Tuesday, May 30, 2017

compared to what..?

There are lots of reasons banded about why we should try and be capturing and reporting the social impact/value of our enterprises - and that's not just something which is confined to the social enterprise or charity world: the private sector have been pioneering a lot of clever approaches to it to over recent years as well (Puma's environmental Profit & Loss, the international impact accounting standard, and McDonald's own infographics to name but a few...)

However, one of the key questions that any impact or outcomes reporting should answer is "so what?" - what difference has achieving this reduction, or engaging that number of people, made? But within the context of impact reporting, I think the "so what?" question also needs to be extended to be framed as "compared to what?". If an enterprise reports that it's reduced carbon emissions by 10%, is that good or bad? It might compare itself to its performance last year, but that's not really that objective or honest of a measure - it's surely only when we can compare that 10% to what comparable enterprises have been able to achieve that we can fully appreciate if that's a score to be scoffed at, or to be applauded.
And yet, how many social impact reports seek to reference any external benchmarks or comparisons in presenting their findings?

As ever, I'm not one to suggest something without being willing to try it myself - so this year I've sought to source external benchmarks against my own social impact reporting framework.
And I wanted to see what people thought about this before blogging about it, so published the report via twitter, and various LinkedIN groups, sat back, and waited for a week or two, before sitting down to draft this reflection.

And what the wider world seems to think based on engagements and comments to the post about the report is that while my doing an impact report on myself is a good idea, no-one really engaged or picked up on the fact that I'm starting to benchmark it externally to see if what seems to be a 'good' figure is really good, or if its outstanding instead.

For myself, I think that in finding I'm contributing more in taxes than my counterparts in regular employment is an encouraging sign that I'm still sticking to my principles of wanting to support public services, and my investing more in my ongoing CPD to keep myself 'on top my game' should be a great reassurance to clients (as well as all the awards I seem to keep winning...)

And while it's not perfect by any means (kudos to Liam Black for keeping me grounded as ever with it via his latest tweet), it's surely a start in furthering the conversation and encouragements for things like this to become more commonplace and therefore useful in helping us make better informed decisions about how we're approaching trying to make the changes in the community / society / world we seek to? 

Friday, May 19, 2017

not just for a Sunday..?

While I've never been an 'in your face' type of person when it comes to my personal faith and beliefs, I've never made a secret of them (one of my first ever blogs talked about how I try and reflect my faith in how I approach my work with clients).

And its always seemed to me that as a society, we seem to have a cultural norm of handling 'faith' and 'work' as two separate spheres: 99% of all the church sermons and teachings I've exposed myself to over the years have never offered me any direction in helping me reflect on how my faith should inform my work, and various special interest theological journals and groups that I subscribe to seem to take as their starting point that you're a middle-manager or business owner. But an awful lot of us out here are self-employed and freelancers...

However, I was inspired to take this pic of a wall hanging at St Peters Church in Walsden, where I recently attending their service as the guest of my oldest son who attends there regularly. And then I shared it on my various social media channels as it's very rare that I see such examples of an explicit recognition and encouragement of how God is present in all things - not just the Sundays, or in the 'green and pleasant lands'... As such, I wanted to celebrate this, and social media seemed the easiest way to do that.

And I was greatly encouraged by the responses - it's become one of my more popular posts; to date:

Instagram - over 100 impressions
Twitter - nearly 350 impressions
LinkedIn - over 1,000 views (and a dozen likes)

all of which seems to suggest to me that as a community of businesses, entrepreneurs, and freelancers we're also hungry to explore how we better connect our faith and belief with our work.

So in the great tradition of all the best teachers through history, I'm not going to leave you with what we do about this, or try and draw some deep mystical meaning, but instead invite you to continue the discussion below in the comments to this blog, on instagram, twitter, and LinkedIn...

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

maybe social investment isn't that different after all..?

I was able to make it along to this year's "Working Capital" conference that was recently staged in Sheffield - a day to immerse myself in reflecting, arguing, sharing, and further exploring the wonderful world of 'social investment'.

Depending on who you speak with, Social Investment is either the next big thing (and has been for a few years...); is a market that's suffered failure in the past and needed interventions from government; or a smoke screen for covering the cuts to grants that sustain many charities and social enterprises...

money might not grow on trees, but these desktop garden
pots from Key Fund mean you can grow most other things 

The day offered a range of perspectives and stories: Cliff Prior of Big Society Capital stating openly what many are starting to whisper in hushed tones - social enterprise should be moving more towards retail and consumer markets because public commissioners are very tough nuts to either crack, or to change their behaviours; and Hazel Blears encouraging those same commissioners to do more to learn from each other to progress the social value act (but in doing seemingly having forgotten previous national initiatives over the last 20 odd years that were designed to do just that...).

But the impressions I'm left with (initially at least - as always, I'm open to others coming back to me to challenge me on these points) are:

  • most of the specialist lenders to social enterprise make it difficult for the sector to borrow from them because they usually have repayment terms of only 5 years maximum. But in the private sector its not uncommon to 'refinance' a loan - it can often be hard to get a loan because you've no history of repaying debts; but once you start to, you can flip your loan to another lender on better terms... So what's to stop social enterprises getting what seem initially expensive loans in comparison with the high street banks who see them as being too risky, showing they can manage repayments, and then transfer the loan to their high street bank on better terms?
  • the things that are important to those seeking investment (quick decision, affordable terms, flexibility), are the same as for any other type of organisation in any sector seeking a loan
  • as a general movement, social investment seems to be a little bit too 'introspective' for my liking: NESTA undertake regular national surveys of social and alternative finance, which no-one referenced today. Without understanding how different 'flavours' of social finance compare to other finance types in how widely they're being used, how can we hope to make a best informed decision about where we should be investing our time in pursuing investment?

But but in all, a good day to reflect, see some friendly and familiar faces, and hopefully the start of most other enterprises' journeys into investment that will ultimately help them create bigger and better impacts on, and for, their respective communities.