A Way Forward for Communities?

Sustainable community based enterprise

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.

Hope is the Power of the Powerless

‘Hope is the power of the powerless’.

The real quality of leadership, lies in its power to inspire hope and associate it with coherent actions designed to make progress.

Because hope is not a plan…

Product, Price, Place and Promotion – lessons for the entrepreneur from a virtuoso violinist

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.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=myq8upzJDJc

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?”

The Problems with Buildings…

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.

 

Towards A Community Advertising Network for Leeds

So, here is the idea, developed by Paul Burr of The CAN-Do Project (CAN= Community Advertising Network).

We set up a Leeds community group to run an advertising business.  We put up roadside hoardings on land on some of the prime thoroughfares in our city, having got the permission of land owners and applied for planning permission where necessary.

Advertising on the sites gets sold to:

  • National and multi-national corporations at premium rates
  • Local small businesses at heavily discounted rates – with further discounts available for those that agree to take on a trainee, provide a placement or take on a mentoring role for example (wouldn’t it be nice to see local small businesses advertising on prime sites as well as the big corporates and multi-nationals?)
  • Local social enterprises, charities and other good causes who help to manage the network get to a limited number of adverts free of charge.

Surplus revenues get re-invested back into the local community, for example to fund a micro-enterprise startup or loan fund, or to fund community and youth workers perhaps.

A great way of helping to use assets in the community (roadside land, and passing traffic) to realise community development through:

  • direct income generation
  • affordable advertising for local businesses
  • creating jobs in administration of the scheme, erecting hoardings and posting up adverts
  • building community capacity by encouraging mentoring and other social goods.

Paul’s research suggests that it might be possible to generate several hundreds of thousands of pounds in advertising for local businesses and third sector organisations as well as substantial cash revenues each year.

Who could possibly object?

It seems that there are several major private sector providers of roadside hoardings in Leeds, who pay rent to the council for access to prime sites.  Paul’s proposal could see money retained in the community where the hoardings are placed rather than going to the council, and could see a new competitor to the private sector suppliers.

I am sure too that many will protest against the positioning of further advertising hoardings across the city.  These things are not always easy on the eye – but this would have to be off-set against the benefits.

Next Steps

A group of us, including LS14 Trust and SLATE  have already met to explore the potential of such a Community Advertising Network in Leeds and see enough potential to explore the idea further.  If you would like to join us to discuss the idea further. A meeting will be held between 12 and 2pm on March 5th at a venue to be confirmed.

We would especially love to hear from you if you would like to:

  • get involved in managing the project,
  • become a beneficiary of it
  • provide us with legal advice and guidance
  • offer us, or suggest, some land that we can use for these hoardings.

Whether you love the idea or hate it, please do let us know….

What People Say About Progress School…

Because I choose to let it, Progress School forces me to focus on what I need to do to develop my future plans. Attending the sessions makes me focus at least once a month [if I’m lucky enough to escape work to attend] and that focus is nudging me into taking actions that I might ordinarily push to one side ‘until later’.

The only negative side manifests itself in my frustration when my paid job is too demanding to allow that precious time for me to attend. Precious is what Progress School is to me at the present time. Now I need to find ways to ensure my escape in good time every 2nd Thurs of the month.

 

“I’ve always known personal development was important, but rarely actually made any time for it. Progress School changes that. It means that at least once a month I’m forced to think about my own development, and better still it gives me the tools, support and motivation for doing so.”

“Joining a group which is focused on self development has focused me on what I need to do. Knowing that I will be “reporting in” once a month has helped me to find the time to put in the effort to do something in readiness for the next session.”

 

Thank you very much for inviting me to Hull Progress School which I thoroughly enjoyed. I thought that Mike’s presentation /facilitation was excellent. Actually I was able to recall the model verbatim during a conversation over the weekend which either

a) had a lasting and meaningful impact, or

b) means that I am opening my mind as a consultant to new ideas, or

c) makes me sad and I should get out more !

Book On Progress School Here

Paul Seabright on The Supply of Shirts

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.

Paul Seabright – The Company of Strangers

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Paul Seabright on the Supply of Shirts…

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