My Tipping Point

I have never been a big fan of the cult of the social entrepreneur, the idea that we inspire and initiate great ideas or change by putting all our collective resources into identifying (or worse still, creating) individual leaders who epitomise and drive forward change.  Great ideas, structures, strategies and teams are all as important as the one founder or driver and if we lose sight of this we damage not only the great idea but also the people we place on pedestals to deliver them.

Although I believe this passionately I also know that there is no great social, religious or political movement that has existed without people who in their very being made those ideas, structures and strategies real, became totems of the vision and allowed people to feel, touch, interrogate and interact with ‘the big idea’.

When I started Create I had no ambition to be a social entrepreneur or leader, I just thought it was a sensible idea to try to run a good business that made a positive social impact. Now though, five years on, I realise that I am that entrepreneur and leader that people look to. Five years ago what I did know was how important networking was.  I spent days, evenings and weekends attending events to meet with people I didn’t know. I spent countless hours on trains up and down to London. I drank endless cups of bad coffee in out of the way places and all the time I told the story, the Create story, my story hundreds and thousands of times.

And for most of the time in the early years it felt like all that effort was wasted and I felt I might run out of steam.  Just recently though, just in this year, after gathering together a great team, I feel I am at a tipping point.  I don’t need to scour the internet any more to find out the places I should go, I get invited to them…often as a speaker or a VIP guest.  The people I wanted so desperately to meet and tell the story to, call me and ask to meet for lunch.  And all of a sudden, they’re paying! 

Perhaps that is what is meant by the tipping point?  I’m certainly very glad that I found people around me who could encourage me on that journey so that I didn’t run out of steam just before it all started to really happen.  I wonder how many people with great ideas didn’t reach their tipping point because their batteries just ran flat before things tipped.

This week, I’ve been offered the opportunity to attend a number of high profile events, including one of the large music festivals.  The organiser is an honorary graduate of the same university I am, and it’ll be a great connection to make.  My 17 year old daughter (who bought her ticket months ago) thinks I’m lucky.  Funny, isn’t it…as Samuel Goldwyn said…the harder I work, the luckier I become!

When I first started to think about increasing the positive impact that Create has on communities I sat with a team from one of the biggest investment banks in the world asking them for advice on how to get my business ready for investment.  I had all my plans in my hand and all my slides prepared and you know what, they didn’t look at one of them, they told me that people invest in people not plans.

Now that I feel that interest each day, that passion to take the Create ‘big idea’ or other social enterprise ‘big ideas’ and make it even bigger and I am left with the image of that vessel I have filled tipping and flowing over.

I guess more than anything in the last five years I have learning that inspiring and equipping leaders is really important but not always in the ways that have been tried. Within our Academy we passionately believe that if you come from a background of massive disadvantage the very best way to learn all the habits and cultures of being a great employee is through spending lots of time with people who are great employees. That why every person in my business is a coach. That’s why trainees spend three months in our Academy, not in a training room but in the business. Trainees work every day alongside our staff and lots of time out of the workplace with them. That’s because we become infected with the habits and cultures of people by being exposed to them, not by sitting through a power point seminar about what those habits are! I guess I feel very lucky to have got to where I am in my journey and now I am working out how to share that learning not through presentations but through an immersive coaching experience. I am not sure how that will work yet but I think I have learned all I need to know, as so often, not through some businesses mentoring programme but through learning from our trainees, listening to them and putting that learning into practice.

I guess now I just have two new challenges, not to let the baby be thrown out with the tipping water and not to let myself get poured out either.

I will give some thought to that and get back to you in another five years!

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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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