Fairtrade: A Mark of inspiration

The impending Fairtrade Fortnight (27th February – 12th March) led me to reminisce that the Fairtrade movement inspired the roots of our own accreditation system, back in the late 2000’s. Fairtrade is a global movement to secure fair prices, working conditions and terms of trade for farmers, producers and workers across the world. By guaranteeing a minimum price and a premium payment, which producers invest into their businesses and communities, Fairtrade gives people in developing countries the opportunity to improve their lives and plan for their future.

Fairtrade Fortnight is an annual campaign to increase public awareness of Fairtrade certified products, organised by the Fairtrade Foundation, an independent non-profit organisation that licenses use of the Fairtrade Mark on products in the UK. This year marks 20 years since the inaugural Fairtrade Fortnight campaign was launched in Scotland on 12th February 1997.

The credibility of the Fairtrade system is upheld by FLOCERT, which is coincidentally a Social Enterprise Mark holder. FLOCERT is responsible for independently certifying Fairtrade products and awarding the internationally recognised Fairtrade Mark; an independent certification that you see on a product that meets the international Fairtrade standards. This label shows that the product has been certified to offer a better deal to the farmers and workers involved. The Mark helps consumers to easily identify products that have met the required standards.

The Social Enterprise Mark was borne out of a similar need – to address the lack of robustness behind the term ‘social enterprise’ and the lack of a way to market social enterprise products and services. Social Enterprise Mark accreditation provides reassurance for customers and stakeholders that there is credibility behind claiming to be a social enterprise. Our two accreditation Marks – the Social Enterprise Mark and Social Enterprise Gold Mark – protect the integrity of genuine social enterprises and enable them to stand out from the crowd, as an externally assessed, independent guarantee of their primary commitment to using income and profits to create benefits for people and planet.

In very simple terms, the Social Enterprise Mark is the social enterprise equivalent of the Fairtrade Mark, providing a clear definition of what constitutes a social enterprise, and an instantly recognisable ‘stamp of approval’ to show that a business has been independently assessed and meets sector-agreed criteria to justifiably call itself a social enterprise.

With the Fairtrade Mark now well into its third decade, working with over 1,200 certified organisations worldwide, it is perhaps no surprise that 9/10 people now recognise and understand the label. Although, I am sure that maintaining and raising public and consumer awareness remains a key objective, hence the annual Fairtrade Fortnight campaign.

It has always been my wish that the Social Enterprise Mark will not only become as recognisable as the Fairtrade Mark, but that it will also stand for business that is striving to be really good at what it does, i.e. trading for people and planet. There are many challenges to this, as there are to any accreditation/labelling scheme, but it remains a key priority.

To this end, we are excited to be putting the finishing touches to a new campaign targeted directly at consumers, where we will be working in collaboration with several high profile partners. We hope that by working in partnership with other companies that share similar challenges of public perception and awareness that we can amplify our collective voice, to reach a wider audience across multiple sectors and demographics. We are planning to launch the campaign over the next few weeks and this will run into our conference in June, when we will consider the impact it has had in generating awareness and recognition.

Watch this space – more details to follow soon!

Celebrating 7 years of upholding the standard for social enterprise

On the  7th anniversary of the launch of the Social Enterprise Mark, I am reminded of how far we have come as a sector in that time, but also of how far we have to go in being truly recognised as competitive, sustainable businesses in the mainstream business world.

sem-homepage-buttonSince our inception back in 2010, Social Enterprise Mark CIC has endeavoured to ensure the social enterprise business model remains ethical, credible and commercial, through independent accreditation. As well as providing a single recognisable ‘identifier’ for genuine social enterprises, which are externally assessed against sector-agreed criteria, we work to promote the capabilities of social enterprises as a credible alternative to more traditional business models.

This is not easy by any means, especially when it comes to spreading the message to the public and consumers. However, there is clearly a shift change occurring in consumer attitudes towards the sustainability of brands and organisation, as seen in a recent study by consumer goods giant Unilever, which found more than a third of consumers now choose to buy from brands they believe are doing social or environmental good.

We are currently planning a new campaign, which will aim to encourage consumers to consider how they can be sure of the ethical/sustainable credentials of the organisations they buy from. By working with several high profile partners, we hope to spread the message to a much wider audience and to start a global conversation about how consumers can be sure brands are ‘walking the walk’ and not just ‘talking the talk’ when it comes to sustainability and their social purpose.

Another constant challenge is influencing government policy and embedding social enterprise within their mindset. I was interested to see PM Teresa May allude (albeit briefly) to her vision for an inclusive business strategy in the foreword of the government’s Green Paper on the Industrial Strategy: Building our Industrial Strategy. Although there was no direct reference to her recent Shared Society speech, the PM declared that the government wants to “move beyond short-term thinking to focus on the big decisions that will deliver long-term, sustainable success”.

As I wrote back in November in a post looking at the pressures faced by the public sector, tight financial constraints have been resulting in a rather short-term focus, where the bottom line has become of overriding importance, over and above what may be best for society in the long term. Social enterprises are rooted in their stakeholders and communities, and are therefore well placed to respond to the biggest issues facing society. They are set up to address a particular social issue or objective and this remains their driving, primary purpose for the long term – of course profitability is also important for the business to remain sustainable, but profits are used to serve the needs of social stakeholders and feeds back into their social objective.

As we begin our 8th year as the social enterprise accreditation authority, I am confident that we are moving in the right direction to achieving these goals, and look forward to what the next 8 years will bring.

Is the Shared Society all ‘Motherhood and Apple Pie’?

Theresa May’s recent announcement of a ‘Shared Society’, after all the fuss about the Big Society when it was launched, has been greeted with a healthy degree of scepticism, but it is worth having a look at the finer detail and trains of thought that lie within the speech.  Much of it is ‘motherhood and apple pie’, but there are some key themes that chime with me, as she was talking directly about social enterprises (albeit in a limited context of social finance).

Firstly, she highlights the limits of the cult of the individual and how social enterprises help to break this down.  For me, this is a fundamental point about social enterprises.

Social enterprises aspire to be more than a single founder or entrepreneur, however charismatic and publicity hungry such individuals can be in driving the business forward. The most effective social enterprises are rooted in their stakeholders and communities. Conventional business may also be bigger than the individual who runs or sets them up, but social enterprises are set up to address a particular social issue or objective and this remains their driving, primary purpose for the long term; profitability remains important, but it serves the needs of social stakeholders above that of the whims of individual shareholders and their personal profit motivations.

Alongside this the PM also talked about how social enterprises (as well as charities) are not only dependent on the people involved, but also the trust which they engender in the way they work.  The Charity Commission and new Fundraising Regulator are working to help the government with this.  However this does not address the trust placed in social enterprises.  This is where the Social Enterprise Mark comes in – we externally assess social enterprise credentials as well as commitment to providing additional social value. The Mark acts as an independent guarantee that an organisation is trading for the primary benefit of people and the planet.

Lastly, social enterprises also often provide goods and services that address the needs of a whole community, not just the poorest, although they may have programmes that are targeted at or support those in the most need.  The fact that they are run as businesses (and as I touch upon above, must therefore be profitable) allows a cross- subsidy model and does not require grant funding, which tends to be more specifically targeted at the most marginalised.  Therefore you can legitimately argue that the social enterprise business model can help ‘the just about managing’.

Social justice – more than just a pipedream?

By Steve Hawkins, CEO of Pluss

PlussPluss has over 45 years experience of working with some of the most disadvantaged people in society. However, the fact is that today, we are working with many less severely disadvantaged people than we have done in the past.

This is absolutely not because the need has gone away, but as a result of the reduction in funding for these services, which has historically been provided locally.

The upcoming Building Better Opportunities contracts will provide a new range of support but these are not focussed in the way that, for example, local authority learning disability services have been in the past.  And whilst we welcome the focus of the Work and Health programme, it is clear that the programme is for people with a shorter-term into-work prognosis.

At the top level then, this situation is unfortunately at odds with the objective of increasing social justice in the short-term. Increasing social justice should be about addressing disadvantage, reducing inequality and widening opportunities for all people.

In terms of real life issues facing the people that we work with today, the nature of the economy in 2016 (typified by underemployment, zero hours contracts, minimum wage jobs) and the stresses on public services mean vulnerable people’s lives are often more fragile than they have ever been.

When talking about people who are disabled, it is always good to take a step back to reflect on who they actually are. They are not some “distant” group of people – the reality is that they are all of us. The fact is that well over 85% of people with disabilities have acquired them through the course of their lives as a result of illness or injury.

By definition, people with disabilities span the social and economic spectrums. As it stands, the help available from DWP contracted provision is primarily aimed just above the bottom of the demographic – ie. entry-level jobs. This leaves huge gaps at either end of the spectrum where people are not supported – an issue which has to be addressed.

The obvious fact is that this huge degree of diversity means that a one-size approach is never going to work. Halving the disability employment gap requires us to have an amalgam of support services ranging from pre-work, into work and effective retention strategies. All need to be delivered against the specific needs of the individual if lasting change is to be achieved.

Very often one of the major barriers which we see with those people who are more marginalised is the view that work is unattainable. This is often as a result of that message having been drummed into them over a lifetime by medical professionals, schools etc. This has to change, with recognition that employment is a health outcome being vitally important.

We know that at the macro level the labour market and people’s needs will change over time. Therefore it is critical that we have a range of integrated services which embeds local expertise so that it can flex to deliver what is needed on the ground now and for the changing needs of tomorrow.

So what does this mean for commissioning?

Quality, highly effective services are required to deliver lasting results and value for money for the exchequer. We must avoid the race to the bottom in commissioning to ensure that inexpensive just doesn’t end up being cheap.

  • We must retain a focus on in-work support to avoid churn and implement new retention strategies to avoid the bath tap analogy – as fast as we’re filling the labour market vacancies, it’s emptying out twice as quickly. This must take into account the numbers of people falling out of the work from professional, technical and managerial positions who have long careers behind them and who will choose not to access Jobcentre plus.
  • We need to find ways to support people who cannot access DWP provision to re-enter the labour market. It is vital that government finds ways of incentivising local authorities to retain employment services for people in receipt of adult social care who are unlikely to gain access in large numbers to the Work and Health Programme.
  • We need to bring on board others (such as NHS Confederation, CCGs, GP’s etc.) to support our efforts to make work a genuine and valuable health outcome for health stakeholders.
  • We need to build a presumption of employability in the eyes of commissioners for those unlikely to be accommodated by the Work  and Health Programme.

As well as increasing social justice for people because it’s the right thing to do, there is also a very clear economic argument. 

Landman Economics modelled the economic impact of a sustained increase in the rate of employment amongst disabled people between 2105 and 2030. They found that a rise of just five percentage points would lead to

  • An increase in Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of £23 billion
  • A gain of £6 billion to the Exchequer

For Pluss, the argument for a return to the principles of “invest to save” in order to support effective local provision that operates alongside the DWP Work and Health Programme would seem clear.

As a sector, we need appropriate levels of funding to be available so that quality services are provided, thus ensuring that achieving social justice is more than just a pipe dream.

