I had the opportunity this summer to spend a week mentoring a cohort of South Korean social entrepreneurs as part of the UK leg of their international MBA. And while pictures have been shared on instagram, twitter, and such like, as to the various adventures and activities that people got up to, I thought it might be useful to reflect on what I think that South Korea can teach us about how we do social enterprise in the UK, having spent a week thinking about it from their perspective;
at the end of the week, all the entrepreneurs shared what we mentors had offered and challenged them over which has caused them to rethink either their business models and assumptions, or how they'll launch and scale their enterprises in the future. This was though all giving short presentations to us as the mentors, as well as to their fellow student entrepreneurs, and university professors. And while all agreed that they greatly valued the time we had been able to offer them as mentors, and shared something different in relation to their own specific enterprises, there seemed to be some common themes around:
- the benefits of mentoring in getting 'back to basics' - its good to have assumptions challenged, and start to simplify things to make them more manageable
- testing enterprise ideas with a wider group of mentors, all of whom have different backgrounds and perspectives, is valuable in identifying new options and opportunities
- having a range of mentors to draw upon (rather than a single mentor as many other enterprise support initiatives offer), allows access to a far wider range and number of contacts and other models and initiatives of direct relevance and benefit
- there's also a cultural difference as to what constitutes a 'social need' in South Korea that the UK would struggle to recognise as being relevant for a social enterprise to have as its mission, but perhaps this echoes some of the confusion we still have here in the UK as to the different ways in which we define and recognise a 'legitimate' social enterprise by the forms it can adopt?
- Many also seemed to espouse a new mantra that we mentors think may be attributable to their session with Nick Temple of Social EnterpriseUK - J.F.D.I.
- (and there were also some nice comments that students directly made about me as part of their presentations:
- "As we all came to realise, Adrian is very humorous"
- "Adrian was a great encouragement to my self-esteem as I realised that this enterprise will be the hardest thing I ever do in my life")
I also reflected on some of the themes that seemed to regularly come up as part of the mentoring sessions I was delivering. It's telling that these seem closely related to issues that are also particularly pertinent and relevant to all (social) enterprises in the UK today?:
- Mapping and reporting the impact we create offers a range of benefits that we don't usually recognise it for:
- it helps prioritise service and product development
- it contributes to marketing activity
- it helps to identify potential future customers who benefit from what we do, but aren't paying us!
- Branding is an often undervalued and underused 'tool' in helping us to not only differentiate ourselves from the competition, but also between the services we offer were they are targeted at different customers and beneficiaries, to mitigate possible confusion about us in our marketplaces
so perhaps as a sector, social enterprise has more 'common currency' globally that it might think it has - but how can we encourage and support that? Initiatives such as this that are hosted by Sheffield University are by far the exception, but all involved recognise the immense value it offers to everyone who was a part of it.
(And I'm also indebted and grateful to Darren Chouings for pulling it all together, and also my fellow expert mentors - none of whom I'll share the embarrassing pics I took of you here...