Whether it is more ‘civic enterprise’, community engagement or ‘Big Society’, people with power, but increasingly little money, are looking for new ways to get things done.
The large capital infrastructure projects have not given us more inclusive communities and now we can’t afford them any way, so in some quarters at least interest is shifting from old school top down strategy to a more emergent process of bottom up development. To processes where large numbers of people can shape their own futures and as a result the futures of the communities that they live in.
But making the shift from top down to bottom up is far from easy….
Over the last few years I have been developing low and no cost approaches to economic, personal and community development leading to new projects such as:
- Progress Schools
- Community Conversations
- Local Community Enterprise Accelerators (‘Elsies’)
- Innovation Labs and
- Results Factories
These are my best efforts to provide an infrastructure that allows the private, public, third sector and those of ‘no sector’ to give and get the help that they need to develop enterprising projects and people, and for the development of ‘community’ by building relationships and networks around local activists.
To bring ‘bottom up’ development to life.
Enterprise, community and complexity. Slippery words. But behind the slippery words are concepts that offer the possibility of progress.
Lets start with ‘enterprise‘. First, empty your mind of all those misconceptions that I must be talking about ‘business starts’, ‘cash flow forecasts’, ‘profits’ and ‘Dragons’.
I am not.
I am talking about enterprise as a measure of ‘agency’ in one’s own life. The extent to which an individual is able to recognise what ‘progress’ (another slippery word) means for them and to take action in its pursuit. This is what I mean by enterprise. It is the product of clear self-interest (I know what I want) and power (I have the confidence, skills and knowledge to take organised action in its pursuit). An enterprising person is one who is clear on what they want from their life and actively pursues it. An enterprising community is one which has many such people – because they are valued and supported.
Being enterprising does not make you a good person. It just makes you someone who is acting in, what you believe to be, your own self-interest. If self-interest is ‘enlightened’ then it is likely that the resulting ‘enterprise’ will make a positive contribution to community.
If we are serious about developing ‘enterprise’, rather than managing the outputs that most enterprise funders are looking for, we need to concern ourselves with the development of self-interest and power. We are in the realms of person centred facilitation and education. Not business planning. This is an enormous shift both in what we do, and how we do it. Helping people to clarify their self-interest and find the power to pursue it requires very different structures and processes to a typical business start-up programme.
It is worth noting that if you have money, there is a fair chance that at some time you will have hired a coach to help you with the difficult and personal work of clarifying self-interest and gaining the power you need to pursue it. And if they were a good coach they would not have manipulated you towards their preferred outputs – but would let you work on your own personal agenda. If you have little or no money the chances of you ever having access to such a potentially transformational relationship are slim to none. The relationship that you have with various ‘helpers’ is likely to be one where they try to manipulate you ‘back to work’, towards a ‘healthy diet’ or some such policy goal of funded output.
Over the last few years I have spoken with many enterprise educators, policy makers and practitioners and they have all accepted that this conception of enterprise has merit. Not only will it help us to get more business start-ups, but it will also help us to get large numbers of people acting in pursuit of their own wellbeing – however they define it. But, this is not the work that gets commissioned, at least not by enterprise funders.
How does this concept of enterprise fit with ‘community’?
I choose to think of ‘community’ as a property that emerges when people and groups learn to negotiate their self-interest with the self-interests of others. Community is what the world of complexity science would call an emergent property. If this is correct then it raises serious questions about approaches which attempt to offer short cuts to community (building community centres and one stop shops for example) without addressing the preconditions necessary in a complex adaptive system (such as society) for its emergence, namely, lots of folk whose self-interest is properly understood and who have the knowledge and skill to use networks, associations, mutuality, reciprocity and generosity to pursue it.
Community emerges when people learn how to associate and collaborate in pursuit of mutual self-interest. When they recognise that the best way to achieve their own self-interest is to help others to achieve theirs.
A beautiful by-product of this is a raised awareness of the importance of difference.
If I learn how to associate and collaborate with someone who has different skills and knowledge, or a different cultural heritage to my own I am likely to gain more opportunities than if I associate with people who are pretty much the same as me. Associations across race, gender, age and so on often provide the key to opportunity and are a precondition that will allow strong communities to emerge.
With difference comes both opportunity and resilience.
Shaa Wasmund is a renowned enteprise guru whose own achievements both as an entrepreneur and as a provider of enterprise support have massively outweighed my own. Shaa asserts that…
Every athlete once had a dream to stand on an Olympic stage. But, they didn’t just talk about their dreams, they put in the hours, hard work and dedication to make them a reality. They gave all they had for one moment in time.
