Thursday, November 20, 2008

Do good. But don't spend it all at once

Gordon Brown's social enterprise vision

They do sound nice, don't they?

So I am relieved at the notes of caution being voiced, though concerned that they are being voiced up to a person for whom vision has not proven a strong suit to date, and who is not noted for his talent for listening, or indeed grasp of realities. But he does seem to know a good soundbite when he hears one.

As one who has been involved with, for sure benefitted but also suffered from 'commitments' to social enterprise, I wish more reflected the notion that 'the result is a reasonable salary and a sense that they are making a difference'. To which I might add 'delivering a healthy ROI to all involved'.

If customers don't like the product/service, and hence buy/into it, then sadly all these enterprises will become is money pits sucking funding from elsewhere. Or they will go bust.

Peter Jones' comments, rather colourfully expressed at the beginning ('do gooders' can rather set an unfortunate tone, and frankly passion for doing good can be a potent part... of the mix. See later) but more considered on reading later on, get closer to it.

Any twerp can have an idea. I know, I have. Lob in a bit of money you can, if relevant, protect the IP.

But none of this is much use if you don't flog it on. And keep on doing so.

And here is where I see a stonking great gap between stated aims, useful support and actuality. Government doesn't understand sales.

I have lost count of the number of Third Sector funds, forums, quangos and whoever, with natty offices and staffed to the gunnels, who are out there to invite you to submit, assess your plan and slip you the readies. Business Links, Chambers, Trusts, you name it. Awash with cash, seemingly concerned with the bottom line, but almost all designed to launch a box-ticking scheme, often with a pot of EU/taxpayer money, and then... get you to 'sign off' quicker than you can say 'match-funding'. And often the funding pot is pretty bare of actual serious dosh to dole out once the empires, especially often overlapping ones, have taken their cut first. It's like being bought an F-16, helped to take off and then bang, the guys in the back seat eject as 'their job is done'. You either crash and burn or get addicted to in-flight refuelling just to stay airborne.

Some do delve into the P&Ls and all the rest, but as it's an enterprise you are usually dealing in the future, with forecast guesstimates at best. And visionary thinkers are not usually too great at the numbers. So they will say what is required to be heard, and if it's at all social enough will get the launch money. As to what happens down the road...? Case closed. The caravan will have moved on.

Why can there not be more emphasis on matchmaking talents, bringing together the ones with ideas and assisting them by the introduction of a sensible complement (for every Trevor Baylis there has to be a Peter Jones whose introduction to each other will benefit both...the project... and the country), with more funding going into forging those business relationships such that a team is created to ensure that both the social and the enterprise aspects can be delivered, with returns, quickly and... sustainably. Once in profit, everyone can be happy, left to it, and support can move on to new, good works.

Or, the whole thing can be driven by targets and PR opps...

Gaurdian - Social Innovation Camp: finalists announced

More, and better?

In my idle trawl of funding news today I noticed this:

Website Will Show A Better Way To Recycle

A new website that will make it easier for people to recycle has scooped the top prize in a Government-sponsored competition. The Can I Recycle It portal was judged the overall winner of the Show Us A Better Way contest, which asked members of the public to devise a website that would provide a useful service using some of the non-personal data held by the Government.

This competition was one I noted, but then promptly forget, partly because I'm old, partly because I don't trust the government to credit inventors properly, and hence suspected that any ideas would soon become a very public/bureaucrat domain and not much to do with the creator, and partly because in my experience such things are often judged on agenda rather merit.

Interesting that many have noted another gov/quango site, Recycle Now, seems to have roughly the same thing. Also mentioned is Sort it. Can't have enough of a good thing, I guess. Slight duplication of effort on the public purse, mind.

Fortunately, perhaps due to lack of targets and boxes to tick, reuse again gets missed.

Now, if they had a site for that! Ahead of our time still?