S2S – the second annual Social Enterprise Trade Fair was held in Perth again this year. Blessed by sunshine and the usual diverse mix of delegates – bankers, bureaucrats and social activists – the event was highly enjoyable – and well worth the long drive.
I only managed to take in one workshop, “Striding Out – Taking Established Social Enterprises to the Next Level”. This featured three speakers, all of whom had experience of doing just that, either through acquisition (buying a business) or organic growth (winning more business and employing more people on the back of the surpluses created). The speakers were Mike Sweatman from the Edinburgh Bicycle Co-operative, Pauline Hinchion from FEAT Enterprises and Laurie Russel from the Wise Group
In all three cases the next level meant getting bigger. Only one of the presenters gave time to the possibility of staying small – working a niche as a way of moving to the next level. As someone who was brought up on ‘Small is Beautiful: A Study of Economics as if People Mattered’ – by EF Schumacher I am definitely not convinced that bigger is always the best route to better! Especially when ‘better’ means more effective delivery of a social purpose.
All three speakers emphasised the importance of good management in making the ‘transition to the next level’ and how much should be learned from the ‘for profit’ sector in this respect.
I don’t recall any of the speakers talking about the challenges of working with the key competitive advantage of the sector, namely the passion with which people, employees, volunteers and (some) funders subscribe to the cause. As a social enterprise gets larger how do you keep the passion burning?
Passion is the ‘kryptonite’ of the social enterprise. Management and leadership that nurtures passion and develops excellent management in pursuit of a social cause is what makes the third sector such a powerful force. My fear is that we may learn the wrong lessons from the private sector – about efficiencies and productivity – rather than how to inspire and lead passionate people.
There is a danger that ‘good management’ will quash what is excellent about social enterprise.
What suggestions can you offer about good management practices that help to keep the passion of social enterprise alive either when recruiting, acquiring or just in day to day management good practice?
How can you be rigorous in pursuit of your mission without being ruthless in your day to day management?