sake, wake up to the contribution they can make to ensuring this really is an economy and country that works for all. They are important people. Governments, politicians, Civic leaders and other big knobs should be rolling out the red carpet and sitting us at the head of the table. Not sending us round the back, tugging our forelocks in deep gratitude for the gristle cook can spare.

Well, that’s got that off my chest.

Wisdom about divorce

Hard Brexit? Soft Brexit? Red, white & blue Brexit. In my opinion, completely academic.

The only Brexit we will get is the one the EU decide we are going to get. I call it Sods Law Brexit.

We have told the rest of the EU members that we don’t love them anymore and want a divorce. We pretty much told them that it is all their fault too. And, when we serve the divorce papers (aka Article 50) we hint that we might just withdraw our cooperation and intelligence on security matters if we don’t get our way. That’s hardly going to win favour with the 27 countries we have just hurt.

Thankfully, The European Council president, Mr  Donald Tusk, is a wise and fair man (IMO). On the day he received Article 50 he Tweeted, “What can I add to this. Missing you already.”  More recently he tweeted “After more than 40 years of being united, we owe it to each other to make this divorce as smooth as possible.” This is pinned to his Twitter home page.  He also says “EU27 does not, will not pursue punitive approach. Brexit in itself is already punitive enough.”

Given the hurt we have caused and the inevitable damage to both sides (such is the reality of most divorces), his words give me hope. This is a politician I can admire. There aren’t many around these days.

Follow Donal Tusk on Twitter

In or Out – Does it matter?

At the School for Social Entrepreneurs in the Midlands, we are currently recruiting start-up Social Entrepreneurs for our Lloyds Bank sponsored programmes (40 places, 15 days support over 12 months, a business mentor from Lloyds and a Big Lottery grant of £3.000 in case you are interested).

Lloyds RecruitWe are running information events for would be social entrepreneurs across the region. At one of those, I was asked a question about Brexit and what difference it made to social enterprise? I had to pause to think. The answer I gave was “I have no idea – probably no difference whatsoever.”

My logic being that real social entrepreneurs just get on and do it. They don’t ask for permission. They don’t wait until government policy creates favourable conditions as they never will. They just do it.

The more I think about it, the more convinced I am that that is true. A right wing government, that believes in the myth of trickle down economics, will create issues that demand the solutions that social enterprise can bring. A left wing government might create opportunities but it might not. There is no point in waiting to find out and little prospect of the left wing (Labour party) taking control for a while.

So, no point in worrying about Brexit on this score. Plenty of other reasons to worry about it though.

A happy accident

I am a social entrepreneur because I stumbled upon it, thanks to the Colebridge Trust, a Community and Enterprise Development Trust.  They invited me to do a couple of weeks work for them in 2006. They would pay me!  I was blown away by what they did. I never really left. They don’t pay me these days but I’m on the Board of Directors and my heart is still with them.
After I had done what I could with the thing they brought me in to do (Solihull SUSTAiN), I was asked to have a look at the other trading activities they were running. Some were not viable or practical for the Trust to run so passed over to others better placed or closed down. One, in particular, had potential. It was a day care centre providing ‘therapeutic activity’ for adults with a learning disability. It was called Waterloo Woodwork. As the name suggests, it made stuff from wood. Garden benches, picnic tables and the like. It’s days were numbered as the funding was changing. I had to find some other source of revenue or close it down. Closure was not an option.

Part of its remit was to prepare learning disabled adults for employment and move them on. That was never going to really work in any great numbers. Companies may have been willing but did not have the capacity or knowledge to support learning disabled workers. Maybe one or two but not enough to make any real impact. Supported employment was, I felt, the answer.
The industrial unit it operated from was mid way between Jaguar and Land Rover’s factories. It was surrounded by automotive component manufacturers. We were teaching carpentry skills. Much of my working life was spent in the car industry. I knew that the automotive supply chain was struggling to keep pace with the impressive growth at Jaguar Land Rover. To cut a long story short, thanks to the Goldman Sachs 10k Small Business Growth programme at Aston Business School (I’m even featured in the video), I managed to get in front of a couple of manufacturing companies, persuade them to outsource work and so Colebridge Enterprises Assembly Operation was born. It now employs many of the ‘clients’ who used to be sent there by social workers plus a few other great folk who would otherwise struggle to find suitable employment. They process around 2 million parts a year, delivered on time to exacting quality standards, and trading income is over 10 times more than was ever generated from timber products.
It was a result of this that I came in contact with the School for Social Entrepreneurs. I believe that it is important to know when it is time to move on to new challenges. It was time for me in 2013 and so I moved on to set up the Midlands franchise.

