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Thursday 8 August 2013

Be socially enterprising

The future will be knowledge and experience rich but increasingly, the current fracking bonanza not withstanding, resource and materials poor. There will be more people and organisations able to do good in the world but also more conflict about what exactly 'good' is. All these extra people with have immense potential but they will also need to be fed and housed.

So the future can be summed up as both hopeful and scary, and it is people working effectively in collaboration that will help realise the former and avoid the latter.

In order to survive and thrive in this increasingly complex and demanding future world partnerships and collaborations will need to be:

  1. Pioneering pathfinders
  2. Masters of the paradox
  3. Challenging and disruptive
  4. Influential players
  5. Socially enterprising
  6. Populated by a new breed of collaborative worker
  7. Purposefully transformative

Be socially enterprising

Firstly, you will have noticed in previous posts that I have tended to talk about social enterprise businesses as if they are collaborative initiatives. I need to explain this. When you examine how most social enterprises go about their business it becomes obvious that partnership and collaboration are essential to their approach and success. They will readily partner with recognised charities relevant to their activities and seek out other mutually beneficial partners from the private and public sector, as well as from within their own social enterprise network. Added to this, the predisposition of those that start up and lead social enterprises tends to be heavily biased towards a collaborative approach. This is further strengthened by the diversity of those working within and leading social enterprises, which necessitates a collaborative and participative style of management and communication in order to get things done.


  • Belu, the bottled water social enterprise, partners with and donates 100% of its profits to the charity WaterAid. It has also partnered with other businesses to create new ethical products. Furthermore, its predisposition towards a collaborative, sharing approach is demonstrated by its willingness to share the products it develops with other companies and businesses, so creating ethical capital that is steadily being converted into monetary capital for its partner charity through the attraction of morally motivated customers.
  • The Boards of Big Society Capital, the first mainstream social enterprise bank, consist of people from backgrounds and sectors that are quite diverse when compared with those of the board members of mainstream banks. This helps ensure that a wide variety of interests and perceptions are sort and taken into account during leadership discussions and decision making.

In the future partnerships will need to do more with less and compete for, protect and share ever diminishing resources. To do this they will need to adopt the social enterprise model and adapt it to their requirements. They will need to add a hard-headed business approach to their key activities to ensure continued funding and access to adequate resources. They will need to assimilate business continuity and resiliency planning into their overall collaborative and partnering approach to safeguard their people, resources and activities. They will also need to think carefully and systematically when selecting partners and forming collaborations, 'partnership proofing' collaborations to ensure their rationale and goals and the collaborative and business readiness of partners are consistent with that required for success.  Lastly, they will need to tap into the power and opportunities derived from their fusion of collaborative and business approaches, using them to go where other businesses dare not go and do what other businesses dare not do.


  • An enterprise, employment and training community interest company  (CIC) used a professional future proofing service to assure its business continuity and resilience. It also, as is common practice for social enterprises, ensured that its various partners and members could gain access to future proofing, so helping ensure their collaborative and business readiness.

  • The Heathrow Express Rail Link Project was a large-scale mainstream business project that exhibited some characteristics of the social enterprise approach, mainly through the way it sort to engage with and involve local businesses, so helping develop the economies of the areas within which it was working. The project initiated an on-going series of 'Scouting Meetings'. The purpose of these meetings was to identify and engage with potential partners who would be able to help the project address the challenges associated with specific stages of its work. The meetings explored the fit between the needs of the project and the knowledge, skills and resources of the potential partners. Additionally, they would have enabled the project to identify the level of collaborative readiness of potential partners and whether or not help and support were needed to increase it. Potential partners' organisational culture, style of communication and decision making, and approach to conflict resolution and problem solving would have been examined to find out if they were conducive to effective collaborative working.

  • Barefoot Power is a social enterprise that has gone and done things in areas where other mainstream businesses may fear to go. It combines its collaborative approach,  specialised knowledge and business savvy to work flexibly and innovatively with low income populations in developing countries, providing them with affordable renewable energy to power light sources and charge mobile phones. It does what the social enterprise movement does best: reduce poverty and create new markets.

Look out for future posts that will deal with the 2 remaining aspects listed above.

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