Monday, December 21, 2009

Are nineteen-century legal forms more appropriate for social enterprise than we might think?

I recently blogged about legal forms that social enterprises are adopting, drawing on published figures from the respective regulatory bodies, in an attempt to see if the hype surrounding certain forms is matched by reality.

Recognising that as great as this blog is, not everyone subscribes to it, I also posted it into a few other forums and got some really useful comments which have made me revisit this subject; this time comparing new registrations against the current make-up of the social enterprise sector (as identified by the Social Enterprise Coalition's research paper published earlier this year) and also Dave Hollings' experience as a leading practitioner in the make-up of new social enterprise registrations that he deals with.

For the sake of ease of comparison, I've looked at how the 'big 4' (companies limited by guarantee, charities, community interest companies, and Industrial and Provident Societies) square up against each other according to each of these sources by ranking of popularity.
And actually, there's a high degree of consistency - CLGs are by far the dominant choice between all. The averages then show its charities, followed by CICs and in a respectable 4th place, IPSs.

While the CIC statistically outnumbers IPSs, the gap between these two forms is not as great as might be imagined: the SEC research shows only 5% difference between their current use, and its 4% by new registrations.
Could this be indicative that a legal form created in the nineteenth century to explicity support the co-operative movement is still resonating with the wider social enterprise sector today; and that as people explore their choices in detail, they're finding that the CIC model, while obvioulsy attractive in some instances, isn't the be all and end all that its presented as in some quarters?



(NB: interestingly, the SEC research also identifies and lists sole trader and unincorporated association as legitimate forms for social enterprise...)

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

what's the most popular?

I've often found myself in politically tense positions over supporting groups to identify and adopt their legal form, particuarly where there's a funding/commissioning body/'mainstream' support agency in the wings encouraging them to pursue a particular formb with little regard to others.
My standing line in such instances has always (and will always) be: inform yourself, consider what you feel imporatant in relation to your values, governance, accountability and future direction and then pick a form that best matches.

And its therefore heartening (to me at least) to look at some recent statistics on the formation rates within the third sector by legal form as reported by the various regulatory bodies:

in 2008/9:
4,953 new charities,
appox. 9,500 not-for-profit companies (companies limited by gurantee rather than share, although this is a very crude measure as there are social enterprises with private and public share capital),
227 Industrial and Provident Societies,
814 CICs
(LLPs are not included due to their not being as easy to seperate out those LLP's operating as social enterprise/co-ops/etc from legal firms, accountants, etc, as it is by looking at the 'overview' of other legal forms: also, this is the first time I've compliled this list, so will try and include when I review it next year?)

It seems to endorse my position about legal structure: - the figures show that there is still a great variety of legal form being adopted with the most popular being a CLG - the form that I usually suggest as a 'default position' as its the quickest, easiest and cheapest to set up (or should be...), and also the most compatable with CIC and Charity forms, as well as being the easiest to change the rules of, or to change to another form from, at a future date.
But what of your experinces? I'm open to being challened on my interpretation of these figures (as I am on just about all views I hold), so feel free to post a comment below...

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

"we're bigger than Jesus..."

...so John Lennon famoulsy said in 1980 - implying that the church's role in society was waning and it was the new rock and roll that was the bigger influence in peoples' lives.

But accordingy to recent reports, could charity now be becomming 'bigger than Jesus' as well? Recent surveys highlight that charities are more influencial than the church in shaping our values and the Pope has also indicated publicly that its charities that will be our salvation (from the curent economic crisis) and so our sector leaders are courting his blessing on us...

Are we the new Beatles?

or should we be concerned that as a society our values are eroding and being placed increasing on transient fashions?

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

why we shouldn't listen to the experts at the Financial Times...

so the FT thinks, in its wisdom, that social enterprises should conform more to the accepted norms of the private sector in order to be able to elicit more support (money) from the established order (see SE Livewire story here)

Well - maybe I'm missing something here, but isn't it because of the 'established order' and traditional private sector that we've had recessions, are driven by profit margins rather than balancing compassion with costs, and generally see the rise in societal inequality?

I think it should be US that's talking to the FT and its consitiency to show them that its their structures that are flawed and don't make sense - after all, on what basis should people who are already wealthy be able to invest money in companies and then sit back, do nothing, and become even more wealthy while those lower down the food chain struggle to make ends meet on a weekly, or even daily, basis?

