Have you ever suddenly discovered something that's been right under your nose the whole time, but you've not spotted it? Yesterday I put on some socks I have had for a few years and noticed they had a "L" for left and "R" for right on them. I had not somehow seen that before. Did it affect which foot I put my sock on? Not really! But it serves to illustrate my next point.
This week I received an e-letter from a long standing, not for profit, community organisation that is regarded - or regards itself - as the "leader" of community issues, the authority if you like on all voluntary, community and social enterprise (VCSE) sector matters where I live . It invited me to support its campaign to reinstate its local authority grant (a sizeable sum of public money) that it had discovered will not be renewed in March. So this is a key funding strand that will no doubt affect jobs, the charity's income and its future. YET - and this is the point - I know from experience as one who provides professional services to this and the public sector (and I am the board of a social enterprise) that the issue of financial and organisational sustainability has been on national and local agenda for three years now!
This week I was delighted to present and launch an exciting capacity building programme I will be delivering for Surrey Community Action in the coming months. It aims to develop VCSE leadership skills and capability to address the pressing issues of financial sustainability, quality governance and the need to move to new models of working in the challenging landscape of cuts and social and economic change. Unless these key individuals and their Boards start to embrace a more enterprising mindset, then their continued existence is threatened, as traditional ways and means of operating and raising money have changed drastically or are gone.
The truly magnificent and passionate exponent of social enterprise in the UK, Peter Holbrook (CEO of Social Enterprise UK) followed me as guest speaker and reiterated some key points to the VCSE community present. For starters, it is no longer possible, viable or otherwise to expect any longer be able to go back every three years and "ask for more"; anyone who is running an organisation whether it is a charity or social enterprise is "running a business"; the world has pressing needs that social business can solve in innovative ways. Peter gave many examples of social entrepreneurs and businesses that have forged new and sustainable ways to fulfill their mission, make profit and put that profit back into their programme or service.
For me the landscape is challenging but I think it is a HUGE opportunity for BIG, positive change. Social enterprise thinking requires new skills and capabilities: agility, commercial awareness, leadership on mission and values, customer focus, digital connectivity, local sharing, beneficial networks, local problem solving & resilience thinking. In truth, social enterprise has been under our noses a while in the UK and it is time to support and recognise them much more, buy social, use the model to be more enterprising in how we "do good". The outcomes need to be:
- The VCSE sector is able to contribute to the local economy and employment and is viable.
- The VCSE sector is resilient and sustainable by learning and adopting an enterprising approach.
- The knowledge, skills and capability of individuals is improved and supports sector cultural change.
- Social value is embedded and promoted as a means to evidence social impact & return on investment.
- The quality of governance is improved.
- The values, attitude and behaviour of the VCSE sector reflects a professional and cohesive one that shares knowledge, information, resources, facilities and services.
It is not too late for me and my socks, but it might be too late for the local charity - unless.......
I wait in anticipation of those who are enterprising enough to not only survive, but thrive and flourish. I am excited to be playing my part in Surrey as my series of innovative bite size workshops (with follow on take aways & coaching support) kicks off next month ( they're nearly full already!) on these areas: leading & managing change, financial sustainability, quality led governance, marketing & selling, organisational excellence (employer of choice) and social value.