BSE – Before Social Enterprise

Mike in the days before social enterpriseHard to imagine I know, but I was remembering with some old friends the time ‘BSE’, Before Social Enterprise.

I used to work in what was called a ‘Community Home with Education’, similar to an ‘Approved School’.  A residential home for young men with emotional and behavioural ‘difficulties’.  When they reached 16 they would have to leave the home and make their own way in the world.  For many, the next step, after a short spell in the community, would be prison.

However we worked hard to give them the best chance that we could, and this often meant trying to find them work, trying to find employers who would give them a chance.  And, surprisingly it wasn’t as hard as you might think.  Despite their dubious CVs and frequently a complete lack of qualifications, we could usually find an employer who would give them a chance.  These were not ‘social enterprises’ set up specifically to provide vocational training and development for the needy.  They were good old ‘for profit’ businesses who were more than willing to do their bit.  This was the time BSE.

And I don’t think things are that much different now.

While we have a small number of social enterprises specifically setting out to help particular groups with a step on the employment ladder, I reckon that for every one of these there are probably a hundred or so for profits that work with the same client group.  Restaurants and kitchens that employ people struggling with addictions or to stay out of prison.  Building companies employing ex-offenders.   Football clubs giving players with drink driving convictions, anger management problems and occasional inclinations to racist abuse a second chance.

I wonder what impact the rise of the specialist social enterprise might have on the willingness of mainstream for profits to ‘do their bit’. They don’t get the rate rebates, soft loans, grants, PR or additional support of their social enterprise counterparts, so why should they push the boat out.

Or will they all become ‘social enterprises’ and reap the same rewards?


Some forgotten truths about enterprise…

  • Poverty is not about scarcity – it is not that there is not enough – but that it is not shared
  • The challenge is to give more people the power that they need to play a positive and powerful role in markets; This means accessible and relevant processes to develop individual capabilities and power
  • Markets will always have a place in our society but not everything can be bought and sold.  Care for example is an emotional relationship that cannot be bought and sold.
  • Development is a measure of the extent to which individuals have the capabilities to live the life that they choose.  It has little to do with standard economic measures such as GDP.
  • Helping people to recognise choices and increase the breadth of choices available to them should be a key objective of development.
  • Developing the capability and power of individuals provides a key to both development and freedom
  • Development must be relevant to lives, contexts, and aspirations
  • Development is about more than the alleviation of problems – stamping out anti social behaviour, teenage pregnancies, poor housing and so on.
  • It is about helping people to become effective architects in shaping their own lives
  • We need practices that value individual identity; avoid lumping people into “communities” they may not want to be part of, and promote a person’s freedom to make her own choices.  Promoting identification with ‘community’ risks segregation and violence between communities
  • Society must take a serious interest in the overall capabilities that someone has to lead the sort of life they want to lead, and organise itself to support the development and practice of those capabilities
  • We should primarily develop an emphasis on individuals as members of the human race rather than as members of ethnic groups, religions or other ‘communities’.  Humanity matters.
  • We need to make the delivery of public education, more equitable, more efficient and more accessible

If we took this stuff seriously what kind of enterprise development activities would a LEP commission?

Disrupting Poverty in Leeds

We have been running a project called ‘Disrupting Poverty in Leeds’ for the last few months.  We have already held two large workshops where we aim to bring together the public, private and third sector to see how we can work together to disrupt poverty in the city.

I would be delighted if you could help us by doing one or more of:

  • Joining us on April 27th at Leeds University to plan how to Turn the Curve on Poverty in Leeds –
  • Getting in touch to offer us any help or support (stationery, expertise, funding, energy…)
  • Popping onto facebook page and giving us a like –
  • Spreading the word wherever you can…email, social media, pigeon post

Many thanks in anticipation of your help….

Leeds as a twin track city…

This was at the heart of the debate of the Inner South Leeds Area Committee meeting recently.

In short, our residents die too early, our streets are full of fast food take-aways, our air is polluted by the motorway and we need a new sports centre.

What should we do about it?

We will put health at the heart of local government and tackle it…

This is classic Visions of the Anointed Stuff!

I can be pretty sure that if I knocked on 1000 doors in south Leeds and asked ‘what keeps you awake at night’, or ‘what is it that really stops you from living the way you would want?’, not many would say,’Well, if only I could live as long as those folk in leafy north Leeds, or even those exotic southerners in Kensington and Chelsea!’ (K&C has the highest life expectancy of any local authority in the UK I believe).

These are the concerns of the health professionals and the public health statisticians. They are not the everyday concerns of local residents. And, if we want to do meaningful development work we have to start with these everyday concerns. Of course if we wish to build service empires around the ‘healthy living’ agenda…

We also know that the real determinants of longevity are, at root, not based in health, but poverty. Raise disposable incomes, raise educational attainment, help people build lives of meaning and dignity and they will live longer. This hints at the need for a more systemic understanding of quality of life in the city and more person centred approaches to development rather than just getting funding for some more smoking cessation and cancer screening services.  We need to work with potentials and aspirations not just problems.

One councillor got close to the mark when he said we must put more effort into the education of children and young families. But this must be education of a very particular kind. An education that is not led by a curriculum but by the very real concerns of local people.  An education that is not driven through the traditional mechanisms of schooling and assessment but on the streets.  And what about the rest? How do we offer them real opportunities for change – IF that is what they want?