Promoting true professionalism as a social enterprise

By Simon Ayers, CEO of TrustMark

trustmarkAs TrustMark nears a close on its 10th Anniversary year, we nostalgically look back on how we got to this point. This year we’ve been campaigning heavily to promote reputable tradespeople, and shone light into the daily activities of our ten TrustMark Ambassadors, all of whom excel in customer service, trading practices and standards of workmanship.

Our ambassadors have been involved in a range of activities this year to promote reputable traders. They started off by being featured in our anniversary report which you can download here. This looks at their business practices, ethos and how they stay true to their customers. We’re proud to work with them to change the industry stereotype and instil confidence in customers that by looking for the right indicators you can find truly professional tradespeople.

trustmark-infographicFirms have come a long way from the commonly branded ‘cowboy’ brush that they are still tarnished with. This year alone, we’ve seen a huge drive to change this unfair image. We released an infographic at the start of this year with some keys statistics on how much UK tradespeople contribute to the economy, which unveiled some astonishing figures. The repair, maintenance and improvement sector alone is worth £2.7 billion every year, so the work carried out by tradespeople has a huge impact on the UK economy.

We’re proud to call ourselves a Social Enterprise Mark Holder. We’ve held the Mark for five years already, so we understand how much value it adds to a business such as ours. As a not-for-profit social enterprise, we put the interests of our Registered Firms and their customers at the heart of our business, and having a symbol that recognises this is important as consumers know that we aren’t focused on purely commercial gains.

Naturally, we aim to stay competitive, but in a way that benefits society and the construction industry. To us, the Mark shows businesses we have their best interests at heart, and we’re not just another scheme trying to make money. Social Enterprise Mark CIC are committed to ensuring the social enterprise business model remains ethical, credible and commercial through accreditation.

SE_BRAND_APPROVED_RGBAll organisations awarded the Social Enterprise Mark accreditation have one key quality in common: their main aim is to use income and profits to benefit society, rather than individuals such as business owners or shareholders. As the only social enterprise accreditation that is internationally available, we see it as a distinctive sign of quality and reassurance to consumers. It is also re-assessed on an annual basis, to ensure businesses are maintaining a fair approach and keep consumer interests at the core of activity.

As a social enterprise, we don’t have a big marketing budget to play around with, so for TrustMark as an organisation we focus on spreading the word organically and adding value to our firms and their customers in any way we can in order to grow and stay competitive. Being a Social Enterprise Mark holder sends a message to firms that we are a professional organisation, and we feel that such affiliations attract the right sort of firms to become TrustMark registered. It’s important in this day and age to give a platform for quality, expert people to sell themselves with the recognition they deserve.

Within our big drive this year to promote professionals in the industry and add credibility to their businesses, we’ve set about a number of initiatives, to expand on the work with our Ambassadors and offer easier ways of staying professional to all of our Registered Firms.

One of the ways we looked to do this way by launching a new feedback system earlier this year to add value to traders on the TrustMark website. We see online reviews as a real sign of quality, and is obviously a great way for these firms to prove their worth to new customers who might not be familiar with their standards of workmanship. We try to encourage our firms to request reviews from all customers, even those that might have had some hiccups along the way. Reviews are often criticised for their inability to distinguish between real and fake, but with this new system in place, we are going the extra mile to ensure reviews are genuine. All customers leaving a review will have their review moderated by Referenceline to ensure they are genuine customers, and are not denied the right to leave a review by the firm.

We’re now looking to 2017 and how we can continue to add value to our Registered Firms so that they can pass this on to their customers. We’ll soon be launching a National Trading Standards Approval scheme – so this is something to look forward to seeing in the New Year!

Post truth and post authenticity?

I write this on a day when Donald Trump has been announced as President Elect of the USA.  There are many questions being asked and much soul searching for answers to them. Amongst others – are we in a post truth era or an era that wants to kick over the traces of corporate and institutional power that have bypassed them? One thing is for sure, it has been very difficult to see the truth from the myths and the authenticity of the message.

A lack of transparency and clarity from leaders and commentators regarding the business model has also been a feature of social enterprise too for as long as I can remember.  This has served a purpose; to pump-up the sector in terms of size and diversity without asking too many questions.  It has also served a small number of well-connected social enterprises that know and can milk the system, which has led to the development of opaque business models that have benefited from the patronage of government and support programmes, e.g. Social Impact Bonds and the advent of Social Investment.

se_brand_approved_rgbIt was partly for this reason that we set up the Social Enterprise Mark as a project 9 years ago, and 3 years later as a business in its own right.  We now have the longest pedigree and experience of social enterprise accreditation in the world and are indeed seen as leaders, with international academics and experts looking to us for our expertise in this field, e.g. British Council in China. Social enterprises outside the UK have also decided that they wish to accredit directly through our process, e.g. Fairtrade Labelling Organisation (FLOCERT). This proves that there is an appetite for being seen as different and being able to prove it credibly.

trustmark-logoWe can draw an analogy to TrustMark, a Social Enterprise Mark Holder, which evolved in response to concerns in the building sector. It is a government-endorsed accreditation scheme for trades in and around the home, providing reassurances that businesses must regularly stand up to scrutiny to.

Social Enterprise Mark CIC had an original mandate from our sector to provide a similar service in the UK, verifying businesses who are genuine social enterprises.

We have learned, from the experiences of Fair Trade, of the importance of having a status that could confer genuineness and authenticity.  At the time many different models were banded about, e.g. self-certification, CSR marks, membership bodies etc.  We were clear that certifying authenticity can only be achieved through independence (the certification panel) and with transparency (application of the criteria consistently). This is why we operate as an independent CIC and not a membership body.  Membership bodies depend upon and exist to promote the interests of their paying members, and through their sector – a potential conflict of interest.

We take our customers and accreditation very seriously and have built the value added to ensure that our accreditation does not stand still and is really clear to the outside world – for example, developing social value declarations to help demonstrate the commitment that all social enterprises should have to making a positive difference for people and planet, as well as the Social Enterprise Gold Mark as an indicator of business excellence.

The term “accreditation” may be used to distinguish a system of certification that actually seeks evidence in confirmation of an organisations credentials. The Social Enterprise Mark has always done this and we are challenge-stampcurrently working with international sustainability standards, established by ISEAL, to help align our Marks with best practice models of accreditation. Whenever you see the term “certified”, ISEAL encourage people to “challenge the label”; to consider a few critical questions that help determine what that certification is really worth.

In striving for the best practice in accreditation, we have been and will continue to consult Mark Holders (and the wider sector). Our aim is to continue to provide a certification process that offers genuinely credible accreditation, one that social enterprises can take pride in and learn to improve from the world over.

Cutting out a more effective way of doing business?

Public sector commissioners are coming under unprecedented financial and political pressure to make huge savings, particularly in the health service.  Unfortunately, this type of pressure only leads to short-termism rather than more strategic, long term decision making.  The tight timetable for the submission of STPs (Sustainability and Transformation Plans) by government also added to these pressures.

The reality on the ground is hard and is leading to irreversible outcomes.  We have recently seen the closure of award-winning Social Enterprise Gold Mark Holder SEQOL, who had proved that they were adding great social value to their community as well as joining up health and social care (all the things that a great social enterprise can help to do).  The services that SEQOL provided will now be brought back into the NHS and Swindon Borough Council.

We have also seen the effects on other social enterprises that were set up as former ‘spin outs’ from the NHS, for example Sirona in Bath and North East Somerset has recently lost its contract to Virgin Care.

A short-term solution?

It would seem that the bottom line has become of overriding importance, over and above what’s good for patient care and a joined up health and social care service.  Those leading the STPs are looking for big savings – this often leads to ignoring the fine grain, and instead opting for the ‘big’ providers that appear to provide a more cost effective service on the face of it. Social enterprises (even those that spun out) are not big in NHS terms, they are just flotsam and jetsam in the grand scheme of things when you are dealing with one of the biggest employers in the world undergoing a serious financial crisis.

Unlike the NHS, all businesses also need to balance their annual books.   The irony is that the NHS can carry a deficit and still operate and deliver on services that are loss making, as they are ultimately backed by the government.  Handing back financially unviable contracts therefore may be an easier short term option.  This approach is of course unsustainable, as even the NHS cannot sustain a deficit in the longer term and will require government intervention or the collapse of parts of the service (unless we all start paying directly for it).

The other option of contracting with a big corporate can also be seen as superficially attractive, as big savings are presented at the bidding stage.  Savings are made, but at what cost?  The profits for shareholders have to come from somewhere.  They can only come through reducing the service and/or people delivering it (e.g. when SERCO ran Cornwall’s Out of Hours GP service).

Is there another way?

So is the baby being thrown out with the bathwater?  I think so.  It is too late after the act.

Medical examinationThe health and social care services are delivered by people for people.  Social enterprise offers a way to help those who delivered the service a chance to have a say and input their expertise and in some cases actually own it (where there is employee ownership).  It also offers the chance for patients input too.

I am not arguing for a bad service to be continued, but people will not stay if they do not feel valued.  We are seeing this currently with the shortage of staff and low morale in the NHS.

The added social value that the business can bring to its community, by joining things up that might not be healthcare related, is also lost.  For instance, SEQOL had a policy of employing people who had been through their supported employment programme.  It also provided savings that were not directly contract related, through prevention and partnership working.  These things are harder to measure and all came from the spirit of innovation and ‘thinking outside the box’.

It is therefore even more vital for us as social enterprises to try to articulate all of this to commissioners at a difficult financial time.  Social enterprises can provide part of the answer to the holy grail of outcomes based commissioning, but it requires a more long term, strategic, joined up approach and commissioners with ‘bottle’ who are prepared to take some risks despite the huge pressures to jump to the short term financial goals.

We have recently developed a set of new resources to support Commissioners in developing and embedding an outcomes based approach to commissioning public services. Please get in touch for more information.

Yes we can – how the NHS can lead the Disability Confident movement

By Social Enterprise Mark holder Pluss

If you haven’t seen it yet, you will soon. And when you do, it’ll blow you away.


It’s the ‘Superhumans’ trailer for Channel 4’s coverage of the 2016 Paralympics that comes hard on the heels of this summer’s Rio Olympic Games. Set to the Sammy Davis Jr. track ‘Yes I Can’ being stunningly performed by a band of disabled musicians, the three-minute film features world-class athletes as well as a rock climber with one arm and a rally driver who steers cars with his feet. It also shows people carrying out everyday tasks – a woman without arms efficiently changes her child’s nappy; another writes notes during a phone call while gripping her pen with her toes. Cut to a gloomy room where a careers officer is telling a young man with a disability, ‘No you can’t’. His message is swamped by a kaleidoscope of people who’ve been featured in the trailer who take it in turn to chorus ‘Yes I can’.

The message is a simple one – see the person; recognise ability; help it flourish because that way everyone benefits.

Within the NHS, it’s easy to think of disability in terms of us and them. In fact, one in three people have some form of disability or limiting condition. The reality is that disability is a part of everyone’s life whether this means friends, family or colleagues, and any of us can become disabled at any time. Disability is everyone’s business.