Maybe the time for revolution is drawing ever closer... or maybe its just time for me to get down from my soapbox.


and this also links back to a published article I wrote a little while back that questions the need for our sector to rely on financig by external bodies when we've such a good track record of doing it for ourselves - link here

Friday, November 13, 2009

all social accounts are a fiction...


...so said Steve Wyler, CEO of the Development Trusts Association in the opening address of this years' Social Audit Network conference.


And you know what - I think I agree with his argument: the relationships between what we do and the effects we claim to create can be 'hazy' at best, and the metrics and systems we create to quantify these are also currently relatively limited and varied; so, technically speaking, social accounts include a greater or lesser degree of 'made up' narrative of how we see we've impacted the world for the better. BUT what they do offer us, and the true value of them, are the stories they allow us to tell - and stories, as Steve reminded us all, are the most powerful tool we have to create social change.



The conference was also useful as it gave platform to the Social Return on Investment model (which I'd always been wary of), but was encouraged to hear from the SROI project that its not meant to be taken as an absolute financial value in abstract than can be used in like-for-like comparisons, but rather that its true value is in allowing an organisation to allow the people its benefitted to identify and prioritise what they see as being the ways in which that organisation has improved their lives, and what they see the value of that being to them - a true grass roots / bottom-up approach rather than a mandated top-down policy initaitive...
All in all, a good day to reflect, to be challenged, and to make new friends...
( - but that's a blog entry for another day...)

Monday, November 2, 2009

when is social enterprise like a toilet?

...when Social Enterprise Day (19 Nov 2009) is the same day as World Toilet Day









How could no-one have spotted this before?

(insert your own punchlines...)

Monday, October 19, 2009

the secret to success!

in my capacity as an advisor, trainer and consultant to various groups at various stages in their life, I'm often asked if there's a secret to success - is there something that you can do that will virtually guarantee that your group/enterprise/project will be a success.

well - there is one specific ' third sector/social enterprise trade secret', and here it is:

video

(if you're having trouble with the above, you can also watch this clip on you tube here)

Friday, October 9, 2009

is the traditional entrepreneur a thing of the past?


Small businesses are usually all about the individual entrepreneur - pursuing their vision in a way that they feel most appopriate and comfortable with.

But increasingly (and as reported in The Times) these small firms are forming co-operatives in order to better trade, better meet their needs, and ulimately prosper - are we therefore seeing the start of the end of the individual entrepreneur and the emergence of the 'group entreprenuer' using models forged with the social and co-operative economy?

It used to be that we looked to private business for tools to better 'raise our game', feels a bit strange that they're now looking to us for inspiration and supportive ideas and models...

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Corporate philanthropy - why its good that its not just about the money anymore...

there's a growing trend in the financing of our 'third' sector - increasingly private businesses (cue the usual 'boo - hiss') are investing in charities and social enterprise through gifts, support, sponsorship, philanthropy and other means.



Some see this as a cynical 'green wash' campaign on their part, others as a sign of the increasing maturity of our society as those leading such corporations realise that it is not only possible, but also beneficial, to consider the role of their companies in doing more than just making money.




Historically, these philanthropists have had a mindet that meant they wished to 'give something back' and so handed over the money and let the recipients 'get on with it'. But increasingly, and likely coupled with the shifts in demands for greater transparency and accountability that all sectors are experiencing, philanthropists today are wanting to get more 'hands on' and do more than just hand over a cheque and have the usual accompanying photo shoot.

For many groups, this will likely cause a knee-jerk reaction along the lines of "how dare they presume to tell us how we should be doing things - we're not like big private businesses!", but that's missing the point - these corporate philanthropists have great skills in financial management, raising money, marketing, HR, ... exactly the sorts of areas that we as a sector increasingly accept that we are in need of strengthening ourselves in.

So lets embrace this new generation of philanthropists - and a recent ebook (free to download) sets out some interesting and useful theories and structures to support us to do this:
'Just Another Emperor? by Michael Edwards'

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

secrets revealed!

my last post highlighted the reluctance of the Office of the Third Sector to divulge the review of their core funding to a number of sector bodies on the grounds that it would do more harm than good to do so...



well - they've now decided in light of their decision being challenged to now release them!
click here for links to access the reports, and here for Charity Finance's feelings about the whole process (it was they who asked for them to be released initially)


and ThirdSector have also now posted links to all the individual reports too, which seem to give glowing praise all round, so why all the secrecy to begin with..?

