Archive for January, 2010

Get more from your local store

January 29, 2010 Leave a comment

One of the other trends that Ireland has been slow to pick up on is the idea of the community or social enterprise grocery store. At a time when the local stores have all but disappeared to be replaced with franchise or international grocery stores, it may seem inopportune to set one of these up.

But in the North America where the big brands dominate there are a number of successful entrepreneurial organisations in this area. Sevananda  is a natural foods market in Atlanta for example, consumer owned and running now for thirty three years and counting. Or the Peoples Grocery in Oakland California whose core mission is around Food Justice, the belief that healthy food is a human right.

And not just in North America. Take Echo store in the Philipines, ECHO stands for environment and community hope organisation. A social enterprise, it offers clients a one stop shop to help start living a sustainable lifestyle.

And not just individual stores either. Look at the Carrot Common, a unique partnership (coming from the cooperative model), structured as a joint venture with a number of social enterprises and for-profit organisations as partners.  This partnership owns Carrot Common mall which includes 17 stores (total of 21,000 square feet,; 10,000 square feet of office space, and 33 parking spaces). In this unique legal set-up over 50% of Commons profits flow to organisations that benefit the community, including to a social venture capital fund operated by the Cooperative Resource Pool of Ontario and a charitable fund.

There are literally hundreds of models out there. At a time when food and health are major issues particularly in disadvantaged communities, surely there is room for more of these in Ireland?


Competing with the For-Profit World

January 28, 2010 Leave a comment

One of the interesting trends that is starting to appear is the involvement of more-than-profit/non-profit organisations in the ‘Green tech’ world. This shouldn’t be surprising as many NGO’s have been working on power generation and alternative means of power in the developing world for decades. So the new movement towards both alternative energy solutions and recycling suit the sector well. What will be interesting is the fact that this means social enterprises will directly compete with for-profit organisations. Both sides have assets and liabilities.

Many for-profit organisations have attempted to gain the ‘cuddly’ appeal to customers whether through corporate social responsibility programmes, in-house volunteering or involvement in projects like the RED campaign. Social enterprises often have the assets to build a very strong brand through the trust that their brands evoke with the public automatically. For example organisations like the World Wildlife Fund have used their brand worth to generate increased funding from corporate donors.

Of course social enterprises have always competed to some degree – whether for resources (funding, best staff) or competiting with other causes to make an impact and by default build a brand.

And social enterprises are being enticed to compete in other areas, not just in the green sector. The British government have a project called Social Enterprise: Winning with 2012 about how social enterprises can get part of the large cake that will be the 2012 London Olympics. This makes sense as social enterprises have been encouraged in in the past in the UK to compete for government contracts through the procurement system.

Often when I mention ‘competition’ to people from the social sector at least 20% have a reaction to the use of the word (surprise, disgust, irritation). There is no doubt the sector is changing radically and increased competition is part of this change. We should embrace it.

Perception and Funding

January 27, 2010 Leave a comment

It is unfortunate that so many of the State agencies tend to ignore social enterprises as a source of job creation and value creation. Perhaps this is in part because social enterprises tend to play down this part of their development instead concentrating on their social agenda or objectives.

As other countries develop the infrastructure to support and grow the social sector, Ireland will need to play catch up. More defined research about exactly how many jobs are in the sector and an estimation of how many could be created with some support would be helpful for the argument. Where countries have developed strategies around social enterprise, they have highlighted the greater value the sector is creating. At a time when the dole numbers are increasing on a weekly basis, it may be better for the sector as a whole to give an additional angle to the government and public at large.

The days of enthusiastic but amateur local social enterprises is somewhat at an end. Organisations like Social Enterpreneurs Ireland have been highlighting social entrepreneurs for some years now and this at least is a start but I am constantly amazed at how many people look blankly at me when I talk about social enterprises. Not only that but I recently had an argument with some associates recently, most of whom worked in industry who had a rather jaundiced view of the sector and saw it mostly as an additional to the welfare state at best.

We need considerably more promotion of the sector so that people see any investment as just that – an investment and not the old idea that this is money for social programmes that at best stem social problems and don’t create value. Perception is reality, and at the moment for the vast majority the perception is not in the sectors interests.

Bleeding from the Top

January 26, 2010 3 comments

In my experience as a member of middle management, a consultant or indeed as a board member of various organisations, it became obvious that the quality of the leadership involved was a vital component of the strategic planning process and its implementation.  I have seen business units that were floundering under one manager suddenly become strong, vibrant and meaningful under a new leader.