The Government recognised this recently when, as part of its Disability Confident campaign, it made a commitment to halve the UK’s disability employment gap. That’s the difference between the percentage of people with disabilities who are in work and that of the working age population as a whole. That difference is currently around 33%. To achieve this ambition – in other words to close the gap – will mean one million additional people with a disability or a health condition in work.

Pretty much everyone agrees that this would be a good thing – for the individuals themselves, for employers, for all of us. For NHS Trusts in particular, it makes sound business sense, not least because the NHS Confederation reports a huge problem in recruiting – especially to the 60% of its lower tier jobs. Trusts need talented and resourceful staff, but how best to bring them on board?

There’s a mountain of evidence that workers with a disability are at least, if not more, productive and reliable than their non-disabled colleagues. From Pluss’ experience, disabled employees also bring to work those can-do attributes that they’ve needed to develop in their everyday lives. And having a workforce that is representative of the people being supported by NHS Trusts can only help inspire recovering patients, and help Trusts better understand and respond to their patient base.

For this to happen, Trusts need to think creatively about recruitment if they are to tap into this pool of talent. Employment rates amongst people with a disability or health condition (that’s one in three of us, remember) are low because stubborn preconceptions stop us seeing beyond the disability; and because inflexible recruitment procedures can prevent that pool of people from showing Trusts how they could shine if they were given the chance.
There are some simple steps that Trusts can take to develop a more inclusive approach to recruitment, one that is flexible enough to include some innovative routes into employment for people with a range of disabilities and health conditions. Traditional recruitment procedures such as panel interviews and group sessions are one of the biggest barriers for people with complex disabilities. Working interviews or time limited work trials offer a far better opportunity to judge whether a person has the skills and capabilities to do a job really well. Job carving, with the help of an organisation like Pluss, can ensure a job fits a person’s unique set of skills. Longer term recruitment techniques including traineeships and internships such as Project SEARCH help people grow steadily into outstanding employees.

A yes we can willingness to make small adjustments in work pays dividends too. The changes a Trust might need to make to support dedicated disabled employees are frequently tiny and, almost always, those changes are worth the investment. The NHS is the most iconic health brand in the world. As an institution, it is uniquely placed to see the whole remarkable person, to recognise not what people can’t do but what they can. Showing innovation in how it recruits its workforce can put an NHS Trust where it should be – at the forefront of the Disability Confident movement, and be good for business too.

PlussIf your Trust isn’t sure about the best place to start, or how to build on the steps you’ve already taken, the Disability Confident campaign offers some really good ideas to raise awareness and challenge perceptions. And you can always talk to Pluss. We love hearing from employers and we’re always happy to help.

www.pluss.org.uk

 

How social enterprise can facilitate innovation in health and social care

I was recently interested to hear about an innovative new movement focused on collaboration between practitioners, businesses, and communities, to improve and support health and social care services.

WHISWorld Health Innovation Summit (WHIS) is a platform for everyone in the community to come together and share knowledge to deliver solutions for the benefit of all. There is no denying that our health and care services are under increasing pressure…. to cope with the demand, we need innovative solutions. WHIS believe that collaboration is key here and they propose that, by bringing patients, clinicians, managers, voluntary sector, education and businesses together, we can improve the future of health and care services for all of us.

WHIS was brought to our attention by Steve Turner of Mark holder Care Right Now CIC, who is working to bring WHIS to the South West. As Steve explains, “This is a forum for healthcare unlike anything else I’ve ever experienced. It really involves patients and the public, across the world and shows the benefits of seeing healthcare as a social movement.”

I agree with Steve – WHIS is an exciting development, as it highlights on a global scale the opportunities available for innovation in health and social care. We have long recognised that the social enterprise business model offers many opportunities for delivering significant improvements in health and care services. By having a certain amount of freedom from the bureaucracy of the NHS, ‘spin-out’ social enterprises can deliver innovative services, which focus on meeting the needs of patients and communities, as well as the wider health and wellbeing economy.

IC24For example, Social Enterprise Gold Mark holder Integrated Care 24 (IC24) places an emphasis on new product and service innovation for an improved patient experience and reduced demand on other services. ‘mylittleone’ is a unique example of how they have utilised technology to meet patient needs; to promote bonding between mother and baby when a child is placed in neonatal care. A camera is placed above the infant’s cot with video streaming to a tablet that the mother can have wherever she is, which reduces stress and anxiety for them both.

JTH nursesThis is just one example. Over ¼ of our network of Social Enterprise Mark holders operate in the health and social care sector, providing a wide range of essential services, including urgent and out of hours healthcare, general practices, community healthcare, and family services and social care.

We are therefore always keen to support new ways of working in this sector, and we welcome WHIS as an arena for encouraging innovation through collaboration, both within the sector and across other business sectors.

With a growing and diverse network of providers in the sector gaining Social Enterprise Mark/Gold Mark accreditation, we are keen to encourage Mark holders to collaborate and share their knowledge and experiences, in the pursuit of continually improving the services offered. This is why we are working with a number of Mark holders to set up a specific health and care network, which will be facilitated and run by the organisations themselves, supported and promoted by Social Enterprise Mark CIC.

For some time now, I have been increasingly aware that social enterprise can offer a platform to enable health and care providers to deliver more for patients/service users, whilst strengthening their business and increasing social value. This viewpoint has recently been endorsed by a report from the South West Academic Health Science Network (SW AHSN), which highlighted the potential for charities and social enterprises to play an important role in future models of health and care. Indeed, SW AHSN has recently partnered with social investment organisation Resonance to launch a £5million fund to support social sector organisations to develop innovative, person-centred health and care solutions.

With local authorities and commissioners now being encouraged and incentivised to consider bids on the social value they will create, rather than on pure cost, this presents an opportunity for social enterprises to stand out as proven creators of social value. Following The Public Services (Social Value) Act coming into force in 2013, health, social care and public services providers have been under increasing pressure to prove that they are creating social value. By becoming an accredited social enterprise with the Social Enterprise Mark/Gold Mark, health and care providers can prove they operate with the central aim of using income and profits to maximise their positive social impact.

It is encouraging to see the momentum the WHIS movement has gained already, and we are excited to be in discussions with Steve Turner at Care Right Now CIC about supporting the proposed WHIS Cornwall network.

To find out more about WHIS visit: http://www.worldhealthinnovationsummit.com/.

Health in our community and how we can work together

By Gareth Presch, Founder of World Health Innovation Summit

We now have the tools and the will to inspire, innovate and share knowledge to support our health services. World Health Innovation Summit provides that space for innovation and knowledge exchange to take place so all sectors of society benefit.

Problem: Our health services are under immense pressure with demand rising. Staff morale, recruitment, retention, patient safety and overall pressures are seeing the current health services stretched to breaking point.

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Solution: World Health Innovation Summit (WHIS) provides an innovative and unique global opportunity to bring people together. WHIS is about inspiring, innovating and sharing knowledge to improve and support healthcare services. It’s a platform for everyone in the community to come together and share their knowledge so we all benefit. Every sector is touched by health, and WHIS allows us all to contribute in a constructive manner and deliver solutions that benefit us all and most importantly while doing so it creates huge economic opportunities.

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Unique and Innovative – Previously we only had patients and clinicians discuss how we solve or improve our health problems. However, health touches everyone and every sector and WHIS provides the platform for all sectors to get involved (Patients, Clinicians, Voluntary Sector, Education and Businesses) so everyone benefits.

Our #WHISCumbria16 summit, which was held in the City of Carlisle, attracted over 300 people and we had a staggering 23.7 million twitter impressions around the World (#WHISCumbria16). This exposure and promotion for the City and region was unprecedented. The value to the City over the 2 days was estimated at £40,000 and we estimate that economically WHIS has brought in excess of £100,000 over the last few months through our various activities.

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To put the WHIS reach into context, we have had enquiries now from over 10 different locations around the World, proposing to host a WHIS summit. WHIS has reached over 100 countries and continues to grow. We’ve just signed a partnership with a top digital health influencer, Salus Digital, that gives us the opportunity to share our vision with key stakeholders in the digital sector.

The WHIS model is a community led initiative that supports existing health care provision while looking at prevention (WHISKids, WHISatwork etc).

An example of the local impact – A father of two disabled children attended WHISCumbria and. based on the knowledge exchanged, he set up a peer support group for other fathers of disabled children. This has a direct impact on alleviating pressure on the local health economy. It means those fathers don’t have to go to their GP’s for support, and also has a significant impact on their quality of life, which in turn results in improvements to the family’s well-being.

From a global perspective, a similar support group was established on the back of WHIS Cumbria – Global Villages for Mental Health – a twitter account set up to support people with mental health problems.

These are just two examples that are innovative and were born as a direct result of the WHIS Cumbria event.

Audience – 80% of our Twitter following are health professionals and decision makers. It’s very evident by the speakers we attracted to WHIS Cumbria that key stakeholders support our ethos and work.

With increasing population growth expected over the next 30 years, it is imperative that we look at how we communicate with the wider public on a local, national and international level around health. Education and knowledge exchange will play an important role as our current health services are stretched. The World Health Innovation Summit platform for knowledge exchange and preventative programmes will play a key role in how public engagement and support of our health services develop around the World.

For example, in six months we’ve seen WHISKids grow from a pilot project to being in 8 schools, with 10 more schools interested. These programmes look to support children with health & wellness and we use a mental health app, the My Way Code, as part of the programme. Results have been significant, with children reporting that it is fun and interesting while also educational.

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The World Health Innovation Summit is a social enterprise and set up to support communities in a unique way. Our profits after costs go back to local communities. Income generated from our activities will be re-invested into local projects.

The WHIS model is aligned to social good and therefore businesses aligning themselves via partnerships with WHIS will see a return (CSR), based on supporting a health initiative that improves health and social care not just locally and nationally but also internationally.

We are unique and innovative in that nobody has ever done anything along these lines before.

To draw a comparison, we can look at Websummit (technology based summit), who saw growth from 400-42,000 in 5 years. WHIS, by comparison, focuses on health and social care as well as technology, so we expect growth to be similar or in excess of this.

WHIS
Communities are supporting our activities and now we are seeking to partner with companies and agencies with the same values that are aligned to improving our community’s health care while sharing knowledge.

*If you have an idea that can help our health services or community contact us on info@worldhealthinnovationsummit.com


 

This post originally appeared on the WHIS blog on 15th July 2016: http://www.worldhealthinnovationsummit.com/blog/2016/07/15/health-in-our-community-and-how-we-can-work-together-gareth-presch/

 

Services/products you wouldn’t expect to be delivered by social enterprises

During my 15 odd years working in the social enterprise sector, I have been asked countless times to explain what a social enterprise is. Like many others in the sector I am sure, I tend to wheel out the same well-known examples, such as Big Issue and Age UK, to illustrate the concept of social enterprise. Using these ‘mainstream’ big name examples does help to get people’s heads around the idea of social enterprise, although I often think of the many organisations operating across the country (and internationally for that matter), that fit the bill but do not have the label. That is, they want to make a profit but commit to reinvesting this to create benefits for people and the planet. These businesses operate in almost every industry, and I am sure many people would be surprised at the wide range of products and services delivered by social enterprises.

