Outcomes and intentions

intention - a sliding scale

I am not always a big fan of the big smoke, but yesterday London was great.  Actually, I think London was probably the same as it always was but the day itself was great!

After two meetings with potential investors, I went along to the national Retail Skillsmart conference at the Grosvenor hotel.  There was lots of talk about retail being the fastest growing sector, about it being the largest sector employer in the UK and about its resilience to downturn and capacity for impact and growth.  After all the glowing stuff the HR Director of one of the Big Four retail employers stood up and spoke about their commitment to skills and training.  After some great slides about the 100,000 NVQs delivered to staff and the 20,000 apprenticeships completed we were coming to the big finale.  Then there it was…CREATE’s logo on the screen and an announcement of their commitment to offer 10% of the jobs they create to people coming out of the CREATE Potential pre-employment academy.

Even doing the calculations on the back of a fag packet, that seemed like the sort of impact that makes my heart race.  Then came the closing ‘sell’.  They love working with us, because the partnership delivers impact and (from a very commercial operator) reduces attrition, provides them with well trained and highly motivated staff and reduces their bottom line HR and recruitment costs.  So why (here was the sell) are you CEO’s and HR Directors of all the other major national retailers not a part of this too. Come and join us in a retail consortium designed to make a difference.  

Good sell.  Good day all round.

On the train on the way back with the aforementioned HR Director and a perfectly decent meal we did some more long journey debrief chatting.  On the back of a napkin, (I think I had lost the fag packet), we did a drawing…

We, as a social enterprise, turn over close to £1M, employ 35 staff and transition 80 trainees a year into employment.  They turn over £15.4B (that’s B) and employ 140,000 people and create around 20,000 new jobs each year.  So, if they were to take 10% of their new starters from our academy and if they could get 6 other major retailers to do they same, who then has the greatest impact, who is social, who is enterprise?

Is social enterprise about numbers, impact or intention?  Our mission statement says we exist to see people who have been homeless secure in a sustainable job and theirs says ‘good shopkeeping’ or something similar, so is it the intention or the outcome that makes the real difference.

When we won the Trailblazing Newcomer at the SE100 award this year, Doug Richard said (very nicely) “so what”.  If social enterprise only seeks to applaud itself we will be the poorer for it and so will the world.  If we use our skills in enterprising multi-sectoral networking to transform the opportunities and to change major retailers and employers is the win not bigger?

So is it about numbers, scale, impact or intention?  Well I am not sure really, but one thing of which I am very very sure: I will never ever buy a round of drinks at the Grosvener Hotel and I adjure you strongly to heed my advice on this.


About Sarah Dunwell

Sarah Dunwell is executive director of Arena Partners and has twenty years experience in the corporate and business sector. After a number of senior roles in customer service and retail management, Sarah led her own successful catering business and is experienced in business turn around and SME growth. Sarah has a particular interest in the role of robust business planning and development in the not-for-profit sector. Her passion lies in seeing social businesses grow successfully and sustainably through creating mature businesses that deliver strong social agendas.
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