The outrage at the number of fast food shops in South Leeds is understandable. Lots of fast food, bookmakers, pawn shops and off-licences no doubt, because these are the legal, affordable ‘pleasures’ of the poor. No doubt there are plenty of illegal ones too. These are not the causes of poverty and early mortality – but the symptoms. These are the industries that have learned to profit from the poor. Danone and Grameen are learning how to do the same but supplying yogurt rather than alcohol. Perhaps they offer us some clues? Closing down the bookies, off-licences and credit shops would be like excising chicken pox with a knife. Its just going to leave nasty scars and not deter the pox. The fast food outlets and the bookies did not make people poor and susceptible to an early death. They are there because people are poor and unhealthy!  Planning restrictions on peoples pleasures are not the way forward.

Nor will building sports centres or ventilating the motorway help. The challenge of regeneration is primarily one of psychology rather than physiology and infrastructure. Until individuals and communities change the way they see themselves, as full of potential and possibility rather than full of problems (obesity, cancer, addiction, unwanted pregnancies etc) then we can build all the facilities we like and they will not be used by the people we most want to help.

Instead of using twin track Leeds statistics to argue for further investment in infrastructure, sports centres, swimming pools, clinics and whatever other ‘solutions’ our respective empires can offer, we should use this opportunity to shut up, listen carefully and respond with all our might to local residents who want to make a difference in their own lives and the lives of those who they love.

Get that ball rolling and things might just start to change.

Management and the Start Up

I work with businesses and organisations at all stages of the life-cycle. Pre-starts, start-ups and mature businesses.

I often see management DNA develop in the start-up phase and it is seldom a pretty site. Habits and relationships are set early and become very difficult to shake off. This is largely because of the mindset of the original founder of the business:

  • This is their baby;
  • They know how they want it to develop;
  • They have exacting standards.

Consequently their management style can be brusque, directive, bruising and ultimately damaging to the long term growth of the business.

Ideally I get to work with a business pre-start and ensure that the entrepreneurs builds their management team BEFORE the business plan is developed. This way all members of the team can own the plan and a more open and collaborative management DNA can be established from the start.

However this is pretty rare.

More usually I am working with an owner manager who has already established a pretty controlling management style. Helping them to see a different way of running the business is tough enough.

Coaching them to make it happen is even tougher.

Often it takes a real shock to the business and the entrepreneur to make them realise that something has to change.  This ‘shock’ can be bankruptcy, divorce or a significant health issue.

But sometimes that is what it takes before the need to change is fully recognised.

Are we learning? Or just looking good?

Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck made a great distinction between performance goals and learning goals.

  • Performance goals are about “winning positive judgements of your competence and avoiding negative ones. In other words, when students pursue performance goals they’re concerned with their level of intelligence: They want to look smart (to themselves or others) and avoid looking dumb.” A person usually does this by playing it safe.
  • Learning goals are ones that are about increasing your competence. “It reflects a desire to learn new skills, master new tasks, or understand new things—a desire to get smarter.”

Both goals are common and can drive achievement. So there’s nothing wrong with either.

“In fact,” she says, “in the best of all possible worlds, students could achieve both goals at the same time.” Unfortunately, we don’t live in the best of all possible worlds. One is usually pitted against the other. “The tasks that are best for learning are often challenging ones that involve displaying ignorance and risking periods of confusion and errors. The tasks that are best for looking smart are often ones that students are already good at and won’t really learn as much from doing.”

What she has found is that an overemphasis on performance goals – wanting to look good – can foster a helpless response. In a 1988 study they found that “many of the students with performance goals showed a clear helpless pattern in response to difficulty. A number of them condemned their ability, and their problem solving deteriorated.

“In sharp contrast, most of the students with learning goals showed a clear mastery-oriented pattern. In the face of failure, they did not worry about their intellect, they remained focused on the task, and they maintained their effective problem-solving strategies.

“When children are focused on measuring themselves from their performance, failure is more likely to provoke a helpless response. When children are instead focused on learning, failure is likely to provoke continued effort.”

Another interesting tidbit came out of the study. “Some children were told at the start of the study that they had the ability to do really well at the task. Others were told (temporarily) that their level of ability at the task was not so high. For students with performance goals, this message made a real difference: Students who were certain of their high ability were more likely to hold on in the face of failure and remain mastery-oriented. But students who thought their ability was lower fell right into a helpless response.” It made no difference to the student with learning goals.

How are we structuring the environment in our schools and organizations? It seems to me, we foster environments that encourage and reward levels of achievement and not degrees of learning. In such a case, most people would opt out for performance goals. Who wants to take a chance of being criticized for looking dumb? Are we learning or looking good?

Incidentally, an important book by Carol Dweck has just been released in paperback. It covers some of this material. Check out Mindset: The New Psychology of Success.

Jack Welch on What Leaders Do

Here is what the legendary Jack Welch, former Chairman & CEO of GE had to say about “What Leaders Do” in his book “Winning” .

  1. Leaders relentlessly upgrade their team, using every encounter as an opportunity to evaluate, coach and build self-confidence
  2. Leaders make sure people not only see the vision, they live and breathe it
  3. Leaders get into everyone’s skin exuding positive energy and optimism
  4. Leaders establish trust with candor, transparency and credit
  5. Leaders have the courage to make unpopular decisions and gut calls
  6. Leaders probe and push with a curiosity that borders on skepticism, making sure their questions are answered with action
  7. Leaders inspire risk taking and learning by setting the example
  8. Leaders celebrate.