Tag Archives: social entrepreneurship

 The North as a digital, innovative powerhouse for change and growth…


The great Northern Powerhouse concept has it’s detractors, as well as those who warmly embrace vast spendiing on infrastructure projects betwixt North and South. The whole designed to energise a swathe of our country, and its economic and social infrastructure, at a stroke.

Larry Elliot, writing recently in The Guardian, declares that the Centre for Cities think tank has the right view and that George Osborne is wrong. Namely that investment is needed in cities and conurbations ‘North of Watford’ in order to achieve the right mix of enterprise, social energy and innovation.

In his article Elliot looks at the productivity and infrastructure links between several Randstadt and Rhine-Ruhr cities. Already much more productive than similar cities in the North of England, he argues, the real difference is that investment has been made in the cities, not between them.

Whether transport, high speed internet or enterprise culture are stimulated, the key difference on the Ruhr/Randstat axis is the level of skills available to feed growth in research, output and market identification, he argues.

A new RSA report argues ‘… for a departure from the usual way of ‘doing tech’, where digital businesses operate in siloes, often untethered from the places in which they operate. It is within the North’s gift to forge a different path…’

View, print or download this report here…pdf

It is this focus on the sub-region, on the drivers of city based innovation, that when aggregated as evidence creates a new paradigm of achievement for the wider region. The sweeping gesture, the Osborneian grand statement, is proven only by examining the microeconomic context of the city regions as an ensemble, we would argue.

In this new report from the RSA (.pdf), Benedict Dellot et al approach the North of England with this city hinterland and regional sectoral analysis in mind.

The new work, Digital Powerhouse (.pdf), uses the digital economy of the north of England as both metaphor and research instance to examine and make suggestions for development. The findings are striking…

‘…the North’s digital economy is creating jobs at ten time the rate of the region’s non-digital sectors. In the last five years the productivity of the digital economy grew by 11.3%. The figure was 2.5% for the non-digital economy’.  Source: Infographic, p.2 of Digital Powerhouse

The DIgital Powerhouse report makes fourteen profound recommendations to capitalise on the digital premium recognised in the North of England.

These range from the creation of a ‘Procurement Powerhouse’ social enterprise to link tech businesses with public sector procurement processes. An adjunct to this suggestion is a move to persuade public sector commissioners and buyers to declare a ‘problem based’ commissioning approach, affording opportunities for innovators and researchers in the tech sphere to be just that, innovative, in order to get a seat at the table of ‘government spend’.

Similarly Dellot et al call for a new ‘contract portal’,  suggested to bring together opportunities to supply both the public and private sectors with tech innovation. Also on the supply side, the report suggests the championing of ‘tech co-operatives’ in the North. Striving to achieve critical mass and drive to market by tech innovators in the North, through closer co-operation and affiliation.

The regional recommendation aspect of the report make it easy to argue that this research could be the basis of a meta-development framework of policy and practice for any region with growing technology sectors. North or South.

As Eileen Burbidge, Chair of Tech City UK says in the report ‘…this report shines a brilliant light on all the assets and opportunities already underway which serve as a foundation for the growth of the new Digital Northern Powerhouse‘. Source: Burbidge, introduction: p.5 Digital Powerhouse

You can see a fuller RSA narrative on their web pages here. This report is freely available to all on the web.

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We were putting together some training material for social enterprise development at the office, doing the day job, and rediscovered this Ted Talk by Jason Fried, founder of  37 Signals and the author of Rework.

It’s been a useful tool in the past to get groups to think about the nature of work, their place in it and how to react to the pressure of meetings and interruptions.

Fried makes some telling points about the quality of the interrupted process when we gather in the office. It is, of course, a gentle trumpet for the remote worker and the internet connected working life.

None the less, the argument about how offices are ‘factories for interruption’ and only real work takes place when individuals are ‘remote’ is telling. He also looks at the need for creatives – authors, designers, engineers etc., to access quiet space. As well as debunking the old management myth ‘…if I can’t see you, you can’t be working‘. More often sounded in the 21st Century than you might think.