It was through Colebridge then that I fell in love with the concept of a business where society profits. I am, therefore, an accidental social entrepreneur. It is through the School for Social Entrepreneurs that I can use my experience and abilities to help others.
I admire and envy people who are driven to run a social enterprise as a result of their passion to make a difference. Experts through personal experience or anger at injustice or inequality. My drive comes partly through this but, I won’t deny, ego, frustration and self fulfilment play a significant part.

I do get angry at prejudice, injustice and stuff like that. But I also get more than a little cross when I find people who don’t know how to use a yellow box junction correctly.
I’m far from being the typical social entrepreneur but I am usefully flawed.

The Value of Social Enterprise

OK,  this is a story about a social enterprise in India but what they are doing is repeated and repeatable throughout the UK an rest of the world. SSE India Social Enterprise

 This modest social enterprise is reducing care costs for people with mental health problems by 80%. But that’s not all. It might be stating the blinking obvious but they are, whilst doing so, helping people with mental health issues. For me that’s the bigger story. But, in these financially challenged times (allegedly), it’s the money bit that gets the headline. The human cost impact is far, far greater. Harder to quantify I guess.

So, with the crisis that our Health and Social care system is experiencing,  Governments, Local Authorities,  Clinical,  Commissioning groups and everyone else involved need to be reaching out to Social Enterprise and the wider Third Sector.

Sadly that’s not happening. Austerity measures caused this crisis (in my opinion) and they will continue to exacerbate the problem. I’d hate to calculate the long term cost. Social Enterprise and many Third Sector organisations are batting down the hatches, fighting for survival and not able, in many cases, to grasp the nettle.

So, what’s the answer? Well, all I can  come up with is some guts on the part of Commissioners within the Public Sector to take the chance and enable social enterprise, especially, become involved in solving some of the problems.

Behind this story from India is the long hard struggle for this enterprise (like so many) to get taken seriously and be heard. Now look what it’s doing.

The secret to inclusive growth

I’ve made this observation before but I’ll say it again.

Over 40 years ago I arrived in Birmingham from my home in Helmsdale, deep in the Highlands of Scotland. Shell shock best describes my initial reaction. (It’s love now). Helmsdale is a beautiful place in beautiful surroundings. Nothing like parts of Birmingham I found. There is poverty in the Highlands but there is also strong community spirit and action. Sparkbrook, on the other hand, isn’t pretty. Community spirit was hard to find. It’s there but not obvious. Community Action, back in 1975, was scarce. Bit more obvious in recent years though

I’m not having a go at Sparkbrook but, the point is, it is still – 40 years on and after 30 years of trickle down/Reagan/Thatcher economics – an area of deprivation. Why hasn’t something been done? Lots of areas in Birmingham and the wider Midlands are the same. Areas that have improved have often been gentrified. Not much use to the locals.

The problem is, the same solutions applied constantly with the odd push to try harder. That’s not going to work. As someone more clever than me once said “We didn’t get electric light bulbs by constantly improving the candle”. We need something different if we really want inclusive growth – an economy that works for all? The question mark is asking the question, is that what our (Tory) government want>?  I’m not sure it is.

Party Politics & Politicians will never understand or solve the problem.

Doing the same old same old gets the same old results. What’s needed is action in the community, by the community, for the community. That’s how Helmsdale does it and it’s been described as a “surprisingly vibrant and resilient community.” It requires leadership. It requires creativity. It requires entrepreneurial flair. Not the Alan Sugar/Donal Trump TV Apprentice version. I mean real entrepreneurial flare.


Social Enterprise – Businesses Where Society Profits


It exists. It’s called Social Enterprise. Businesses where society profits. Social Entrepreneurs are not like other businesses. Their businesses are similar but the people running them aren’t. Conventional business support doesn’t work for them. I’ve watched many social entrepreneurs look like fish out of water at Chamber of Commerce network events. That’s why, after 30 years in industry, corporates & private business I decided to go to the dark side over 12 years ago. I had something to offer but needed to learn a new language and culture. Thanks to Colebridge Trust (including SUSTAiN and Colebridge Enterprises), I did.

Now, I have the privilege of running the School for Social Entrepreneurs in the Midlands. The privilege is helping 125, and counting, passionate and entrepreneurial people learn, build networks and grow in confidence. I love watching then fly the nest and go on to great things. Sometimes they look back and wave. Sometimes they don’t. It matters not.

The point is, they are the people who will change communities. They are the people who will create inclusive growth. They are the people who could fix our broken society. They just need to be supported.

The proof of whether government really wants inclusive growth and an economy that works for all is what they do to support Social Enterprise and the Third Sector and how they handle the relationship. I’m still waiting.

Maybe I shouldn’t wait on government. I’m not sure I’ll live that long.

What is more interesting and hopeful is businesses from small to massive corporations starting to take an interest. Starting to realise their customers and employees care and want them to care too. Starting to understand the ‘market’ and consumer feelings. Something governments are failing to do time and time again. Starting to look at Social Enterprise and realising we are cousins. Politicians are from Mars.