It’s not just about raising aspirations…

This was one of the key points from the Enterprising Places Network event run by Enterprise UK in West Yorkshire yesterday:

  • It’s not just about raising aspirations but about raising realistic aspirations.
  • Projects and initiatives need to adopt a sustainable approach and offer support in long-term engagement.
  • Partnership working presents a great deal of opportunity.
  • Enterprise is often about taking risks.

And, yes, bears do sometimes go to the toilet in the woods.

Contrary to the blog and tweeting from the workshop (done in real time by a rep from the Enterprise UK PR company) for me at least the Enterprising Places Network event was ultimately a disappointment.

Our hosts at the Cottingley Cornerstone Centre were friendly and and the lunch was substantial – but the acoustics in the room were terrible.  I hate to think what it is like when the centre is full of children.

But the problems for me were the ‘case studies’.

After introductions and context setting, Wakefield District Housing kicked us off with Chief Executive Kevin Dodd talking about the importance of carrots and sticks (I think he called them incentives) to encourage people to be more enterprising.   And by more enterprising it seemed he meant mainly getting back into the labour market.  Indeed this theme about job creation and routes into employment kept recurring.  There is more to an enterprise culture than tackling worklessness.  If someone’s behaviour is motivated primarily by the way that bureaucrats arrange carrots and sticks it cannot be described as enterprising.  Compliant, yes.  Enterprising, no.   So think long and hard.  Do we want our tenants to be compliant fodder for employers or enterprising?

We then heard a little about what Wakefield District Housing is actually doing to promote enterprise.  This consisted mainly of sending young people on Outward Bound Courses and providing mentoring in Wakefield secondary schools.    I worked for Outward Bound for a couple of years and have much time for them.  They develop many things, teamwork, leadership, followership – but I am not certain about enterprise.  I would need to be convinced.

And I am not clear how mentoring programmes help individuals to become more enterprising.  Especially when mentors encourage young people to take their eye off of their dreams and start to think seriously about Plan B.  ‘I know you want to be bassist in a rock band but really, don’t you think you should apply to study plumbing at the local FE college?’   ‘We need to be realistic with our aspirations’.  I personally think this shows a weak understanding of how people hold and transform their dreams and ideals without being told what is realistic by ‘authority’ figures.  It is not our job to decide what is possible….

The main reason schools welcome Mentors is because they can provide a little bit of additional 121 support to help pupils at school.  It is not about making them more enterprising. It is about improving school performance.   Too often enterprise is snuck in on the back of ‘improving educational attainment’ or ‘improving attendance’ ie providing incremental support to the mainstream pedagogy, curriculum and assessment, when in fact it offers radically ‘different keys’ to ‘different kingdoms’ for an increasingly large group of pupils that mainstream education fails to serve well.

But what was most puzzling to me was why a social landlord in particular would engage in such activities.  In what way does this build on the relationship between landlord and tenant?    Mentoring in schools is a fine way of delivering corporate social responsibility.  Personal development too is extremely worthwhile.  But neither of these builds on the unique relationship between landlord and tenant that I had hoped the workshop might explore.

Next up it was Connaught with a re-hash of last years Strictly Come Business competition.   Now I have problems with most types of ‘Enterprise’ competition and especially with those that base themselves on the Dragon’s Den format.  Dragon’s Den is  not a competition.  If investors believe a business offers a return, they invest.  You don’t have to ‘win’.  You just have to be investment ready.    In my opinion most winners of Dragon’s Den style enteprise competitions are not yet investment ready.  The journey to investment readiness can take years.

Does this competition format provide a serious and sustained methodology for creating an enterprise culture?  Or is it an easily costed and managed process that ticks the enterprise boxes?

If we put a leaflet through a door that says ‘Do You Have A Big Community Idea?’ most people will say ‘No!’.  The leaflet goes in the bin and those that might benefit most from our help to think in  more enterprising ways are lost.  At best we find a small minority who are already thinking ‘enterprise’ and give them a leg up.  This kind of enterprise skimming provides the sweet illusion of instant results but in reality changes little.  Indeed I think this kind of approach makes many of the 10 Commonest Mistakes in Encouraging an Enterprise Culture.

Networking over lunch, provided by local social enterprise Daisies, was fine and the presentations after lunch were good.  I especially enjoyed finding out more about CREATE and how they operated.  Competing on the basis of quality products and services rather than on the moral high grounds of SE seems like a winning and novel concept!

And a final talk through the development of Cottingley Cornerstone by our hostess for the day just re-affirmed how bloody hard this social enterprise game can be.  On a shoe string and continually seeking funding – but only that which fits with their mission and objectives.  Fingers crossed it stays that way.

My only problem with the afternoon sessions was that they seemed only loosely, if at all, connected to the theme of enterprise and social landlords.

So my main take aways from the day:

  • Social Landlords are coming under pressure from policy makers in Whitehall and the Housing and Communities Agency to do more to get their tenants to be enterprising.  The interest in enterprise is primarily policy led rather than informed by any real insights into how it might help to provide a better housing service and better places to live.
  • Landlords are not well placed to respond to this pressure because of their ‘unique’ relationship with tenants and also their relative lack of knowledge and understanding about developing an enterprise culture. It is not about ‘incentives’.  It is about power and self interest.
  • Just to be clear, I don’t think being a landlord helps if you are trying to promote behavioural change.  The tenants will always be looking for the ulterior motive.  For some housing cooperatives this maybe less of an issue.  But when did you last have a landlord who you could really trust to be working in your best interest rather than theirs?
  • There is an apparent willingness to adopt what has not worked in the past rather than to explore innovative approaches to building an enterprise culture.
  • There seems to be a conflation of enterprise with entrepreneurial.  A belief that more enterprising means more business-like.

So, as I said on my evaluation, the day was good in parts – although I  think we failed as a group to really get under the skin of the role of the social landlord in supporting an enterprise culture.


  1. “‘We need to be realistic with our aspirations’. I personally think this shows a weak understanding of how people hold and transform their dreams and ideals without being told what is realistic by ‘authority’ figures. It is not our job to decide what is possible….”

    …. which is why I prefer “pedagogic optimism” to “pedagogic realism” …. it is not our job to decide what is possible.

    Interesting and valuable piece, all in all. Like it.


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