We like his summary points at the end. Go on, cancel that meeting today!

(Check out our Productive Paradigms page for more articles on the world of work…Ed).

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Looking ahead to 2015
Looking ahead to 2015

During the summer of 2014 the Society sent out a survey to the Fellowship, seeking their responses on a number of issues and asking for their views and comments.

Below is a copy that analysis, garnered from the 29% of Fellows who responded, along with some thoughts from the conversationsEAST team as to how our contribution to the work of the Fellowship might be flexed, in response to the findings.

The summary findings from The House indicated the following…

“Overall responses to the survey were positive. Over two-thirds of Fellows join–at least partially–to support our mission, the quality of almost all of our outputs is seen as very high and by far the majority of Fellows are intending to renew their Fellowship. The Survey also generated a large amount of information that can be used to guide ongoing Fellowship development”.

Key findings included…

  • There is less satisfaction with local events compared to other areas of our work.
  • There are a large number of Fellows wanting to self- organise but are frustrated at being unable to do so.
  • There are a large number of Fellows wanting to self- organise but are frustrated at being unable to do so.
  • Some Fellows want to be more involved in the work we do.
  • There is a lack of knowledge about what we do. Across the seven RSA Projects included in the survey, `have not heard of it at all’ accounted for between a quarter and a half of all responses.
  • Younger people and females are less likely to recommend the Fellowship to suitable people than others
  • There are strong regional variations in how Fellows perceive the RSA.

(Key findings drawn from the RSA Fellowship summary report – Ed.)

Looking forward into 2015 we have recently published our ‘road-map’ as a journal, where we have been working with Tim, our new Fellowship Councillor in the East, to develop a series of gatherings to explore how Fellows can become more engaged with the Society.

pdfIcon4You can view, print or download a copy of the 2014 RSA Survey here

See the Survey here…

We will, as stated, pivot these, supporting Tim directly in the delivery of a series of Fellowship Councillor Surgeries across the region. This might help inform and engage the interested Fellowship directly. Offering an informal setting, with refreshments, for the survey itself to be discussed and for Tim to explain and heighten awareness of the work and input of the Fellowship Council itself. One of the findings in the survey was that many Fellows were unaware of the function of the Fellowship Council, for example.

Another way forward, we would argue, would be to foster the engagement of female Fellows, either as new Fellows, or to develop some way to engage with the Fellowship on a gender basis. We have written before in this journal and in our regional annual reports about the gender imbalances, including in the Fellowship, in our region.

(We could start an Otrera Group in every region to foster the engagement and promotion of Fellowship skills by gender, for example? -Ed.)

If this imbalance in Fellowship is ‘normalised’ across all regions, we would look to develop a campaign/project to engage by gender across adjacent regions for example. Sharing both the information in the recent survey, but garnering explicit local knowledge on gender bias as part of the project initiation work.

(Having talked so long about the matter, it seems that a short burst of positive discrimination, in terms of engagement and resources, might go a long way? -Ed.)

In our publishing activities we will develop a ‘Fellows have their say!’ web journal page. Where the Fellowship can directly contribute to the regional debate in the East. This might be particularly useful in bolstering the regional events catalogue in terms of feedback or activity recommendation. All this information will be passed directly and securely to the Eastern Region Fellowship team, of course.

We will foster and web publish a set of ‘View from the Fellowship Council’ reports. Getting Tim to write a regular review of Council activity and debate, in a generalised way, which can feed into regional meetings and, more importantly, be immediately available to the wider regional Fellowship. Helping to support and deliver a clearer understanding of its work and role.

We think the new RSA web site, arriving this month, which will enable Fellows to contact each other directly if they wish, offers an important and effective mechanism for pan regional co-operation, as well as improving inter-region project and activity development. We look forward to reviewing it on our web pages.

Also useful, we believe, will be the launch of artSUFFUSION, our sister arts focused web journal. We are refining the publication manifesto this month.

We hope that by combining the arts, crafts and making into one energy stream in the region, whilst connecting new conversationsEAST social enterprise start-up projects, we can also help convert our Society’s brilliant research papers and mission into real world examples of sustainable community business and social outcome funded projects.

