Enterprise as a Precursor for Entrepreneurship – working on the demand side

There is much policy and rhetoric about the need to transform the ‘enterprise culture’ of our communities (especially those that make higher than average use of the benefits system).

This is usually translated into a ‘need’ (for policy makers and planners that live nowhere near the targeted community) to:

  • increase the rate of business start-ups per head of population
  • increase vat registrations
  • increase self employment
  • reduce benefit dependency.

So far so good. But now the problems start. In order to try to get these metrics moving in the desired direction we tinker with the supply side on a whole series of employment/skills and business start-up interventions, designed to make them more accessible to target communities. In the local Children’s Centre or Church Hall half day workshops on ‘Turning your Business Dream into Reality’, ‘Turning your Hobby into Cash’ and ‘Employment Skills’ appear alongside workshops for ‘Tumbling Tots’ and ‘Breastfeeding for Beginners’.

Now the ‘Tumbling Tots’ and ‘Breast Feeding for Beginners’ workshops are usually pretty popular. While often the enterprise and employment workshops struggle to get the numbers they need. Even enticements of free food and the indication that grants and funding might be available often fail to get punters through the door. Although the reasons for the difference in take up are obvious they are worth re-considering for those of who are interested in stimulating enterprise.

The Health Market Place

  • A strong professional, credible and competent outreach team (Health Visitors, Midwifes, Community Nurses and associated health professionals, social enterprises and volunteers) who form long term relationships with local people over many years and sometimes generations
  • Administrative support, data protection and other professional protocols that have developed over time for the benefit of both the client and the funder – records are kept and used to plan and manage support over many years (they long ago gave up looking for the ‘quick fix’)
  • A client base (on the whole) with a pressing need and desire to engage – ‘I really do need to learn this parenting malarkey‘ – and generally a social context and peer groups that will respect and support their endeavours to be a better parent
  • Mainly trusted as being on the side of the Mum and the Baby – we really are here to help

The Enterprise Market Place

  • Often new, poorly paid and inexperienced outreach workers (who have yet to gel as a team with few established record keeping, client management and referral systems) on short term contracts looking to achieve short term outcomes.
  • A client base with little urgent or pressing desire to engage and with a psychology that may not welcome the possibility of ‘new things at which to fail’ (in spite of our best efforts to re-assure them that ‘enterprise is for all’ they recognise that this maybe a long and risky pathway)
  • An agenda (entrepreneurship) that does not chime with local social, economic, political and cultural norms – and is often seen as being imposed from the outside.
  • An agenda that carries with it significant risk of failure and social isolation (this is not what my peers spend their time doing)

Little wonder that our best efforts to expand the supply side of the enterprise market place in targeted communities in a well intended drive to increase ‘engagement’ is so often met with apparent indifference. So what can we do that might encourage the take up of more enterprise services and the transformation of the enterprise culture?

I think that the answer lies not in continuing to develop and refine the supply side.

  • Fewer half day workshops and new enterprise centres.
  • No more ambitious and expensive push marketing plans.

Instead we should focus in the short term (3-5 years?) on nurturing the demand side. Finding ways to stimulate a genuine curiosity about the enterprise agenda.

On holding conversations (open space events, knowledge cafes etc) about what a more enterprising community would look and feel like.

  • What benefits could it bring to local people?
  • What downsides?
  • What are the possibiliites that we can pursue to make progress on the enterprise agenda – building on what we already have and can do?
  • How can local people engage in driving the enteprise agenda?
  • Who can local people invite to help them transform their enterprise culture?
  • How can we make enterprise a socially inclusive sport?

On helping more local people to recognise that they can make progress on their agendas (rather than being manipulated into the agendas of others).

  • Encouraging people to set goals and aquire skills, knowledge and networks that help them to get things done
  • Promoting the real skills of enterprising people – looking for opportunities to make things better and finding ways to exploit them
  • Teaching in a way that facilitates personal growth and independence
  • Learning how to find a sense of purpose and urgency that will drive their personal development
  • Recognise the ‘well trodden pathways’ that they are on and to choose different pathways if they so wish.
  • Recognise and valuing ‘failure’ as a part of the process. To recognise the difference between people failing and their ideas failing.

On recognising that the social context and networks are crucial for supporting enterprise.

  • Encourage more people to be more supportive of their peers who are trying to make stuff happen
  • Build more social capital around the enteprise agenda – establish social technologies where specilaist support and advice can be found at low or no cost – where individuals and organisations with a stake in supporting a more enteprising culture can share ideas, exchange practice and more importantly build the trust and understanding neccessary to really co-operate on future endeavours
  • Develop connectors, mavens and salespeople at the local level who can change the ‘vibe’ around enterprise and form them into competent, credible and person centred outreach teams who are prepared to advocate enterprise. In my expereince most communities are already developing such mavens, connectors and salespeople. The neighbourhood management team, local youth groups, faith based groups and other community based projects are often an excellent place to start your search.

As a good friend of mine said, ‘going into a community that has experienced long periods of economic and social decay and prescribing an increase in entrepreneurship is a little bit like going into Burkina Faso and, on noticing that they don’t have a state of the art scientific research programme, suggesting that they invest in a large hadron collider, a stem cell research project or a programme of space exploration as a way of bringing them quickly up to world class’.

We have to develop enterprise strategies that acknowledge where people are at rather than where we want them to be. In this way I think enterprise professionals can really start to play a part in transforming the culture of some of our most disadvantaged communities.

And in time we might have local people queing up for places on our enterprise workshops and to take up space in our enterprise centres.

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