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

What are we/they hiding?

a recent enquiry by Charity News Alert to the Office of the Third Sector to ask about how their core funding to 11 national infrastructure bodies in our sector is going has been rejected on grounds that '...it would do more harm than good to make that information public...'!!

But surely this decision only fuels speculation that things must be going very badly, or else why would they not want to be open and transparent? After all, all front line groups are expected to be forthcoming with information about their performance - good and bad, so why is the Governement and our sector representative and infrastructure bodies (who lead these calls for greater trasparancy) apparently exempt themselves?

By not revealing anything, we assume the worse - that up to £26m of government money is being squandered, and that there are gross inefficiencies amongst the 'great and the good' in our sector.

Even if there is bad news to tell, surely better to be open and explain how its being addressed and learnt from rather than hiding behind the veil of 'small print' clauses in the Freedom of Information Act?
22nd September - this story is now updated here

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Pornography is more ethical than tobacco

...at least, that's the finding of the most recent research into charity investment funds.

What surprised me most isn't the ordering of what's most and least ethical, but the gap between them: nearly 90% avoid tobacco, while only 36% avoid alcohol.

But what are these ethical views based on? In the case of this survey, it was principally the fear of reputational risk to the charity. But other institutions base their ethical decisions on what their customers view to be the 'most' ethical from a short-list of options (for example, The Co-operative Bank).

But what should we as consumers, citizens and otherwise general influencers of the world at large be then basing our ethics on?
I wrote a piece a few years ago
arguing that faith-based entrepreneurs could teach us a lot as a movement in this regard as their ethics are based on their faith which in turn is rooted in scriptures and theologies that have remained pretty consistent over the centuries and millennia – and its important that as social entrepreneurs we are aware of the implications of ethics changing: remember that in the grand scheme of things, its not that long ago that slavery was deemed to be ethically acceptable...

Then there's also the argument that its only by actually investing these 'unethical' industries that we can hope to change them for the better.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Hypocrisy over social enterprise marks?


I recently learnt that RISE, the regional social enterprise partnership that developed and pioneered what’s tipped to become ‘the’ quality standard for social enterprise kite marks, hasn’t actually been award the standard itself, despite using the image prominently on its literature.


Looking into this area further, Social Firms UK, the national body who’ve developed the ‘Star Social Firms’ kite mark in partnership with SFEDI, haven’t actually been awarded it themselves either.

So what’s going on? Is it a case of ‘do as we say, but not as we do’ by the great and the good, or perhaps indicative of something else –is it a case that the criteria of these kite marks are too prescriptive and not able to fully recognise the diversity of our sector? (the national review of the social enterprise mark underway at the moment would seem to support this). Or perhaps its more to do with the desire that as a sector we get on with ‘doing’: a key criteria of these kite marks is in relation to trading, so are our networking/umbrella/apex bodies perhaps not entrepreneurial enough? (which harks back to my concern that their message is becoming ‘do as we say, but not as we do’).

Either way, this surely only contributes to confusion about social enterprise that many within and without our sector have about what we are…

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

fair trade tobacco?

a few years ago, I was asked if I knew of anywhere a colleague might be able to procure fair trade tobacco from - and it got me thinking: why not?

1) Fair Trade producers are inevitably organised as marketing or agricultural co-ops, and there's at least one tobacco growers co-op (in Tanzania - scroll down to the bottom of this linked page to find their contact details)

2) There seem to be lots of 'lifestyle' goods gaining the fair-trade label beyond food - fashion clothing, footballs...

3) An ethical dilemma? Well, to my knowledge the Fair Trade foundation who administers the mark have no stated restrictions as to the types of goods that they can't assure on the basis of ethics

So why not fair trade tobacco?
For the sake of all those smokers who want to be more ethical, let’s help them at least change the impact they have on poverty through the 'lifestyle choices' they've made (just like we do for those people who can't quite kick their love of chocolate or alcohol in the form of wine...)

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Is the CIC regulator trying to tell us something?


At a recent regional Social Enterprise event, I 'caught up' with the CIC regulatory team (given my 'history' with them, and the fact that they have a file on me, only feel its fair to give them a chance to either slap me or kiss me in person...); anyways, after seeing their stand, I'm wondering if the CIC regulator might be trying to tell us all something - the freebies on offer were a CIC stress ball and a CIC air freshener...