We look forward to 2015, hoping that our readers will come along with us?

The conversationsEAST team.

Article image credit: David J. Thomas via photopin cc



The RSA Action and Research Centre have just published Salvation in a start-up? The origins and nature of the self-employment boom (Benedict Dellot, May 2014).

A collaboration between The RSA and Etsy, an on-line creative and craft market place, founded in New York in 2005, the report is part of a forthcoming series which…

examines what types of micro-businesses are becoming more commonplace? What has caused the large increase in recent years? And what effect are they having on the economy and wider society?

self employment 2014 cover pic
New markets, new people?

The report argues that the current economic landscape contains six tribes of self employment. The Visionaries, the Classicals, the Independents, the Locals, the Survivors and the Dabblers.

We at conversationsEAST would have liked to see a seventh category, or is it an overlay to do with motive for the existing players? That of the ‘socially motivated’ self employed. Whether a visionary at the top of the list or a part-time, older dabbler at the bottom, all may have begun their entrepreneurial journey with a passion to undertake an ethical, socially focused business or activity.

(There must be Fellows in the East of England who fit into this latter, socially motivated cohort, given the ‘societal change’ remit of our Society? – Ed.)

pdfIcon4 Download a full copy of this report in pdf format here...

The largest of the cohort surveyed were the Survivors. Earning less, and more likely to be younger. Whilst the argument for overwhelming market competition that forces this group to struggle to survive may be a good one, if viewed through a more ethical, social business lens, the lack of focus on personal income but rather on softer, less tangible social outcomes for an entrepreneur like this would also affect the findings too.

Another interesting focus in the report is the Happiness Paradox. The traditional view of self employment, it can be argued, is of an isolated, stressed individual who struggles to make ends meet. This rather cliched description is belied by other findings that suggest those who seek self employment are ‘…more content at work and happier in their lives’.

Stress there is, without doubt, but the RSA report highlights other academic research that sees the development of self employed enterprise as ‘…long periods of relative stability punctuated by critical episodes of transition and change’. The gains for the individual in life outcome are only punctuated by pains periodically. The management of change, or how to pivot the enterprise, is a key skill for the entrepreneurial micro-business, social or otherwise.

Do these finding matter? Yes they do. The RSA research findings offer a subtle and detailed analysis of self employment, its conditioning, content and motive. It disposes of the traditionally held viewpoint that older people, who are pushed or pulled into self employment, represent the core. When in fact, by age, motive and shades of effectiveness the position is more complex.

Does this affect our region? Yes it does. This focus on self employment, who by and how it is operated should condition the thinking of Fellows who are looking at projects involving education, social entrepreneurship, skills and sectoral growth in any field. Self employment is a conditional state. Entrepreneurship is about opportunity recognition and the philosophy of risk. The two are connected.

The ‘social business’, delivered by one or a group of entrepreneurs, wholly focused on social outcome is, we would argue at conversationsEAST, a sound model for sustainability of a project. What a great solution to economic change and development in communities – social entrepreneurs delivering innovative ethical business models over time.

Arguably, if the new report Salvation in a Start-up has rewritten the self employment landscape, combining it with social enterprise can re-write a community landscape? What do you think?

interneticon  See the report highlights in the Enterprise section of The RSA Action & Research Centre web pages here…


The short film below, from the TED talks series, is delivered Harish Manwani, the Chief Operating Officer of Unilever. It is not, perhaps surprisingly,  an advertisement for soup or soap.

Harish joined Unilever in 1976, rising up the corporate ladder, to his current eminent position. This talk seeks to add to the three basic tenets of growth, Manwani argues, which traditionally is built upon consistency, competitiveness and profitability, by adding responsibility.

The notion of adding social value as a contingent outcome with economic value is not new, but the telling of it by a key player in a world wide corporation is remarkable.

Manwani tells of the Unilever project, interneticon Shakti, which seeks to empower women in small business (..and to sell soap). But he argues with passion that science underpins his company’s activity, yet teaches millions about hygiene and hand washing as life saving activities.