In my experience many who achieve excellence entered their field because they loved it rather than because they wanted to stand on an Olympic podium or to be a millionaire before they reach 30. Sometimes it IS the big dream that allows you to put in the hours of dedicated effort. But much more frequently it is the hours of dedicated effort that eventually allow you to dare to believe in the big dream. Most of us, to begin with at least, were not motivated by thoughts of winning on the big stage, but by pursuing our interests and exploring possibilities….
Our progress is driven by the dedicated development and exploration of passion and identity. A journey that often begins with no real clarity over where it might lead, or how far it might go.
I think this openness to journeys that start in different places with different intensities and ambitions is absolutely critical to make the most of all potential, whether it is in sport, business or any field.
And where should we invest our time and money? In helping people to navigate the ealry stages of their journeys. Because late stage development is, relatively speaking, child’s play.photo by: Plashing Vole
Imagine I was to start-up a successful game development business right here in the northern town of Darkhaven, using the phenomenal talent available in the city, courtesy of a vibrant digital community carefully nurtured by public and private cash.
I am exporting my games all over the world, employing hundreds in and around the city (as well as an army of coders over in Eastern Europe and Asia). We are an economic success story.
The Finance Director knocks on my door and says ‘Mike, its time for us to consider a move. If we were to relocate our business to Brighthaven I think we could negotiate some great breaks in return for the jobs we would bring them. They will prioritise an application for the Brighthaven Growth Fund that could pay for a purpose built HQ on their new business park, and they will give us the land for a snip. So, unless the economic development team at Darkhaven council are really prepared to up the support they give us we should really think about moving. And if Brighthaven don’t come up with the goods there is always Southaven or anyone of another dozen cities that would love to be our home. And that’s before we even look at the possibilities of moving the whole operation overseas. This is no time for home town sentimentality. This is business.’
And so the arms race that is called ‘economic development’ or ‘inward investment’ is underway as we play Brighthaven off against Darkhaven, talking to the politicians and the economic development directors seeing just how much they are prepared to offer to sweeten the deal. And we wrap all of this up the language of ‘industrial policy’. But in short I will take my business to whoever will offer me the best deal, the lowest cost base, the greatest support. My future profit taking will enjoy a healthy subsidy from the taxpayer in return for the jobs that I bring to town.
Each administration makes careful calculations about just how much it can do to win our business. And in a sellers market where politics probably count for more than the long term economics we are always able to negotiate a good deal.
Economic development becomes essentially the process of ‘buying’ jobs. Which of course has nothing to do with developing economies.
There is no doubt in my mind that community based and bottom up approaches to enterprise support like those pioneered by Ernesto Sirolli and subsequently developed and transformed by projects like Bizz Fizz and on a much more modest scale Elsie, provide significant clues to the emergence of truly sustainable and enterprising communities.But instead we get celebrity entrepreneurs and academics delivering masterclass after masterclass after enterprise competition on a seemingly endless treadmill driven by incoherent policy and the increasingly desperate search for those Holy Grails of ‘narrow’ economic development – the quick win and the high-growth start-up.It must be time for us to develop a focus on long term, community building approaches to sustainable development that embraces the economy, culture and social cohesion as an inseparable trinity. These things cannot be pursued successfully as separate entities managed by different silos. They are all part of the same process of ‘development’.We need to develop affordable processes that engage the whole community in nurturing the development of those willing to act boldly and helping more of its members to see that bold action will often reap its reward, not just for the individual but for the community as a whole. We must help to build communities that know how to recognise and help enterprising people who are looking to make a living and leave the community better off as a result.And we must persuade policy makers, economic planners and perhaps most importantly our fellow citizens that entrepreneurship is not the only valid form of expression for our enterprising souls.
What happens when you take a £3m violin, a virtuoso violinist and a platform for them to perform?
Well, the answer is – it all depends. If the platform is the mass transport system of Washington DC or the Concert Hall with tickets going at $100 and more.
At least two lessons to reflect on here:
The first is pretty prosaic and pertains to that classic of the 4 Ps of Marketing: Product, Price, Place and Promotion. You have to get all four right. A brilliant product is nowhere near enough.
The second is more metaphysical and probably best captured by Weingarten:
“If we can’t take the time out of our lives to stay a moment and listen to one of the best musicians on Earth play some of the best music ever written; if the surge of modern life so overpowers us that we are deaf and blind to something like that — then what else are we missing?”
Buildings are expensive things to run. And these days fewer of us need them as places to go to work. Or at least we don’t need to go to just one of them. And we don’t need to pay rent.