Using examples from our network of Social Enterprise Mark and Gold Mark accredited organisations, I have listed below a handful of the products and services that you probably didn’t realise were delivered by social enterprises.

 


Bed-iconAccommodation and conference facilities

It’s a service that we all use at some point, either in a personal or professional capacity, but many would not readily consider that hotels and conference venues would offer much in terms of creating social value.

The WesleyHowever, take the Wesley Hotel for example – the only hotel to have been awarded the Social Enterprise Mark and the first ethical hotel in the UK. The Wesley is committed to sustainable operations and social responsibility, which underpins everything they do, from procurement to waste management, and from water usage to employment practices.

A distinct example of how they create social value is the Hilda Porter Bursary Fund, which provides funding for marginalised students and young people in the UK and developing world, who do not have the means to study at higher education level.

 


Dollar-iconBanking and finance

With the negative press frequently associated with the banking and finance sector, it may be surprising to learn that there are a growing number of ethical banks and financiers, including Charity Bank – a bank entirely owned by charitable foundations, trusts and social purpose organisations.

Charity-BankCharity Bank was founded to support charities with loans that they couldn’t find elsewhere and to show people how their savings could be invested ethically and in ways that would make them happy. Their community of borrowers, savers, shareholders and staff are all working towards one goal – helping to create lasting social change in communities. Loans are provided to organisations to further their social missions, and borrowers are assessed on both immediate benefits for their beneficiaries, and longer term benefits for the borrower themselves.

 


Degree-iconHigher Education

Higher Education is not the first thing that pops into most people’s minds when they think of social enterprises, especially given the modern cost of studying for a degree. However, we have noticed a growing in interest social enterprise from the Higher Education sector, and there are now 5 Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) which have been awarded the Social Enterprise Mark or Social Enterprise Gold Mark in recognition of their commitment to creating positive social and economic change:

More than ever before, HEIs are placing civic engagement, social and environmental justice, and sustainable economic development at the heart of their strategic plans and student experience, and each of the above institutions have demonstrated a commitment to these values, putting sustainable and ethical business practices at the heart of their strategic direction.

 


Browser-iconIT and digital services

Again, these services may not immediately spring to mind when thinking of services provided by social enterprises, but there are organisations in the IT industry that place an emphasis on operating ethically and creating social impact.

CosmicCosmic is one such example; an ethical digital agency specialising in website development, IT training courses, business consultancy, tech support, digital marketing and search engine optimisation. They were the very first organisation to be awarded the Social Enterprise Mark back in 2010, and have a key objective of improving digital inclusion – providing IT support for people and organisations who need it the most.

They are continually involved in a range of projects which achieve meaningful impact for individuals and organisations across the South West and use their own resources to develop and deliver project work benefiting thousands of people.

 


Pen-iconOffice supplies

It’s not just services that are delivered by social enterprises – there are many retail businesses that operate in competitive commercial markets, whilst maintaining a commitment to social and/or environmental objectives.

Supply ShackAn interesting example of a non-conventional social enterprise is Supply Shack – a group of sub-divisions selling office supplies, furniture, promotional gifts, signs, as well as design and print services.

They have a strong social mission; their primary objective is to drive social change. They achieve this through their unique ‘giving back to the community model’, whereby they offer an extensive range of products and services at competitive rates, the majority of profits from which are reinvested into the community with a focus on making a difference to people’s lives. Each year their customers vote for the community projects and charities that Supply Shack will support. They also engage with charities and apprenticeship schemes to offer employment opportunities for those from disadvantaged backgrounds.

 


This is just a handful of examples, you can find many more in our online directory of accredited social enterprises. I urge you to look out for the Social Enterprise Mark and Gold Mark badges as a sign of social enterprise credibility – all organisations that we accredit are guaranteed to be operating with the primary motivation of creating benefits for people and the planet.

New Look Marks

Mind the gap…

…The step change needed to halve the disability employment gap

By Steve Hawkins, CEO of Pluss

First the good news, then the maths.

The good news is the government’s unequivocal commitment to halving the disability employment gap.

Now the maths.

The disability employment gap currently stands at around 43 percentage points. To halve the gap means moving around 1.2 million more disabled people in work. In the last five years, the number of disabled people in work has risen by just 23,000. Halving the gap also means keeping people in work. According to the ONS, over 400,000 disabled people each year lose their job and fall into unemployment or inactivity. One in six of those who become disabled while in work lose their employment during the first year after becoming disabled.

What’s more, the challenge is increasing. The ONS predicts that by 2020, over a third of the workforce will be over fifty, and more than half of the over-50s workforce will have a disability or impairment. Like all really effective aspirational statements, the government’s pledge sets an almost unachievable goal. Almost, but not quite. It raises the bar. It demands that we think differently, that we make some brave choices.

Like President Kennedy’s pledge in 1961 that Americans would land on the Moon by the end of the decade, the idea of halving the disability employment gap is do-able because, perhaps naively, we can imagine a world in which it is possible. Many people believed that a Moon landing was possible, but not all of them understood the level of commitment, resilience and willingness to innovate that was needed to realise the goal in 1969. I believe we can, if we choose, get a million more people with disabilities into work and, importantly, keep most of them there – but not without an almost unimaginable level of commitment, resilience and willingness to innovate on the part of government and the partners it chooses to work with.

As the flagship initiative to deliver the government’s pledge, the challenge for the Work and Health Programme is that, for a majority of its customers, `any job` won’t be good enough, and for many a job start will, at most, represent only half of the journey. We’ll need to have primes in place who understand the critical nature of specialists in delivering outcomes on the programme, who can build and contract manage a team of specialists with local credentials and partnerships that are integrated with local health systems, in particular mental health, to support the journey back to work.

At £130 million a year, the Work and Health Programme will have around 20% of the combined resources of Work Programme and Work Choice, and will help upwards of perhaps 10,000 people a year to enter the workplace. It will set an important tone. But to reduce the disability employment gap by any significant measure will require a step change across half a dozen complementary areas of work.

  • First, government should explore ways of developing a robust retention service that meets the needs of both employers and disabled employees in a much more proactive way than the Fit for Work Service and Access to Work provision is currently able to do.
  • Second, we should ensure that the strategic and commissioning weight of LEPs, City Deals and Growth Plans are used in a co-ordinated way to maximise the opportunities of disabled people to enter local labour markets.
  • Third, I endorse the calls of a number of organisations for Government to explore the potential for ‘disability leave’ as a way of more constructively managing the fluctuating conditions of some employees. 40% of all employed disabled people say that modified hours have enabled them to stay in work; 36% of those out of work say that modified hours could have helped them retain their job.
  • Fourth, we need to find ways to support people who cannot access DWP provision to re-enter the labour market. Providing employment support is not a statutory requirement for local authorities or CCGs The four DWP mental health and employment pilots about to commence are welcome, but they take place against a background of dwindling funding for locally commissioned supported employment programmes, making it vital that government finds ways of incentivising local authorities to retain employment services for people in receipt of adult social care who are unlikely to gain access in large numbers to a capped Work and Health Programme.
  • Fifth, a significant percentage of disabled people falling out of the workforce are from professional, technical and managerial positions with acquired disabilities and health conditions who have long careers behind them and who will choose not to access JCP. Government and other stakeholders should urgently explore the potential for an intervention designed to support this cohort of people to rapidly re-enter the workforce.
  • Sixth, we need to get to grips with the transitions agenda, finding ways to help talented young people with learning disabilities and hidden impairments onto apprenticeship routes and supported internship programmes as part of a national unified drive to ensure that every young person with a disability who wants to transition into work can do so.

Finally, we need a step change in the way employers are engaged and supported to be part of the solution. We need to build on the Disability Confident initiative – from a promising PR campaign driven by committed providers and seventy active employers into a national movement which is identifiably driving the agenda, holding to account and championing innovation across each part of the plan.

Achieving remarkable things isn’t easy. We shouldn’t pretend this is a quick fix, or that more and more can magically be achieved with fewer and fewer resources. But a challenge has been set. Now we need some brave decisions that will move us from a visionary slogan to a detailed roadmap.

Please click here to read Pluss’ full submission to the Work and Pensions Committee inquiry into halving the disability employment gap.

 


PlussSquare_400x400Pluss is an accredited social enterprise with the Social Enterprise Mark. This means that Pluss has proved it is genuine against independently-assessed criteria for social enterprise. The Social Enterprise Mark provides assurance that profits are used to help disabled people gain opportunities to work, acting as a guarantee that Pluss is trading for people and planet.

Cash cows and money milking

The public and press have short memories. Today and over the last few weeks there has been flurry of scandal and comment about corporate greed. Even the right wing press are shouting about how BHS has been asset stripped, leaving a huge pensions hole. From offshore accounts and tax evasion, to BP paying a huge bonus to their CEO (despite huge losses being made by the company), the prevailing behaviour seems to be keep milking as much shareholder profit out, pay very little tax and forget thinking or caring about the consequences and who it affects.

A magnifying glass is held up to this sort of behaviour whilst it’s top of the news agenda, but it soon goes back to business as usual. There is no consistency in reporting either. One day there will be exposure of corporate greed in delivery of public services and the next day that company will be telling the business pages what a great job it does in valuing its employees and customers – maybe the figurehead head becomes another government ‘business czar’ – and getting CSR awards to boot?!

It doesn’t have to be like this though. If social enterprise was seen as a viable alternative, not just a niche, do-gooding, market failure option then perhaps we would get somewhere! Instead we forever seem to be hidebound by the current business orthodoxy of business schools the world over; ‘business is there to make money for its shareholders’.

This is why we get into problems with arguments about lack of investment too. The orthodoxy is that it’s hard to expand unless you can attract equity providers. However, as a famous local business person told me, ‘this is the equivalent of selling the family silver’. It means that you are at the behest of the equity stakeholders and even if they own a small proportion they are likely to influence in a purely commercial direction as their role is one of primarily making money. The wider social value of the business comes second.

What we need is a radically different business model that is seen as mainstream, not marginal. I don’t think that this is Corporate Social Responsibility. Rather it’s about truly putting people first. The old co-operatives of the last century were the centre of their community, because they were owned by the people that lived there. They were first and foremost about serving the locality, not making a fast buck and running.

There are those out there that share this ideal and business model that are not just niche; they are a substantial part of the economy. Universities, colleges, theatres, arts groups, membership bodies, sports clubs, unions – they all have a strong social mission but operate in many cases as businesses. They are our allies and we should be working together more closely to present a vision of what we want business to look like, not what business dictates to us.

Our conference in June, entitled ‘Standing up to Scrutiny’ will look in more detail at how we can work together to promote social enterprise as a credible and sustainable business model for the future. We will discuss the importance of accreditation and standards systems, and how these can help social enterprises to measure, demonstrate, and report on their social impact. Please click here for more information and to book your ticket.

Conference_speakers

Influencing the international destiny of social enterprise

By Richard Cobbett, Assessment and Compliance Manager

British CouncilLast month I had the great privilege of visiting Beijing, China, where I had been invited by the British Council to talk about the development of the Social Enterprise Mark certification process.