Friday, July 3, 2009

is social enterprise being forced to become charitable?

In 2006, there was an overhaul to charity legislation, which included extending those things that are deemed to be 'charitable' in law, and so organisations created to pursue them are now legally required to gain charitable status (and all that comes with it with regard to governance, restrictions on trading, etc)...


An example of this is in respect of the charitable purpose of preventing or relieving poverty (surely something that all social enterprises aspire to) and how it can be acheived through Fair Trade; it caught my eye and gives me pause for concern:


"To prevent or relieve poverty by awarding a 'fair trade mark' (and remember that there are now 'social enterprise marks') to products, the sale of which relieves the poverty of producers by ensuring they receive at least a fair price for their goods and advising such producers of the best ways in which to engage in the trading process."



But Fair Trade is about trading not charity - so the lines between charity and enterprise are becomming even more blurred with what some would see as being quite a fundamental social enterprise activity now apparently being charitable in purpose, and so any social enterprise created to purse fair trade (or similarly 'marked') activities now being legally required to adopt chaitable status, even if they felt another form would suit them better...


Are we then now entering an age where as social enterprises we are being forced to change our purposes in order to ensure we can adopt the legal form that best meets our needs and circumstances?
Is the state perhaps becomming too prescriptive in allowing us the market freedoms we need in order to fully realise our potential?

Monday, June 22, 2009

back to the future - CICs in the 1980s!!

In 2005 the Community Interest Company was formed as a way to encourage social enterprise through giving it (amongst other things) greater recognition in the marketplace - all such enterprises must include the words 'CIC' or 'Community Interest Company' in their trading name, and are subject to a regulatory body who checks that their governing rules show them to exist primarily to create a social benefit and all assets and profits are restricted for that use.

But this, it turns out, is nothing new, and has existed as a legal option since 1985!

In 1985, the Companies Act was amended to allow any company to submit an application to the regulator to show that they exist for primarily social purposes and all profts and assets are restricted to achieving them - in turn, the regulator can allow those companies to drop the 'limited' part of their public and trading name to show that they exist for more 'noble' purposes that more traditional private companies.

Is the CIC anything really new then if this core feature of their functionallity (how they present themselves, how the regulator agrees their status) has existed for more than 20 years already?

Thursday, June 4, 2009

why you must change your chairs

a recent story highlights a charity that's has the same Chairperson for 35 years - (that's longer than I've been alive for!), and that following complaints into their management of the charity, there's an investigation being conducted by the Charity Commission about claims of inappropriate and mis-management and their subsequent removal from post.

It illustrates a key danger to the governance of our sector: entrenched board members.

Having a committed, keen and enthusiastic board is vital to the success of any organisation - and its increasingly difficult to find people who'll happily offer their time to do so.
However, having the same person in the same post for too long starts to bring inherent dangers - people can become complacent, stuck in their ways and as a result hostile to change, ("after all, we've always done it this/my way..."), even when those changes are needed because of changes to legislation or expectations and trends amongst our communities. Their being so long in post also deters new blood from coming forward to join the board, as it becomes seen to be a 'closed shop', having the same people in post for so long.

Just as we appraise and review our staff and volunteers performance and conduct, so we should with that of our boards - and if they're found wanting, we should be brave enough to say so and either support them to gain the necessary skills and knowledge, or else ask them to move on.


To put it another way, how well would notions of member participation and democracy be being manifest if a country had the same leader for over 3 decades?

Monday, May 18, 2009

how private business shames social enterprise

Recently I blogged about the debate that's raging in social enterprise land about what the purpose of social enterprise is, and how the various forms that can be adopted serve to confuse the issue unless you see them for what they are - various options to allow you to manifest your vision within a specific set of values that define what social enterprise 'is'.

A recent blog on the Guardian by Jonathan Bland, chief exec of the Social Enterprise Coalition about how social enterprise can show private business how to 'get in right' got me wondering how far this issue of models can be taken - let me give you an example:

if I was to describe to you an established global food business with a multi-million pound turnover; that seeks to source all its products from various sustainable, local, organic and fair-trade suppliers; that specifically seeks to set up new branches in areas of non-affluence (ie where the rich people aren't); that charges customers a price that is affordable to just about everyone; that has created its own charitable trust as well as actively supporting various other charitable causes; that offers all of its employees structured accredited training programmes; that seeks to educate its customers about its various practices and its impacts; and has also just committed to recruiting at least 1/3 of its next years intake of staff from people who have been long-term unemployed, and all without any taking ant form of grant or public subsidy, would that sound like an ideal social enterprise to you?