‘A brand can be at the forefront of social change’ he says – this is a powerful argument for the interneticon Social Business model we think. Do you agree?


This month the Skoll Foundation, based in Palo Alto, California announced the winners of their 2014 Skoll Award prizes for societal innovation. Driving forward help for the dispossessed and disconnected.

Each winning organisation receives $1.25 million dollars and a support package over three years from the Foundation. ‘The Skoll Award distinguishes transformative leaders who are disrupting the status quo, driving large-scale change, and are poised to make an even greater impact on the world…’.

This year the winners represent seven organisations, working in partnership across 35 countries, who are achieving outstanding results in tackling societal problems of the prime magnitude. ‘Driving transformation on a range of issues to maximize health, education, opportunity, transparency, and accountability in some of the poorest places on earth, these pioneers should be on the watch lists of everyone who cares about the future of the world…’. The winners are featured below.

B Lab        interneticon Connect with B Lab on the web here.

‘B Lab is fueling a global movement to redefine “success” in business, so that all companies compete not only to be the best in the world, but the best for the world. B Lab is challenging the status quo by building a new sector, legal structure, and standards; …advancing public policies that enable companies to create financial, social, and environmental value for both its shareholders and for society’.

Fundación Capital               interneticon  Connect with Fundación Capital  on the web here.

‘Fundación Capital is a pioneer in inclusive finance innovation to help the poor save; grow and invest their assets; insure their families against risk; and chart a permanent path out of poverty. Already reaching three million people, Fundación Capital is working to reach eight million more in the next few years by expanding access to training, capital, and opportunity…’

Girls Not Brides                      interneticon   Connect with Girls Not Brides  on the web here.

‘…the bold goal of ending child marriage in one generation. Child marriage traps girls and their communities in poverty. By ending the practice, the global community can start to address some of the most difficult challenges in development. Girls Not Brides is a global partnership of more than 300 civil society organizations working across 50 countries’.

Global Witness                        interneticon  Connect with  Global Witness on the web here.

‘Global Witness investigates and exposes the shadow networks underlying  deals over natural resources that fuel conflict, corruption, and environmental destruction. They collect evidence and launch hard-hitting campaigns to find global solutions and end the “resource curse” by tackling corruption, protecting the environment, preventing conflict, and defending human rights’.

Medic Mobile                                           interneticon    Connect with Medic Mobile on the web here.

 ‘Medic Mobile builds mobile applications for community health workers, caregivers, and patients to increase life-saving health care coverage. Across 20 countries, its tools support 8,000 frontline health workers and benefit approximately six million people with plans to double these numbers annually for a total of 200,000 health workers serving 100 million people by 2018’.

Slum Dwellers International (SDI)                   interneticon   Connect with SDI on the web here.

‘Slum Dwellers International works to have slums recognized as vibrant, resourceful, and dignified communities. SDI organizes slum dwellers to take control of their futures; improve their living conditions; and gain recognition as equal partners with governments and international organizations in the creation of inclusive cities. With programs in nearly 500 cities, including more than 15,000 slum dweller-managed savings groups reaching one million people…’

Water & Sanitation for the Urban Poor (WSUP)            interneticon Connect with WSUP on the web

‘Water & Sanitation for the Urban Poor has turned the traditional charity model on its head by developing commercially-viable models to bring water and sanitation to nearly two million people in urban slums in six countries…offering a creative package of private-sector, nongovernmental-organization, and academic expertise, WSUP equips public and private service agencies with the capacity and incentives to serve all citizens in their city’.

Every one of these projects represent a paradigm shift in how lack of resources of all kinds are tackled. Two favourites of ours were WSUP and Global Witness.

WSUP presents practical and openly available resources about how to get the water flowing. We also warmed to the new Global Witness campaign to press for the abandonment of ‘anonymous’ companies. Making it harder to hide corporate actions and ethical deficits behind un-named business registrations.

We were inspired to start a social business for good. Were you?

Project narratives: Courtesy of The Skoll Foundation.


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News Desk image by Markus Winkler, Creative Commons, Unsplash...