As well as the Council, I met with several key academics, including Professors Yuan Ruijun, Zhang Yanlong, Meng Zhao and Zhiyong Chen, from the Universities of Peking and Renmin and Ruixue Zhang from the China Philanthropy Research Institute (CPRI). As a group, they are striving to establish a clear definition for social enterprise in China, with a view to then developing their own infrastructure for certification. Through this they aim to encourage the development of social enterprise and influence the conditions in which it can flourish.

The term “place of contrasts” is somewhat of a travel cliché but could certainly be applied to my short time experiencing Beijing, and also visiting other locations in China as a tourist. I wonder though, do indigenous populations recognise this about the countries they live in or simply accept everything as part of a greater whole? As I was to discover, this provided a metaphor for the social business landscape in China, as they continue to explore questions of social enterprise differentiation.

On my arrival, I had a short time to recharge, although jetlag was yet to seriously take hold. Over the next few days though, this and the inevitable language barriers found me more than once recalling Bill Murray and the film “Lost in Translation”, which suddenly took on a whole new level of meaning for me!

Richard in ChinaI initially met with Hou Peng and Jack Yu from the British Council, along with Ruixue Zhang (CPRI) for an early dinner as part of a general welcome. I was to find that mealtimes always raised a few polite smiles as people observed me honing my chopstick skills but I like to think that by the end my stay I had got quite proficient at it!

The following day I met with the University Professors and CPRI representatives, who have done extensive research into different systems of social business certification from across the world. I talked about the development of the Mark, the rationale behind the criteria and workings of our assessment process.

We drilled down into these matters in detail, provoking lively debate amongst the group concerning how far the Mark could be applied in China, and the potential barriers and challenges posed. It was a fairly intensive interaction – quite a baptism of fire for me and one that certainly kept me engaged as the jet lag slowly kicked in! I made it through the day, stubbornly refusing the offer of a knife and fork at lunchtime (and not going as hungry as I did the previous day)!

The following day I contributed to a workshop lead by my Chinese colleagues involving delegates from across China – people either supporting, running or working in social businesses. The workshop provided a forum for people to discuss social business certification and the relevance of this for China. It was a long and fascinating day, placing several of the questions raised during my first day within the real life contexts of organisations who see themselves as prospective social enterprises. Those in attendance included business entrepreneurs, organisations we might label “social firms”, charitable and community businesses, as well as ones that would more immediately conform to our stricter definition of social enterprise. There was also an agency present who were administering a regional pilot certification initiative and an organisation that had achieved it. This follows very similar criteria to that of the Mark and both organisations spoke positively about the process: the value they perceive in differentiation but also in how it has encouraged them to think more carefully about their purpose, how they work, and the social value they are creating.

Richard in China_workshopAs the mix of delegates suggests, those who might describe themselves as a “social enterprise” in China include all manner of businesses laying claim to social purpose through what they do and/or how they operate. This and other challenges for certification that revealed themselves across the day included familiar ones. Views ranged from those who are suspicious of the need for standardisation if they can simply show their social value; to those who see it as a means of improvement, by clearly aligning themselves with certain core principles and gaining recognition for these credentials. More uniquely to China perhaps, their varied terrain also includes distinct local economic and cultural differences, which pose other difficulties for standardisation.

The potential cost and benefits of delivering robust certification understandably lay at the heart of many questions and this revealed similarities to what our MD Lucy Findlay, found when she visited Taiwan last year. At the moment, there are a mixed bag of interests and all want to know how certification may lead to social investment or legislative advantages. But throughout the day, it was interesting for me to observe how many of the questions being posed were ones echoing our own experience of developing the Mark. As discussions unfolded though, I found myself quite deliberately taking a back seat. This wasn’t me succumbing to jet-lag or the audial acrobatics of simultaneous translation! It was satisfying to see answers to different concerns or objections being identified from within the room, instead of there being a reliance on so-called “experts” to provide these. Whilst it was inspiring to see how we may be helping to influence the destiny of social enterprise in China, to see people on different sides of the debate contributing so keenly and taking such ownership was much more so.

Questions around our profit distribution criterion possibly generated the most interest. I have to admit to being a little bit surprised when one delegate suggested that it went against human nature and the desire to achieve personal profit. But it was a reminder that China has come a long way in developing capitalist sensibilities. The obvious answer perhaps was “it depends on how you measure your sense of profit”, but it serves as a recognition that social business comes in various forms. As I said at the outset: China is a nation of contrasts and their social business landscape is made up of different interests. In this they are no different to anywhere else. There is room in the world for any business seeking to make a positive social difference, and they are all to be commended for it where they do.

Richard in China_workshop2In my closing address, I recognised this point and attempted to answer the question – why differentiate social enterprise? I explained how several years ago in the UK we asked the same question, and the Mark was born. We did this because the social enterprise sector believed itself to be a distinct form of social business that is committed to maximising social outcomes through how profits are invested towards these. Of two businesses delivering exactly the same service and same standards, the one committed to investing income/profits in social outputs will always exceed the potential for social impact, compared to the other that exists to generate profits for shareholders. Maybe this is an oversimplification but it helps crystallise why differentiating social enterprise from other forms of social business is relevant. And certification or accreditation should ultimately provide a means through which genuine social enterprises show how they willingly hold themselves up to scrutiny against this differentiator.

I finally reflected on how accreditation essentially represents a form of regulation – a dirty word for many, but in considering this I asked people to cast their minds back several years ago. To recall a rapacious sector, one resistant to regulation in the belief that it placed a burden on their capabilities, restricting their potential for success and any associated benefits for the economy and wider society. The results of this arrogance, of being above and beyond scrutiny are well known. I suggested that social enterprise is meant to be better than this and that accreditation should actually be seen as a natural element of helping build trust through ensuring and proving this. More than this, subscribing to achieve and maintain standards, to be held account to them, is actually a means through which people and organisations can build their capability – not have it restricted. Certification is therefore a form of enablement.

China PandaI thoroughly enjoyed my time meeting with a vanguard of social enterprise in China and learned much from them while I was there. My time in the country was not over at this point as an army of clay soldiers, the delight of pandas at play and a hike across a great wall awaited me (amongst other magnificent sites, along with some dubiously informed menu choices!). But that, as they say, is another story… My memories are of a country of great and beautiful contrasts and an experience I will fondly recall. I would like to thank Hou Peng of the British Council in China for his organisation and expert facilitation of my visit.

How the Social Enterprise Mark can benefit Higher Education Institutions

By Cara Aitchison, Vice Chancellor of University of St Mark & St John

Our students and graduates are increasingly reporting that they seek employment and lifestyles that enable them to contribute to the social, cultural and environmental well-being of their communities, society and the world around them, rather than simply thinking of their degree as a route to a highly paid career. This presents an opportunity for university leaders who chose to put ethics, civic engagement, social and environmental justice and sustainable economic development at the heart of their strategic plans and student experience.

By being accredited with the Social Enterprise Mark, universities can better demonstrate their sustainable and ethical business credentials to the next generation of applicants. We can show our students how we apply in practice the values and knowledge that we teach and how they too can be part of a social enterprise culture.

We are all under increasing pressure to expand and diversify our income streams, and to demonstrate our positive benefit to the students, communities and stakeholders we serve. The social enterprise business model provides opportunities for HEIs to transform the way we are perceived by stakeholders and can enable us to position ourselves as ‘businesses’ driven by social objectives.

MARJON-LOGO-CMYKThe University of St Mark & St John was awarded the Social Enterprise Mark in 2015, signalling our commitment to social enterprise and demonstrating the social value that we create as a university.

As the number one university in the UK for social mobility, we are proud to be recognised for our commitment to helping local communities and the broader south west peninsula to thrive and prosper. The Social Enterprise Mark helps us to communicate this commitment to students, potential applicants, partners and the wider business community and sets us apart as a values-based, socially conscious university.

As we enter a new era in Higher Education, where the Teaching Excellence Framework and other policy developments emphasise graduate earnings, we need ways to demonstrate our parallel commitment to social enterprise principles, and the Social Enterprise Mark offers one such mechanism.

There is currently a potential discount for GuildHE members that commit to apply for the Social Enterprise Mark before the end of August 2016, and I would recommend doing so. My colleague, Professor Brendon Noble, the Pro Vice-Chancellor for Research, Innovation and International who took forward our application for the Social Enterprise Mark, can also talk to you about our experience and the benefits.

You can get in touch with Social Enterprise Mark CIC with any questions, or to express your interest in applying – 0345 504 6536 or via email.


 

Originally posted on the GuildHE blog on 22nd April 2016

Why talking about ‘what is a social enterprise?’ is still important

By Gareth Hart, Co-founder of Iridescent Ideas

“So you’re a social enterprise, eh? What does that mean then?” How many times have you been asked that question? How many times have you answered it but still aren’t convinced that they questioner has ‘got it’ or believes it?

The debate about the definition of social enterprise may well seem jaded and old news to those of us within the social enterprise community but it seems that a large proportion of the general public didn’t even realise there had been a debate going on. So, the aforementioned question comes up time and time again. If we want to establish new audiences for social enterprise and push the concept into a wider public consciousness it is vitally important to maintain a public dialogue about ‘what is a social enterprise’.

No one really seems to question you in the same way if your business is a charity or Fairtrade or eco-friendly. There is an automatic assumption these are ‘good’ things. People know what these terms mean. They come with a nice badge, logo or number that tells the public they’ve been checked out and do indeed do what they say on the tin. If only there was a similar thing available to social enterprises…

SE_Business_Identifier_RGBEnter the Social Enterprise Mark. The Mark is the social enterprise equivalent of the Fairtrade logo or the Charity Commission number. The Social Enterprise Mark provides:

  • A clear definition of what constitutes a social enterprise
  • An instantly recognisable ‘stamp of approval’ to show that your business has been independently assessed and meets criteria to justifiably call itself a social enterprise
  • A national community of like-minded ethical businesses for social enterprises to engage with
  • A range of other benefits around marketing and support

There is growing interest in the Social Enterprise Mark, particularly among large organisations like universities. Plymouth University was the first social enterprise university and has held the Mark since 2012. Many of the large health spin-outs also hold the Mark. These organisations provide services to huge numbers of people and have strong roles in public life in their respective towns, cities and areas. I would like to see more large healthcare providers really engage with the public around understanding that they are receiving great services from a local social enterprise. The Mark could help them do this.

As the social enterprise sector, and public awareness of it, continues to grow, so I hope that the Social Enterprise Mark will continue to flow into public consciousness and eventually become as recognisable as the Fairtrade logo. The Mark will evolve, I am sure, and we need an ongoing dialogue about what it means to be a social enterprise both within and outside the sector.

With the introduction of the Social Value Act in 2013 there is a requirement for social value and impact to be given more weight within commissioning of services. Consumers are looking to purchase ethical goods and for businesses to behave better. Surely then, the time is right for the Social Enterprise Mark to become a stamp of social value so that commissioners and customers alike will recognise social enterprises and be able to make more informed choices about the goods and services they buy and use.

I believe that social enterprises are better for the economy and for society. We need to articulate more clear what ‘better’ looks like of course. Social enterprises create wealth and jobs and also deliver environmental and social value. The Mark can be the guarantee that proves this.