To comprehend and cope with our environment we develop mental patterns or concepts of meaning…..(sic) to sketch out how we destroy and create these patterns to permit us to both shape and be shaped by a changing environment (Boyd 1976)

So why are so few of our leaders, at all levels within an organisation, capable of acting this way? Despite thousands of years of strategic thinking and development, the art or discipline of strategic thinking continually gets caught in a form of paralysis.  There is no doubt that this is because of the lack of innovative thought among leadership, particularly in middle management.

This failure of management cannot be diagnosed simply as the ‘Peter Principle’ or the idea that individuals may be promoted to their point of incompetence. In many cases, the very people who, excelled at the finest educational institutions, are more often than not, poor leaders with little strategic or tactical innovation. Can you offer a reason why? Social enterprises often have leadership and management issues. The use of training or mentorship programmes tends to be underused and the fragmented nature of the sector doesn’t help.

Being Paranoid Part 1

January 25, 2010 Leave a comment

Andy Grove, one of the people who created the modern giant that is Intel, was once allegedly to have said that “only the paranoid survive” and although he claims to not remember saying it he went on to write a book by the same title. Grove wasn’t some nut living in a basement, but the very open leader of Intel when it grew at astonishing speeds to become world leader. What Grove was really talking about was keeping an eye on the external world. In his book he talks about an organisation (any organisation) having a ‘strategic inflection point.’ That is a time in the life of a business when its fundamentals are about to change. That change can mean an opportunity to rise to new heights. But Grove point outs that it may just as likely signal the beginning of the end.

Another quote attributed this time to Charles Darwin (which no scholar can actually find in any of his work) that is even better known is “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.”  Although the messages of these fine men are often quoted it is amazing that so many organisations to not take heed. This is particularly true in the social sector, where often the month to month survival like that of any SME, is more important. Yet many organisations will conduct strategic planning without a proper analysis of not only their environment but of the wider context in which their organisation exists and will exist. It means that when the unexpected (according to them) happens it is a ‘shock.’

Too many strategists and indeed leaders (I would argue of all hues) assume that acknowledgement of such shocks ‘smacks of speculation.’ Far too many leaders, be they in government, military, corporate or non-profit, are too concerned with the present. There are tools for analysing such issues be it horizon scanning or indeed the use of established strategic foresight. This is one of the reasons why the Ryan Academy is putting on a two day module in Foresight Planning on the second and third of March, partly delivered by a leading ‘futurist’ from the UK. To apply a proverb “Forewarned is Forearmed.”

Driving Growth

January 22, 2010 Leave a comment

One of the major issues with social enterprises is that they tend to be small. This is one of the areas that the Ryan Academy for Entrepreneurship has been looking at closely in recent months. Late in 2009 the Academy ran its first Social Enterprise Development module, over eight classes, based in DCU in the Community facility in Ballymun. The class was aimed at developing key skills for staff and management in social enterprises.

Key areas that were covered included earned income strategies, venture philanthropy, technology, governance, strategic planning and new trends in social enterprise from around the world. This popular module is being run again in mid February over 4 half day sessions, for more information please contact the Ryan Academy via any of the links. Managing growth and creating robust and sustainable social enterprises is vital to the health of the sector and to the overall economic recovery of the country.

Coordination on the ground

January 21, 2010 Leave a comment

One of the news items that has come out of Haiti disaster has been the disorganisation on the ground. Disasters in particular have issues when so many different organisations and countries (imagine the language issues alone never mind culture) are all trying to deliver and disseminate supplies. The fact that Haiti has such a smalll airport, which sustained damage, and a port which has been out of commission to date due to damage, has not helped. Yesterday Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), the international humanitarian organisation, complained bitterly about having one of its airplanes denied landing privledges in Haiti, which I presume was due to a backlog of other aircraft being ahead of it. Yet it does highlight the issues with rescue and resupply operations. There has also been tension between the US military and some of the non-profit organisations.

This may in part be due to structural issues in terms of the flexible nature of non-profits and the more structured approach of military operations. What is interesting is that John O’Shea of the Irish charity GOAL was on the news magazine tv programme Ireland AM earlier today and said that he thought that the overall coordination for the operation in Haiti should be given to the US military as they had the command and control expertise necessary to pull over such an ambitious operation. With climate change increasing in the next ten years, the world will have to get better at coordinating such disasters; we have already seen what happens when coordination goes badly wrong with Katrina.

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