Sadly its not - its McDonalds, that big international company that all us ethical eco-warrior types fought against in the 80s and 90s, but is now shaming some social enterprises and charitable groups by its ethical practices being of a far greater standard than can be typically found in our sector, and still turning a handsome profit in the process.


And this causes problems for the ethical consumer: McDonalds is not a social enterprise in that it still exists primarily to make as much cash as possible for its investors, but in doing so its realised that it can also create a whole heap of good stuff for people and planet along the way.

Its not a social enterprise as we currently define them and yet its practices shame some of the wider third sector...

I'm lovin it, but I'm not sure that I should...

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

do we really need another 5,000 charities?

I came across a sobering statistic recently - in 2008, there were 5,000 new charities created. That's roughly 1 new charity every 3 hours (allowing for weekends, Bank Holidays and tea breaks).


And it got me thinking about other statistics and 'headlines' in the third sector - about the difficulty existing groups have in attracting approriate trustees, about the increasing competition for dimishing grants, and about the growing bureaucractic overhead of mandatory reporting requirements that charities must comply with.
Surely, given all that, do we really need so many more additional charities when it must be better to combine forces, to collaborate more, and even dare I say, look to merge activies where they could be seen to make savings and so offer greater support and impact to the communities that charities are created to benefit.
Could it be then that the founders of charities aren't always as altrusitic as we might believe - perhaps more people than we'd care to admit like to feel that only they can solve particular issues in their own special way, and that to do so they need to control all aspects of their own projects, because they think that no-one else sees the world in quite the same way they do - "vanity, vanity, all is vanity...";
Or maybe its more to do with the legislation - after all, charities have to be very specific about what they do, who they do it to, where they do it to them (much more so than companies), and so as communities change, are existing charities unable to continue to meet these changing and evolving needs and so new charities are needing to be created to continue the work that charity legislation would otherwise prevent them from doing?
Or maybe... or maybe there's some really obvious and rational explanation that someone can share with me and others using the comments button below.

either way, I think most people would be shocked at this statistic...
(for comparison, in the same period there were 814 new Community Interest Companies)

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

how pubs are like charities (or why we should spend more time in our local...)

a recent report by the ippr argues that local pubs should benefit from mandatory rate relief in the same way that charties do - its reasoning is that pubs, like charities, offer a vital service to their local communities, acting as a focal point for meetings, events, sharing news and everything else that creates our 'social capital'.

initially, I thought "but what about community centres", but then realised that actually pubs may indeed offer a more valuable resource to their communities: pubs are seen as relaxed, informal venues where people are more open to ideas and each other in ways that are more spontaneous and so creative, whereas community centres tend to be quite formal, structured affairs, and while offering valuable space for meetings and activities, are less able to encourage such dynamism as can be found down your local in an evening...

so - who's coming for a drink? next rounds' on me...




UPDATE: 22 March 2010

it seems the government may have picked up on this post and and a more recent one about the value of pubs, and have recently announced a multi-million pound programme of support to enable communities to take over their own pubs!
news item



UPDATE 27 Feb 2012

it now seems that pubs are being touted as the next ideal workspaces for mobile and homeworkers too! see - http://blog.worksnug.com/post/12923085754/two-pints-of-lager-and-wi-fi-please-pubworking-an

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

What's the point of social enterprise?

There seems to be a storm brewing in social enterprise land over exactly what the purpose of social enterprises are - some say they're all about creating a social good, while others think that they're more about challenging accepted ways of working and ushering in a new business model - see
http://thirdsector.co.uk/news/Article/899356/Social-enterprise-now/

Some will look at this debate and perhaps justifyably ask "why can't it be about both?" - after all, if social enterprises prove to be successful businesses, then their model(s?) will be adopted by other businesses (and there are parallels for this in the fairtrade movement - once upon a time Nestle said they'd never do fairtrade as they felt the market wasn't large enough and their customers weren't interested, and yet here they are now with their own fairtrade branded coffee...)

