There is a lot going on at the moment in the world of social enterprise and in our world here at Create. We are in the middle of Big Society Week and there is a huge buzz and an even bigger debate going on about the big idea of the big society.
In our own social enterprise there is also a lot going on. After three years of building a sustainable and profitable social business we are on the brink of a national expansion and these two things are part of the same bigger picture.
A big part of the coalition governments plans for the big society is the replication and scaling of social enterprise – how do we take a great model that delivers sustainable, profitable businesses and social impact and scale that business to deliver even more?
It seems to me that the opportunities and challenges of the Big Society and the opportunities and challenges of scaling a social enterprise like CREATE have the same fundamental question at their root…
How do you start a movement?
And then when you have started it how do you sustain a movement?
I want to think about these two questions and the way that they provide a framework for thinking about the Big Society movement and the Social Enterprise movement.
The first question then – how do you start a movement?
In the thinking and sound bites about the Big Society and in the thinking about how to develop and replicate a good social enterprise to scale and impact this is really important. Plans and strategies are important; investment and governance are important but more important than that is how do you start a movement that gets the passionate buy in from lots of stakeholders to a shared vision.
Some movements come out of nowhere and take us by surprise. That is what makes them exciting and innovative and catches the imagination. Many, indeed most, movements are not based on a new idea. A Big Society of co-operation, community involvement and voluntary activity for the common good is not a new idea; it is the fundamental political and social organising principle of many historic movements. A social enterprise that delivers a great business for the greater social good is not a new idea. So one of the keys to starting a movement is the clear articulation of where the present expression of that movement fits in to the big story. Where it fits in to the overarching narrative of human history and experience and how this part of that movement will make a difference.
Great movements are caught not started. Great leaders catch the mood and ride that wave, not in a mercenary way but in away that galvanises action that people were inclined to take anyway.
Great movements are caught. When someone floats the idea of doing something that will become a movement people listen to the idea and say, “yes I buy that”. And what people buy is not just the idea but the integrity of the motivation of the person selling the idea.
So… I am not responsible for the agenda of the Big Society, but perhaps for my part within that. I am responsible for leading a growing business in a sector called social enterprise and so the heart of the movement is massively important to me. When we are part of a movement and not just a business idea the way we share the vision of that movement resonates deeply within the people around us. People catch the idea and deep inside say yes, because it resonates with the individual human and social aspirations of those people.
Social Enterprise catches the wave of a generation of people who want to see business play a just role within the building of a society that wants to make money but also makes all those involved in the making of the money feel really good about themselves. We are in an ideal position to catch that wave.
The problem with waves is that they are unpredictable and you never know if you are going to fall off and get wet…but it sure is exhilarating trying to ride them!