 

Originally published on Iridescent Ideas blog, 2nd September 2015

Failure, the secret to success

By Des Day, MD and Founder of Supply Shack

I was asked to give a talk to 500 school children on 7th March at Ferndown Middle School in Dorset on the subject of “Failure”.  These kids ranged from 9 years to 14 years.  At first I thought these kids surely won’t be subject to failure on any scale compared to us grown-ups….

I rocked up at this school and met Kaye Jackson of Jon Egging Trustwho I do some volunteer mentor and speaking for.  The kids swarmed in the main hall in a very orderly fashion and promptly sat down on the floor.   They looked a little cold so I asked them to oblige me by standing up and then sitting down, then standing up, then sitting down…. you get the idea.  It broke the ice, they cracked a smile and they got warm in the process.

Failure; I guess most people have experienced this debilitating, paralysing effect in some shape or form.  It’s that lingering monster waiting to snatch any chance of you realising your dreams. Experiencing failure helps create building blocks that put us on the road to success.  As long as we learn from them, our path to achieving our life fulfilling dreams can only then become a reality.

What have you failed at?

I asked the children what types of failures have they experienced; with a little prompting….. I reassured them that “I fail at stuff all the time“!

  • I’ve failed to go to / get out of bed on time. (the kids liked the getting out of bed – I think everyone in assembly put their hands up)
  • I’ve failed in tests
  • I’ve failed to follow my heart
  • I’ve failed by procrastinating important things
  • I’ve failed at business
  • I’ve failed at sports
  • I’ve failed in music
  • I’ve failed in relationships

Imagine for a moment… if a sports person dedicated the hours, weeks, months  and blood sweat and tears to attain a podium spot only to miss out on a medal position.  Imagine an inventor who’s committed to the sleepless nights, endured the financial and family pressure to achieve a global phenomenon only to find they came up short and then quit on the spot.

We’ve all been there; our resolve has been tested to the point where all you want to do is bury your head in your hands and scream! I know it’s easier said than done BUT imagine how life changing and fulfilling it can be if we were to persevere through these moments of untold stress and NOT throw in the towel.

Why give up?

  • Sounds like too much hard work
  • Negative feedback – people telling you it’s no good, it won’t work
  • Too scared of failure / outcome
  • Tried it and it didn’t work

Kick Failure into shape

Don’t let failure be so debilitating that it pulls you down.  The very fact that you had the guts to get in to this arena puts you in another league and for that you should be commended.   You are simply discovering more ways of doing things wrong which is putting you closer to getting things right.

Failure

How to overcome failure

  • Analyse – Understand why you failed; you need to analyse this to help prevent you from going there again.  Have a notepad moment; write it down and visualise what the outcome would of been if you done it different
  • Acceptance– Sometimes we dwell far too much on what the outcome will be and this can paralyse our progress.  Accept the worst outcome and once you’ve conquered that mental fear, it becomes one less worry that can hinder your performance
  • Think positive– Turn the “I Can’t ” in to  “I Can”.  Planting that positive seed in your brain will foster positive outcomes
  • Proactive– Change your physical and mental mind-set; get off the couch and immerse yourself in opportunities.  Failure comes through effort
  • Disassociate– Separate the failure from your identity.  Your failures are not you. They’re just results that you can use to learn from and grow

Reflection

There are many who have ventured in to the battlegrounds of failure and those who have persevered and had guts to stick to what they believe have prevailed.  There is no denying it’s a true test on every physical and mental part of your body.  But remember that without failure success will remain forever elusive.

I would like to leave you with this quote: “It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all— in which case, you fail by default.” – J.K.Rowling

 


Originally published on Linked In on 7th March 2016

Helping to create winning or better social enterprises?

I recently stumbled upon an American blog which talks about whether competitions are good for social enterprises.  They are indeed all the rage – from social enterprise ‘Dragon’s Den’ style pitches, to ‘Social Enterprise of the Year’ awards.  However, are they really what social enterprise is about, and do they really tell us about whether that business is genuinely applying good practice?

Objections to competitions could include:

  • They offer a ‘flash in the pan’ snapshot view that doesn’t represent the long hard graft that goes into making a social enterprise work
  • What about those who don’t win – is it too much about winners and losers? Does it leave a bad taste for those that don’t win?
  • Is collaboration better than competing?

Cup-champion-iconFor me, competitions represent a snapshot in time and do have their place – for example, we are currently running the Making a Mark competition to celebrate the vast and diverse social benefits created by Social Enterprise Mark holders.

However, what competitions do not do is to tell you much about the social enterprise beyond the moment they were judged, or indeed the openness and transparency of competition process. It’s up to whoever the judges are on the day.

Accreditation however offers something quite different. The Social Enterprise Mark for example, is both a tool of business differentiation, and a tool to demonstrate that those who have it have proved how they are making society a better place.  There are no losers if you make the accreditation standard consistent and transparent, and our independent Certification Panel ensures this. The Mark provides a guarantee year on year, for both customers and partners, due to the annual reassessment process. Our Social Enterprise Gold Mark goes further, to prove that the best attributes of social enterprise are being applied across the business, and further developed and improved upon over time.

Therefore, we are not just talking about a single snapshot in time, but rather a social enterprise that can prove its social and enterprise attributes on an ongoing basis.

There is more ‘greenwash’ going on than ever before, as businesses realise the benefits of playing the social value and sustainability game. Which is precisely why we, as social enterprises, need to stand up to scrutiny and be open and transparent about what our motivations really are.  This is where Social Enterprise Mark accreditation can provide the solution!

verifying social value with the Social Enterprise MarkThe Mark provides an independent guarantee that an organisation has been through a robust assessment process, and is proven to be trading for people and planet. This is the crucial differentiator, and distinguishes social enterprises’ core motivation for being in business, which sets them apart from standard business models, where the key motivation is often to maximise profits for shareholders.

‘Standing up to Scrutiny’ is the theme of our conference this year, and the event will focus on why it’s important to prove what we are and how we are doing it. We will consider the importance of accreditation and standards systems, and how these can help social enterprises to measure, demonstrate, and report on their social impact, therefore enabling them to stand out from the crowd.

Conference speakersWe are pleased to be welcoming a panel of speakers from accreditation and standards setting authorities across a range of sectors, which should provide interesting and diverse perspectives on the importance of such systems.

The conference is being kindly hosted by Social Enterprise Gold Mark holder University of Salford at MediaCityUK on 8th and 9th June 2016. Earlybird tickets are available to book online from just £50 + VAT.

Conference_speakers

 

What is community resilience and how do you measure it?

By Kate Pierpoint, Deputy Chief Executive of Manor House Development Trust

Community resilience

There is no universally agreed definition of community resilience. However, it is broadly described as ‘the capacity of an individual or community to withstand and recover from adverse change’. The challenge in defining community resilience is deciding what we mean by change and what we mean by community.

Building community resilience is an important approach to tackling potentially harmful changes which affect whole communities, like natural disasters, climate change and economic uncertainty. It focuses on unlocking the power of communities to support themselves.

The Cabinet Office defines community resilience as communities harnessing local resources and expertise to help themselves in an emergency. The Big Lottery Fund defines community resilience in the context of climate change. Its ‘Communities Living Sustainably’ programme (from which the Trust’s PACT project is funded) works to help communities respond to the adverse affects of climate change and live and work sustainably. Carnegie UK Trust explores community resilience more widely, in terms of communities adapting to any kind of rapid change.

The ability of a community to be resilient to rapid change has important implications for the local community that Manor House Development Trust supports on the Woodberry Down estate, which is undergoing significant physical change through a 20 year Regeneration scheme. However, many of these changes also bring benefits. Therefore, the way the Trust defines community resilience needs to go beyond simply adapting to adverse change; to include embracing and maximising positive changes.

What makes a community resilient?

Community resilienceManor House Development Trust’s research suggests that community resilience is built through strengthening relationships, between people and organisations. It defines a resilient community as one with ‘high social capital’ and ‘access to local services’. By identifying the main risks affecting the Woodberry Down community, the Trust breaks the term down into economic, social and environmental resilience.

A surprising finding which later emerged was the importance of a ‘strong voluntary sector’ for community resilience; the idea that local ‘ownership’ of assets and services allows communities to sustain them and make them work better for local people.

1) Building social capital

Social capital is defined as the networks and relationships among people who live and work in a community. A community with high social capital; where residents have friends locally, trust each other and support one another; is more likely to be resilient to adversity (Ledogar, R. J. and Fleming, J. 2008).

Research divides social capital into four main features (Putnam R.D. 1993):

  1. The number and density of community networks
  2. The level of engagement of residents with community activities
  3. A sense of belonging and equality with other members of the community
  4. Trust in the community and a sense of obligation to help others along with a confidence that support will be returned

These four features have enabled the Trust to quantify to what extent its work is building social capital. For example, by offering opportunities for residents to engage with community activities in the long-term, a person is 6 times as likely to feel a greater sense of belonging. By piloting a Closer Neighbour scheme, groups of residents have continued to meet and check up on their neighbours beyond funding.

2) Increasing access to local services

Literature suggests that local services and infrastructure are vital for providing communities with the resources and expertise to be resilient during times of adverse change. These may include emergency services, to protect communities from environmental changes, like flooding. They may include training, jobs brokerage and energy advice services, to build the economic resilience of communities to fuel poverty and unemployment. They also include services like Befriending schemes and community centres, important for building social connections.

The Trust found that by offering energy advice to people on their doorsteps, fuel poor residents were saving on average £125 a year on their energy bills. 87% of participants felt they better understood where to get further energy, compared to only 37% before the project. By offering affordable access for groups to use a community centre (worth £25,000), the Trust has attracted over 25 new community services to the local area. These include cooking, gardening, vocational training, fitness activities, arts and crafts, bike repair and mother and baby classes.

3) Building a local voluntary sector

On the Woodberry Down estate, local people are more and more seeking opportunities to set up their own community groups and businesses. Being resident-led, this growing number of community groups is helping to build social relationships within the community, encouraging other people to participate.

The Trust’s research has shown that this growing level of ‘ownership’ is having a profound effect on those individuals, but also on the community as a whole, where residents have access to an increasing number of local services. This is critical to enhancing people’s capacity to take control of their health, wellbeing, gain employment and ultimately transform their lives. The Trust spoke to a number of the residents who are leading community groups to understand what inspires them to lead these groups.

One resident said “I went on a training programme, where I had to volunteer for 4 hours every week to support community groups on the estate. By the end, I got an NVQ in Health Promotion. But also, being involved with some great community groups, we didn’t want them to end so we just kept running them!”

This consultation has shown that by offering structured volunteering placements which complement training courses, the Trust is providing people the long-term support to not only volunteer with local community initiatives, but to take ownership of them.

In conclusion…

There is a huge amount of great research on this topic, with valuable tips on defining and measuring community resilience. However, when deciding how to measure your own impact, consultation is critical to understanding your community and the issues that affect it. In addition, the capacity of communities to make the most of positive changes should be considered. The Trust found that local ownership of assets and services plays a central role in building resilience on Woodberry Down, achieved by unlocking the power of people.