Yet there is a vibrant industry driven by developers, politicians and consultants bringing semi derelict buildings, especially in poor communities where regeneration cash is easier to come by, back to life as managed workspaces, incubators and start-up hubs.
When money is being sought to kick these schemes off the business plans always look achievable. This occupancy rate at these rates per square foot, taking a contribution from the community cafe, with fixed costs of x and variable costs of y, within z months we will be generating a profit and re-investing in the local community. Money is raised work is done and with hard work and good luck the building is eventually opened.
Except it is rare that members sign up as expected, rents are hard to collect in an economy where most cities have millions of square feet of empty office space. Fixed costs are usually higher than projected as budgets over-run and interest repayments are higher than anticipated. That break-even point always seems to be ‘just around the corner’ even as social objectives for the building get thrown out the window in pursuit of revenue.
So lots of money, usually intended to help people living in deprived communities, goes into the pockets of consultants and developers and into interest re-payments on loans and the community gets a building that continues to swallow up revenue as the various parties who supported its development and staked their reputation on its success do all that they can to keep it open. Including setting rents that frequently act as major barrier to access to local people.
Of course it doesn’t always work out like this.
Some communities can stand the overheads associated with such developments. Typically they are vibrant, affluent and well-educated, with disposable income to invest in ‘community share issues’ with no real need to generate a financial return. Hardly the intended beneficiaries of regeneration cash. But even in these communities, building based regeneration is an expensive, risky and demanding endeavour requiring a lot of know-how and goodwill to keep the show on the road.
If we are restoring a building for its own merit then that is fair enough.
But, there is a world of difference between a pretty building and a building that is doing a beautiful job.
If there were any single person in overall charge of the task of supplying shirts to the world’s population, the complexity of the challenge facing them would call to mind the predicament of a general fighting a war. One can imagine an incoming president of the United States being presented with a report entitled The World’s Need for Shirts, trembling at its contents, and immediately setting up a Presidential Task Force.
The United Nations would hold conferences on ways to enhance international cooperation in shirt-making, and there would be arguments over whether the United Nations or the United States should take the lead. The pope and the archbishop of Canterbury would issue calls for everyone to pull together to ensure that the world’s needs were met, and committees of bishops and pop stars would periodically remind us that a shirt on one’s back is a human right.
The humanitarian organization Couturiers sans Frontières would airlift supplies to sartorially challenged regions of the world. Experts would be commissioned to examine the wisdom of making collars in Brazil for shirts made in Malaysia for re-export to Brazil. More experts would suggest that by cutting back on the wasteful variety of frivolous styles it would be possible to make dramatic improvements in the total number of shirts produced. Factories which had achieved the most spectacular increases in their output would be given awards, and their directors would be interviewed respectfully on television.
Activist groups would protest that “shirts” is a sexist and racist category and propose gender- and culture-neutral terms covering blouses, tunics, cholis, kurtas, barongs, and the myriad other items that the world’s citizens wear above the waist. The columns of newspapers would resound with arguments over priorities and needs. In the cacophony I wonder whether I would still have been able to buy my shirt.
If there were any single person in overall charge of the task of supplying shirts to the world’s population, the complexity of the challenge facing them would call to mind the predicament of a general fighting a war. One can imagine an incoming president of the United States being presented with a report entitled The World’s Need for Shirts, trembling at its contents, and immediately setting up a Presidential Task Force. The United Nations would hold conferences on ways to enhance international cooperation in shirt-making, and there would be arguments over whether the United Nations or the United States should take the lead. The pope and the archbishop of Canterbury would issue calls for everyone to pull together to ensure that the world’s needs were met, and committees of bishops and pop stars would periodically remind us that a shirt on one’s back is a human right. The humanitarian organization Couturiers sans Frontières would airlift supplies to sartorially challenged regions of the world. Experts would be commissioned to examine the wisdom of making collars in Brazil for shirts made in Malaysia for re-export to Brazil. More experts would suggest that by cutting back on the wasteful variety of frivolous styles it would be possible to make dramatic improvements in the total number of shirts produced. Factories which had achieved the most spectacular increases in their output would be given awards, and their directors would be interviewed respectfully on television. Activist groups would protest that “shirts” is a sexist and racist category and propose gender- and culture-neutral terms covering blouses, tunics, cholis, kurtas, barongs, and the myriad other items that the world’s citizens wear above the waist. The columns of newspapers would resound with arguments over priorities and needs. In the cacophony I wonder whether I would still have been able to buy my shirt.
Taken from: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Company-Strangers-Natural-History-Economic/dp/0691146462