Now far be it from me to use my blog to let off a little steam or pick a fight. Far be it from me to pick a fight with Liam Black, especially seeing as we’re having lunch in Leeds next week!
But here goes, with perhaps another perspective on his leader article…
One thing I do have to agree with Liam on is this. I think it is the time for social enterprise to stick its neck out and get some backbone. I think it is time for social enterprise to recognise that when you take money from the piper they call the tune and sometimes they change the score or rip up the music. But I guess that is where my experience is different from the example Liam, with great passion and guts, points to. I love Jude. I don’t know what product or service he sells and so I do wonder if he is a social entrepreneur or rather an amazing visionary leader of a grass roots charity that changes many lives. We get ourselves muddled when we confuse the two, I think. And so, you see, there has always been the problem with the piper calling the tune.
I am not the world greatest fan of the government. They have got some things right, they have got some things wrong. But fundamentally I think that social enterprise is about the hard truth that there is no they, no them, only us. If social transformation is going to happen and happen with scale and impact, it is not ‘they’ that are going to do it it is ‘us’. It is me.
I think that those social enterprises whose business plan has centred on the drawing down of government contracts in order to deliver a service in their community are in trouble, but that isn’t true of all businesses. During this tough tough period Create is successfully seeking investment, expanding into new cities, growing and developing all the time. That is because our business plan is based on that etherial Harvard Business School dictum of selling stuff, food in our case. We have production kitchens and outside catering operations, new brasseries opening up and an Academy with 100 former homeless people on the journey to a job each year. And so that is my gripe as a social entrepreneur – sell stuff. I don’t mind what. Products or services, it doesn’t really matter, sell stuff that people will put pounds in your hand for. Lots of stuff to lots of people for lots of pounds. Then, when you have done that, build your great big social impact on that strong platform. That way you are the piper and you call the tune. I always wanted to call the tune, to say “this is what I sell and this is what I choose to do with the money”.
When I went to the Big Society Reception a couple of weeks ago at Number 10, and yes I did have a cheeky little Soave, David Cameron asked what he could do to support social enterprise. I thought about offering a diatribe on welfare reform but settled for the simple approach, “Who does your catering? We are a great food company and I think we could offer you a great product and a great service”. In my world that is the social enterprise approach.
I think that all the great radical social movements from diggers and levellers to the first co-operators imagined a different world and thought business was a great way to get there. Building businesses that are sustainable and delivering social impact from there, that way we plough our own furrow and no one tells us otherwise.
So Liam, I think we agree, kinda, and I would love to debate this if you still want to come for lunch. Let’s find leaders with some backbone and in the fires of the current climate lets lead and challenge, but let’s start that not with ‘they’ but with ‘we’ eh?