And then there's the question about which model? The 'headlines' of social enterprise may lead you to believe that the Community Interest Company is the only 'true' form for social enterprise, yet some CICs are finding that this form is undermining their ability to trade as they wish to (perhaps the most vocal of which is the social enterprise ambassador Tim Campbell), and many others are still fiunding that regular companies, IPSs, charities, and even PLCs, are sufficient and appropriate after having their rules 'tweaked' to reflect social enterprise values (you know, those things that define them 'cos there's no legal definition of what a social enterprise is...).

So if social enterprise isn't about being a single business model, but an 'enlightened approach', then focussing on promoting "the model" is doomed to failure before it begins as (1) there is no single model; and (2) if social enterprises aren't being encouraged and supported to be the successes that they can be, then there will be no showcase or evidence to argue with the private business world about the strength and validity of the model...


...so - are we now any clearer about what the purpose of social enterprise is, or just as confused as ever now that some of the sectors' leading luminaries are at loggerheads over what its actually all about?

Or perhaps we should leave the philosophical stuff to those fortunate enough to be paid to do such things and get on with changing our bit of the world for the better in the faith that others will catch on by seeing our success...

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

did I really change the Community Interest Company legislation from my bedroom?


Shortly after the Community Interest Company, the new legal form created to encourage social entrepreneurs, came into being, I challenged some of the rules that any would-be CIC had to adopt as I felt that they would force social enterprises adopting them to have to compromise some of their core and defining values (see this social catalyst blog for details), from the grandeur of my bedroom!

At the time various 'interesting' things happened -
  1. a number of blogs were started opposing my actions,
  2. a number of people directly approached me to offer their 'off the record' support,
Fast forward 2 and a bit years years to the present day and the current CIC regulator is staging a well publicised open consultation on the some of the financial aspects of how CICs operate. What wasn't so well publicised is that they've also had a consultation on some of the aspects of the legislation that govern how CICs are managed by their members, boards, and are subject to the overarching Company legislation. Within this 'quieter' consultation the regulator says that they intend to change some of the rules that I previously lobbied against - so have I really changed the governance of over 2,000 social enterprises as a result of what I got up to in my bedroom?

This is told here not as an egotistical example of how great I think I may be, but to encourage you all that where you see a policy or piece of legislation you think isn't right, then take action and lobby - even if its just you sitting in your bedroom one afternoon (as I did when I orginally challenged the CIC rules), the regulator may come to agree with you in time and do the right thing!

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

the true value of pedal power

A recent feature in New Start magazine highlighted the problems that increasing volumes of journeys by car are causing to our neighbourhoods and profiled ways in which encouraging cycling can perhaps best address this (Driven to the Threshold, New Start, Apr 2009).

As someone who has a concern for the environmental impact that I create, and seek to measure how this and my other values are being realised and the outcomes that occur through a social accounting process, I've always measured the different modes of transport I use as a self-employed consultant-type.
These have always posted to my website for the last 4 years, and I'm pleased to say that in answering the call to use the car less, I managed to use my bicycle for 18% of all journeys I made in the last year (for comparison 26% were by car, and the national average for bicycle journeys in the UK is a paltry 2%).

And this isn't just about me feeling self-righteous, but wanting to show that having concern for the environment can be reconciled to the demands and structures of todays economic environment. I work all over the country, yet am able to make nearly 1 in 5 of all journeys by pedal power. And this value of enviromental concern has other benefits as well: in addition to the (yawn) beneits to health (which everyone knows about), there are also financial benefits: most people know that the tax office offers a claimable expenses rate of 40p/mile for business travel when the journey is by car, but how many know that there's a rate for bicycles too? At 20p/mile it'll soon mean that I'll be making money when cycling!

(see also - www.cyclescheme.co.uk for tax free bikes for work)

Monday, April 6, 2009

Excited about having to re-apply for your current job?

In the current climate, many organisations are taking hard looks at their costs, management and staffing arrangements - one of the side effects of this is that people are being increasingly asked to re-apply for the jobs that they currently do.

Within my guise as a self-emplopyed free-lancer I'm not immune to this - some of the bodies that I have an ongoing engagement with are now asking all their 'consultants' to reapply so I find myself in the same position as many people on a payroll.
And while some of my counterparts in these instance have felt 'miffed' and undervalued (after all, they reason, isn't their value and contribution obvious??), I've found it to be rather useful - its forced me to step back and consider just what I can offer them, how I work with them, and what I've gained from this particular relationship. All of this is usually stuff that you [should] be getting through regular appraisals if you're an employee, but as a sole trader, there are scant opportrunities for such reflection and recognition.