 


Originally published on http://www.mhdt.org.uk/our-impact/blog-march-2016/ 8th March 2016

Measuring Social Impact – The Difference of Social Enterprise

Part 2

By Richard Cobbett, Assessment and Compliance Manager

Last month, I started to consider how social enterprises should be distinguishing themselves when compared to other business models looking to validate ethical business credentials, through how they measure and report on their social impact (including environmental). To recap, there are three broad ways through which a business may report on its social impact:

  1. its social inputs (the activities and resources invested in, the services provided, which should at least imply social purposes);
  2. its social outputs (the extent of said activities and investment e.g. numbers of services provided, numbers of people helped, the level of social investment beyond operational cost requirements);
  3. its social outcomes (the positive results arising from activities e.g. measures showing how people have benefitted, and the perceived value of the services provided – financial and qualitative).

Measuring impact

The commitment to maximise social outputs using income and profits – at least in equal measure to the proportion of profit that may eventually be paid to shareholders and owners – is what ultimately distinguishes social enterprise from other ethical business models. I therefore posed that, in differentiating their outputs, social enterprises should be considering how the level of the investment towards purely social interests, compares with the annual profits it generates year on year. Ideally speaking, this form of analysis should form part of the social impact reporting of any social enterprise.

In calculating social impact, there is a distinct element that some social enterprises are keen to capture when considering the above: how can they calculate the cost of the social value they have created – the effective financial value of the benefits conferred to their social stakeholders (as opposed to shareholders)?

Social Return on Investment (SROI) and other forms of social auditing provide solutions for this but can be quite demanding and resource intensive, particularly for organisations with restricted resources. Is this methodology the only valid approach though?

We are beginning to see other methods of conveying social value being employed by Social Enterprise Mark holders, within the social impact statements they provide on initial application, and at each annual renewal of their Mark status. The types of example that are emerging are:

  • Mark Holders with contracts to provide a set number of social outputs/outcomes, who are paid up to a maximum but who choose to deliver more for their stakeholders;
  • Mark Holders with service level agreements or being paid for a defined level of service, who enhance the outputs and the experience of stakeholders in ways that are not required or expected;
  • Investing in free or volunteer services that otherwise represent chargeable income streams;
  • Investing in employee posts (temporary or otherwise) that do not support income generation services;
  • Making donations to external good causes (e.g. Charities, community groups) or investing in other community resources.

The above examples are by no means necessarily restricted to social enterprise – after all, pro-bono services and donations to good causes are common amongst all types of business. However, calculating the value of such activities and investments, then comparing it to profit distributed to owners or shareholders, can ultimately help distinguish the added value of social enterprise.

Clearly, this does not likely represent the whole financial value that a social enterprise may have created, which may be less tangible and reveal itself in various indirect and long-reaching ways. It therefore does not provide a detailed analysis of the return on investment; but it does offer a more straightforward way of at least beginning to illustrate the more immediate social value of investment.

When qualifying such costs, care must be taken in distinguishing investment that provides for a level of efficiency and quality that is the obligation of any good business in the services it provides. These are costs that its customers and stakeholders can reasonably expect for the price being paid for it. Once again, when assessing this a key consideration is motivation:

  • Was the investment one that was recognisably more altruistic than not?
  • Was the investment integral to an existing service or product line, more representative of good business practice, reinforcing the quality of delivery in ways that could be reasonably expected of any business?

Or, to put it another way, was the motivation primarily about serving a social objective or primarily about doing good business?

Ideally speaking, social enterprises should be equally committed to both: employing good business practices and using profits (or income that could feasibly be retained as profits) to maximise their social impact.

The line between investing in good business practice for commercial benefits compared to investments in actions purely designed to enhance social outcomes can become subjective and arguable. But what it most important is that social enterprises continually reflect upon what they are doing, ask different questions about how they have invested resourced in supporting social objectives and serving their communities of interest. This then informs how they report upon their performance to their stakeholders. As far as possible, a good social enterprise should strive to be transparent and accountable with the evidence it can provide in support of its claims. Ultimately, their stakeholders can then make informed judgements and responses to the social impact – including its value – that has been created.


To support Social Enterprise Mark holders to measure, demonstrate and communicate the social impact of their activities and operations, we have recently created guidance for creating social impact statements. Visit our Making a Mark webpage to see a variety of examples of social impact from our Social Enterprise Mark holders, covering a diverse range of business sectors.

Measuring Social Impact – the difference of social enterprise

Part 1

By Richard Cobbett, Assessment and Compliance Manager

“Social enterprise”, “Social business”, “Social Entrepreneurism”, “Corporate Social Responsibility” (CSR). How many people must be left scratching their heads when trying to determine the difference between these labels?

The fact that such business models can all measure and report on their ethical business outputs in similar ways explains much of this confusion. Their social impact (including environmental) may vary according to their resources, their sector of interest and other factors influencing their delivery capacity. But if they are all about the same ends, why is there a need for so many labels?

The Social Enterprise Mark evolved as a means of helping genuine social enterprises stand out from the crowd, driven by the desire of the sector to distinguish their distinct motivation for being in business – trading to serve social purposes. This is the crucial differentiator: what is the central motivation behind the business – why does it exist?

A social enterprise is not necessarily a guarantee of greater social impact – as I note above, the scales of output may vary according to circumstances unrelated to business motivations. An international corporation reporting CSR credentials may be able to point to greater levels of investment and positive social output than a small social enterprise providing a crucial service in a rural community.

But how does this investment compare with their overall profit generation? How far was the investment motivated by other interests, such as maintaining a positive public profile that helps them retain and expand their markets, thereby continuing to maximise shareholder profits? How far does such CSR related investment suffer when profits fall, compared to the bonuses and dividends paid to top executives and shareholders?

What distinguishes a social enterprise is it’s commitment to continually maximising social outputs with the income they generate through trading, at least in equal proportion to the objective of serving owner or shareholder interests. This specifically requires a commitment to investing at least 50% of annual profits in social purposes. Just as significantly, it also includes a consideration of how income that might otherwise be accumulated as profit (which could then feed personal shareholder gain) is used to support the fulfilment of social objectives throughout the business year.

There may be instances where social enterprises endeavour to minimise annual profits, to reduce corporation tax and thereby maximise the ongoing investment in their social purposes. In these instances, justifying how resources have been used to fulfil social objectives and achieve social impact becomes even more important. If a typical indicator of business success is bottom line profitability, when a social enterprise fails to report a profit, analysing and reporting on social impact represents an alternative rationale for demonstrating business strength and sustainability.

Broadly speaking, there are three ways in which a business may be able to report on how it has strived to fulfil its social objectives:

  • its social inputs
  • its social outputs
  • its social outcomes

However, the question remains: how can a social enterprise distinguish itself when reporting on its social impact when compared to other business models and their ethical commitments?

Following the logic of earlier points, this must necessarily take into account the application of income and profit towards social purposes; this may also include the cost of investments that might otherwise have represented income generation potential (e.g. people’s time given up freely to provide services). Once a social enterprise begins to consider its activities along these lines, it may consider how the level of the investment towards purely social interests compares with the annual profits it generates year on year.

Social Return on Investment (SROI) and other forms of social auditing provide formal methodologies that businesses can employ in reviewing and calculating the social value they have generated. Such approaches can be quite complex and demanding though and may have limited relevance or value to a business, particular smaller organisations or those with restricted resources. However, whilst these systems provide for greater transparency and external validation of an organisations achievements, there are simpler ways in which organisations can provide illustrations of the social value they contribute. We are beginning to see interesting examples of this emerging from our Social Enterprise Mark Holders, within the social impact statements they are asked to provide when first applying and at each annual renewal of their Mark status.

Next month, in part two of this article, we will consider some general illustrations that help exemplify alternative ways of how social enterprises can reflect upon the social value of their investment in fulfilling their social purpose.


 

Please click here to read part 2 of Richard’s blog

How Good Are We At Doing ‘Good’?

By Kate Pierpoint, Deputy Chief Executive of Manor House Development Trust

mhdtAs we continue to face social and economic challenges, the need for value for money and maximised social impact continues to increase. The Social Value Act of 2012 has seen an acceleration of this trend. More recently, the demand for both financial and social return is reflected in the Government’s backing of Social Impact Bonds and injection of £20m a year (Autumn Statement 2015). As a result, public sector commissioners increasingly want to know how much value their investment creates and social reporting figures help them to decide where to put their money.

When you market your organisation as one that is making positive impact, you open yourself up to extra scrutiny. Expectations are high and those looking at your impact will often compare your results to other organisations as a way to see ‘how good you are at doing good’. Figures can often be skewed and this contest to demonstrate the greatest impact creates the need for larger and larger numbers and more and more sensational stories in order to stand out- especially so in an economic climate with heightened competition for funding and customers.

So even if we are good at achieving positive impact, social impact figures are not necessarily going to reflect that or get us noticed.

Tools like Social Return on Investment (designed by New Economics Foundation) have been designed to measure the efficiency of projects to generate impact. The ratio of £:£ tells you exactly how good your projects are at doing good. But even this data doesn’t tell us about the needs of those you are supporting; it can’t capture the value of change to an individual; and it doesn’t explain why your work is important and why other people should care about it. Figures don’t tell the full story; you have to look beyond the data.

The ‘so what?’ statement

What I am getting at is the ‘so what’ statement. Context is everything in social impact measurement. Whatever type of organisation you work for, it’s really important to tell a story that others can get behind; whether they are customers, investors, partners or your staff. For this reason, you have to really know who your audience is and what matters to them.

Tell the story

“We realise a lot of social enterprises don’t have the means to do full social impact reporting. They just need to clearly articulate what they’re doing”
Venturesome in The Guardian, 2012, ‘The growing importance of social impact reporting’

Audiences don’t have 30 seconds to be interrupted, but they always have 30 minutes to hear a great story”
Sweetman, J., ‘The importance of social impact’

 

What we did

For 2 years, Manor House Development Trust has invested a great deal of time and money improving its impact measurement processes. As a ‘community development’ organisation, we found it difficult to articulate the impact we were having, in a way all of our stakeholders could understand. The concept of ‘Community’ means many different things to different people. It could be any size, any location (it doesn’t even need a location) and each of us probably belongs to many different ‘communities’. The word ‘Development’ in the context of community is also very difficult to describe, even though no one could deny its importance.

And this is what we were faced with as an organisation. How do we succinctly describe what it is we are trying to do, whilst also explaining these complex concepts? How do we tell the story, without it becoming a novel?

“We realised that even though we describe ourselves as a community development organisation,we don’t actually do community development”
Simon Donovan, Manor House Development Trust

The answer came from speaking to people, lots of people, about what changes we have brought about for them and why that was important; whether they were funders, service-users, staff or partners. And gradually, we began to use their language- piecing it all together. Key themes, priorities and commonalities emerged, which would then form the 5 Business Objectives of our new Business Plan.
hex-points

What this has allowed us to do is to tell a narrative that speaks to many different types of stakeholders. It follows through the journey explaining how a project (however small) contributes to a wider context and can create a legacy for the future. The narrative has also steered the branding of the organisation, where the language of our stakeholders is embedded in the Business Plan and all communications that flow from it. Crucially, the narrative provides a framework whereby all future impact can be captured and reported effectively. In other words, we know what our impact is before our projects even start.

