Pioneers Post
your blogs
On 2 January 2012 - 7:47pm

2011 was a big year for social enterprise. It was the year when it became clear that the party really was over for us, too. That for all the coalition government’s warm words about social enterprise that warmth was not going to translate into cash – either in terms of direct funding for social enterprise support or in terms of interventions to tilt the public sector market in our favour.

One way or another, New Labour put a reasonable chunk of money into supporting and promoting social enterprise. That money may not always have been spent on the most useful things but there’s no doubt that it played a big role in building the profile of the sector over the last ten years. Now most of that money’s gone and what’s left will soon be gone too.

The effects of the wind-up of ...more

On 29 December 2011 - 2:39pm

For those of us who worked closely with ambitious start-up social enterprises during the tail end of the first bubble, the business strategy known as ‘build it and they will come’ is a familiar one. In those days, most thrusting young (or, at least, young at heart) web-based social entrepreneurs had a varation on ‘build it…’ as their elevator pitch. It was a great elevator pitch, you could get it across easily even if you were only going one floor and the pitchee was concentrating on something else for most of the journey.

The least painful stage for ‘build it and they will come’ to fail at is stage 1. While it seems frustrating, those web-based social entrepreneurs who generally lost least money (theirs or other people’s) in the early years of this century were the ones who didn’t actually manage to find the elusive techie who could complete the website to their detailed specifications based on their tiny budget. Slightly more cash was frittered away by those who ...more

On 24 December 2011 - 7:14pm

It’s been a challenging year for social enterprise, with no shortage of warm words from politicians and business leaders but a distinct shortage of funding and income generation. Here’s a chance to get into (or remain in) the Christmas spirit with a festive quiz celebrating some of the significant events of the year.

Please email your answers to the email address here. The first correct entry drawn out of my winter hat (or the entry with the most correct answers, or the person who enters) will win an annual subscription to Social Spider‘s popular mental health magazine, One in Four. Closing date: December 31st 2011.


1. Assura Healthcare, the private healthcare provider that beat social enterprise, ...more

On 19 December 2011 - 12:37am

When pursuing the holy grail of sustainability, as all charities and social enterprises must now at least claim to be doing, the major emphasis is usually on developing new sources of income.

As the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO) Sustainable Funding Project explains: “Increasingly charities are being told to move away from grant dependency, become more business like, earn income, develop an asset base and consider loan finance. And opportunities for delivering public services are increasing. Enabling organisations to see the bigger picture and develop the skills and resources to take control of their future is critical.

One problem this creates, as already ...more

On 17 December 2011 - 8:59pm

“What do we want? Sustainability. When do we want it? Soon.”

If public agencies and major grant-funders were a group of protesters walking along the road chanting their philosophies for delivering social change in the UK, that’s the sort of thing they’d be chanting. In most cases, the slightly less snappy follow-up chant would be:

“Whose money do we want it to be paid for with? Someone else’s.”

Sustainability is the current holy grail for the voluntary sector in the UK. The government’s Big Lottery distributed, Transition Fund, awarded cash to organisations to enable them to find ways to survive without lost government funding. For many organisations, social enterprise is one of the suggested routes to that holy grail but clearly both social enterprises, and socially enterprising activities carried out by others, are also themselves mostly still in ...more

On 14 December 2011 - 1:06am

In recent weeks, I’ve been reading some of the Third Sector Research Centre(TSRC)’s work on Below the Radar organisations.  As TSRC’s researchers explain here, “‘Below the radar’ has become a short-hand term for small community groups who are either not registered with the Charity Commission or other regulatory bodies and/or lack a regular, substantial annual income.

As noted in Angus McCabe’s paper Below the Radar in a Big Society, published in December last year, it’s difficult to work out how many of these organisations there are: “ ...more

On 7 December 2011 - 8:57pm

Yesterday, I was in Birmingham for my first meeting as an elected member of the Council of national social enterprise support organisation, Social Enterprise UK (SEUK). The list of Council members, available if you follow the above link, hasn’t been updated yet but I am on the council as an elected representative of SEUK’s social enterprise members.

Readers won’t be surprised to learn that one of yesterday’s major discussions was around the future of social enterprise support in the UK. Given my role as a representative rather than a journalist, it would be impolite to report details of what fellow council members and SEUK staff had to say (they are, of course, very welcome to contribute comments to this blog) but I think it’s reasonable to report that – broadly speaking – a grand plan for preserving regional support did not emerge ...more

On 5 December 2011 - 2:08pm

This is a break from my usual thoughts on the world of social enterprise – though not entirely disconnected. My social enterprise, Social Spider CIC, is launching a new publication today. It’s called Better Mental Health in a Bigger Society? and it’s published by mental health umbrella organisation, Mental Health Providers Forum. If you’d like to read it, it’s available for download here.

The thinkpiece – which I’ve written with my colleague, Mark Brown, editor of mental health magazine, One in Four magazine - looks at the opportunities and challenges created for people ...more

On 29 November 2011 - 1:03pm

“What’s been lacking, until now, is a comprehensive survey of the social investment market that goes beyond case study and anecdote to provide real data on the different players, their finances and their business models.” 

So says Nick O’Donohue, Chief Executive of Big Society Capital, in his introduction to Lighting the touchpaper – Growing the Market for Social Investment in England, a new report jointly published by The Young Foundation and The Boston Consulting Group. Social investment’s not a subject that been starved of research recently, aside from ...more

On 25 November 2011 - 10:18am

Today might be a great day for social enterprise. Today’s the day that Chris White MP’s Public Services (Social Value) Bill reaches its report stage in the House of Commons which – roughly speaking – means it’s almost completed its journey through the House of Commons, at which point it will move to the House of Lords.

The main aim of the Bill is to tackle the perceived failure – certainly perceived by social entrepreneurs – of public sector agencies to consider wider social value (beyond price and competence) when commissioning services from outside providers.

For those readers who haven’t been following the story so far, White’s original Bill had ‘social enterprise’ in the title and included a clear definition of what a social enterprise was. It also committed councils (and the government) to producing social enterprise strategies but ...more