So next time you're asked to reapply, don't consider it a chore, but rather a unique type of opportunity to think about what you've done, what you can still offer and maybe what you might want to be doing next...

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

£10,000 anyone?

The National Lottery has just relaunched its small grants programme, Awards for All - up to £10,000 to support local community inititiaves and projects (subject to certain criteria);

and its those revised criteria that have caught my attention - as part of the eligiblity criteria that applying groups have to meet is their organisational form, and these are listed as including incorporated charities, not-for-profit companies (or companies limited by gurantee), co-operatives and Industrial and Provident Societies!

As these forms are extremely prevelant amongst social enterprises, should we take this opportnity to further and better impact upon our communities' needs, or should we instead return to philosophical arguments about how right it is to accept grants when we seek to trade as an enterprise?
I for one take the view that as lots of private, for profit compaines regularly benefit from grant support, then we should too where we can (and where's its appropriate - it may not always be...)

Monday, March 30, 2009

Cool, Calm, ...and a little divine (!)

Someone recently introduced me as being “Cool, Calm, and a little divine”!
When pressed, they explained that I always seem to come across as being relatively unflappable (hence the cool and calm), but also that I seem to be able to simple 'arrive' with a group, quietly sort out their problems whatever they may be and then smoothly leave again (hence the divine).


This got me thinking – as someone who professes a Christian faith, I'm always seeking ways in which to reflect and integrate this into the ways that I work. And in turn, this has led to my being involved with various faith based enterprises (Christian and other) and also in supporting and speaking at theological colleges and national initiatives.

While I'm not sure yet how heretical I might be being in not refuting this person's view of my 'divinity' it is reassuring to know that the way in which I aspire to work based on my values is being recognised by at least some of those around me.

As co-operatives, social enterprise and others, we are defined by our values, so its crucial to ensure that those values are not only being made manifest, but are also being recognised by others; social accounting is one way to start to explore how well we're achieving this, but asking someone to introduce you may be just as revealing...

Thursday, March 26, 2009

The end of the affair...

Well, we knew this time would come, but that didn't stop us doing our best to spend as much time as possible together, getting up to all sorts of antics in all sorts of unusual places. And now that its over, and despite the squabbling beginning over who still owes who what, we still hope that one day we might once again be together...

I am, of course, talking about time limited enterprise support programmes that are managed by infrastructure or statutory bodies, but who use freelance consultants (like me) to enable them to achieve the programme's goals and targets.
There's a regional one just finished that I was fortunate enough to be a part of supporting the delivery of, and for a while it was great – enterprises would be 'given me' to help them look at all sorts of issues and ideas without the need to have to pay me (and in some instances actually ended up getting paid as well as having several days of my life!!), the project manager in the infrastructure body would always be on the phone or email with chaste messages about how happy they were with my performance, what they'd like me to do next, and to see if there were other things I might be able to do to make their life more easy and enjoyable; and in return? I got paid (always useful when you're not in a salaried position with a cat to support), I got the chance to work with groups who otherwise would never have the chance to get so much dedicated support, and I didn't have to go selling myself to find the work – my new best friend in the project manager found it for me!
And yet... all good things and all that.


The programmes' now finished, and like an affair drawing to a close, we start to find ourselves having less time for each other, conversations that would once have taken place by phone or in person are conducted by cold, short emails, and I find myself asking for the metaphorical 'favourite CD' back – namely the outstanding monies I'm owed from my final invoices submitted nearly 7 weeks ago...
There's little room for negotiation or threats at this stage (not that was at any other time either) in getting that money paid, but overall it leaves me felling somehow poorer for the whole experience – there's been no 'farewell bash' for all of us consultants to get together one last time with the programmes team to celebrate and reminisce, no offer given of feedback on how well we performed, or what hopes there might be for a future liaison together again one day...

Yes, this affair is sadly over, but I'm always in the market for a new one!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

so this it it...I'm here!

well, after concerted and sustained lobbying by several people, I've decided to do it - I've started a blog!

Can't guarantee how frequenetly this will be updated, but I pledge to try and post at least one thing of interest each month, and am always happy to receive requests or suggestions from people as to what they'd like my thoughts and positions on (within certain boundaries of taste and legalaties, of course...)

So - my first post being done, I hope you'll find this blog of interest as it becomes more populated with references to my various mis-advantures and escapades.

see you 'out there'...