So in answer to the question: How good are we at doing ‘good’?
In my view, we are only as good as the story we tell. 


Originally published on http://www.mhdt.org.uk/our-impact/blog-november/ 27th November 2015

 

One Million Journeys

By Steve Hawkins, CEO of Pluss

So now we know that a new Work and Health Programme will replace the two current DWP employment programmes when they end in 2017.

Just a month after the Work & Pensions Committee recommended that DWP should ‘maintain, and ideally expand, a separate employment programme for disabled people’, the Government has instead announced that a single Work and Health Programme will be commissioned to support into work people with health conditions and disabilities, and job-seekers who have been unemployed for two years.

The government is clear that it wants to halve the disability employment gap. In other words, it wants to see a million more disabled people moving into work. We know now that this new programme will be one of the main vehicles tasked with achieving that goal.

Of course, by focusing on the disability employment gap, the government is acknowledging the reality of a distinct set of labour market disadvantages faced by people with complex support needs. It is asking the new programme not to hit and hope, but to identify these disadvantages and to fix them.

The challenge for DWP is now to commission the new programme in a way that ensures disability specialists are at the heart of delivery, not pushed to the edges, and to align the programme’s commercial drivers with the goal of securing sustained jobs and careers for people needing highly specialised support.

The challenge to the primes who will lead the new programme is to recognise early on that this isn’t Work Programme 2.0. This is a specialist programme, but one with the potential to be delivered on a much bigger scale than existing specialist provision. It is clear that there was a strong argument for retaining a separate specialist programme, but at least the emphasis of the new programme is right.

Gone is the flawed logic of having a ‘universal’ programme which was expected to cater for everybody. As the results showed, the mechanics of the Work Programme forced most providers into a standardised one size fits all model that focused on those closest to the labour market. By contrast, the message now is that the new programme is to be aimed by design at people with disabilities, with health conditions, with chaotic lifestyles and with multiple barriers to work. In truth, this is a quiet revolution. It’s one that we shouldn’t underestimate. And it’s one that is re-enforced by the decision to provide £115m for the Joint Work & Health Unit, including £40m for a health and work innovation fund to pilot new ways to join up health and employment systems.

The arguments put forward for a separate specialist programme had a clear logic. They were based on the understanding that helping someone who needs highly specialised support to gain a job and build a career is a wholly distinct profession to the carrot and stick business of prompting work-ready jobseekers to submit multiple CVs. This insight remains vital.

It’s why those primes with the financial muscle to lead bids for the new programme will need to ensure that resources intended to support work with the most vulnerable customers do reach the front line. And it’s why those primes will also need to put specialists at the heart of the process to craft and develop what will be a radically new programme.

That’s because those partnerships that do go on to make money from welfare to work services in the future will be the ones not simply bent on crashing cohorts into the first jobs they spy. Instead they will have sufficient expertise threaded through their supply chains, connected to supporting health and welfare systems, to support the right person into the right (often modified) job and then a career with employers who themselves are partners in the process.

As the new programme starts to takes shape, it will be important for everyone involved in the process to recognise the reality that there are one million individuals, at home, in college, outside the doctor’s consulting room or the therapist’s office, waiting to make one million separate journeys into work.

For now, we at Pluss await with interest details of the scale, design and commissioning of a programme that will need to provide the specialist support that each of those million journeys into work will require.

Going global with social enterprise accreditation

Following on from my post in September, looking at how the Social Enterprise Mark differs from other accreditation/certification schemes, it occurred to me that a key differentiator for us is the international aspect.

The Social Enterprise Mark is the only internationally available social enterprise accreditation, enabling credible social enterprises to prove that they are making a difference.

Following the approval of Middle-East based C3 as the first international Mark Holder in April, we are delighted to have recently awarded our second international Social Enterprise Mark to FLOCERT, the global certification body for Fairtrade labelled products.

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FLOCERT is dedicated to strengthening the development of fair international trade, and since 2003 has supported the phenomenal growth of Fairtrade, a movement that’s had a positive impact on millions of smallholder farmers and workers in developing countries.

People_Rudiger_FLOCERTRüdiger Meyer, CEO of FLOCERT said:

“Based on its deep roots in the Fairtrade network, FLOCERT has always regarded itself as a ‘social business‘, which is not focused on making profit. Instead, we aim at covering our cost and providing the resources needed to continuously improve the services and systems for the benefit of our customers, representing 1.5 million farmers and workers, as well as traders and multi-national brands.

Applying for Social Enterprise Mark accreditation was therefore a natural step for us. We found the accreditation process very smooth and the co-operation with the people at the Social Enterprise Mark CIC highly inspiring. With this accreditation we can now show that we truly are a “Social Enterprise” and that we fulfil the expectation of our customers to make an impact in our drive to advance fairness in global trade and to advance farmers and workers in developing countries.”

From our experience of assessing and accrediting these organisations, we have now developed a tried and tested international assessment process that can be applied anywhere in the world.

“We are happy to receive applications from organisations based in countries outside the UK, and now have an internationally applicable assessment process. Although it is inherently more complicated for international applications, I was very impressed with how efficient FLOCERT were with responding to our questions and information/evidence requests. From our perspective it made assessing and approving their application a very straightforward process” says our Assessment and Compliance Manager Richard Cobbett.

As we are unable to perform the usual verification actions involved in assessing eligibility for the Social Enterprise Mark, the standard application process cannot be employed.  Please click here for more information about requirements for international applicants.

An interesting comment that jumped out at me from our recent stakeholder survey was that we need to be “the global centre of social enterprise”. It then occurred to me that we could better promote the international aspect of our work, not just by attracting more international applicants, but by championing the global standard for social enterprise through consultancy for international counterparts.

3V1A9801As featured in my last blog post, I recently travelled to Taiwan to speak at the International Social Enterprise Conference, where I shared our experience of setting up a social enterprise accreditation scheme. We also did some consultancy work this year for Fund Our Future in Russia, and developed a manual with guidelines for setting up an equivalent accreditation scheme for social enterprises in Russia.

We welcome the opportunity to work with counterparts around the world looking to develop country-specific social enterprise accreditation schemes – please click here for for more information on our international consultancy service.

I am delighted to welcome FLOCERT as our second international Social Enterprise Mark holder and we look forward to welcoming many more international applicants in the future.

Pluss CEO responds to the recently published Work & Pensions Committee report on the Work Programme

By Steve Hawkins, CEO of Pluss

The Parliamentary Work and Pensions Committee have just published their report on the Work Programme after interviewing a series of expert witnesses and taking a mountain of evidence. Their report is clear-sighted, far-reaching, and unanimous.

The report makes clear that a mainstream, one size fits all Work Programme is not working well for people who need more intensive help. That’s why, as the Committee observes, nearly 70% of participants are completing  two years on the Work Programme without finding sustained employment. Condemning so many people with disabilities to live out two whole years of their lives on the Work Programme does no-one any favours, least of all the Exchequer.

But the central point is this – if the Government is serious about halving the disability employment gap, it must retain and significantly expand a specialist employment programme separate to the mainstream Work Programme. What’s more, the Committee are adamant that this specialist programme should be delivered exclusively by specialist disability organisations with the expertise to support disabled people.

Why? Because Work Choice, the current specialist programme, offers a clearly different kind of provision but is too small to make a big enough difference. For reasons of cost, the Government may be tempted to consolidate mainstream and specialist disability employment support into a single new programme. If the Government elects to go with a single programme, there are some stark challenges to avoid vanquishing all meaningful expertise from the sector.

Service fees intended to support work with the most vulnerable customers must not be gobbled up by hungry primes or heavily top-sliced as a tax on supply chains; they must reach specialist providers in full. As an integral part of the bidding process, primes must be forced to explain what the challenges are to each customer cohort across each CPA and how specialists will be used to meet these challenges. The commissioning process must include active dialogue with bidders to drill down into their levels of expertise and localised resources.

Under these circumstances, a single programme could deliver at least some of the benefits of a separate specialist approach. But let’s be clear, this is not the optimum solution, it’s a second best. The Work and Pensions Committee report goes further and says that a single programme would be a grave mistake.

For myself, I am certain that, over five years of costs and benefits, Government would gain considerably if they follow the unambiguous advice of the cross-party Committee.

Of course, the people who have most to gain are the one million people with a disability who will need to be supported into sustainable work if the disability employment gap is to be halved. These are the individuals who need the right support to find the right job first time, and the Work and Pensions Committee have now set out clearly for all of us the best way for this to be achieved.

 


PlussSquare_400x400Pluss is a certified social enterprise with the Social Enterprise Mark. This means that Pluss has proved it is genuine against independently-assessed criteria for social enterprise. The Social Enterprise Mark provides assurance that profits are used to help disabled people gain opportunities to work, acting as a guarantee that Pluss is trading for people and planet.

Good Money Week 18th – 24th October

By Isabelle De Grave, Charity Bank

 (originally posted on Charity Bank blog on 1st October 2015)

The most important week for the Good Money campaign is fast approaching. Here’s what it’s all about.

Good Money WeekGood Money Week, 18th – 24th October 2015, is an opportunity to ensure those you trust with your money are looking after it well and using it in ways that benefit society and protect the environment.

What’s the big deal?

“It makes no sense to invest in companies that undermine our future.”

Desmond Tutu’s take on the logic of investment without concern for our future wellbeing is hard to beat and even harder to contest. As it is, the money we invest, or deposit with a bank, isn’t always invested in ways that are good for people, communities and the environment. Look closely, and you’ll find that money flows to some pretty unsavoury destinations, the arms trade, fossil fuels, gambling to name a few.

So we nod in agreement with Archbishop Tutu and dream of a better world. Or, better still, we look for ways to build one. . .

What is Good Money Week all about?

Good Money Week is about discovering new ways to make money work the way we want it to, whether we want to save ethically, invest for social impact or spend our money in ways that won’t leave the planet worse off than we found it.

As the Good Money campaign puts it, “We’re facing big challenges in the UK and across the globe: extreme weather, social inequality, scarce resources and a rapidly growing population… The amount of money channeled into solving these problems – in the form of investment into projects or more responsible companies – helps ensure they won’t get worse and that our quality of life, and that of our children and grandchildren, will be protected.”

So here’s to fossil-free ISAs, ethical equity and savings that work for good! If Good Money is something you want to learn more about and support, pop along to some events during Good Money Week.

How you can get involved

  • Follow the money saved with an ethical bank. In support of Good Money Week, we’re following the money saved in Charity Bank’s ethical accounts to the charities and social enterprises they help support. You can sign up here.
  • Email or write to your MP and ask them to support Good Money Week.
  • Attend a Good Money Week event or organise your own.
  • Read up on the issues and find ‘good money’ options for your finances. Some useful sites include The Good Money Week website, Good With Money, Pioneers Post and the Charity Bank blog.
  • Tell friends, family, your community group, customers, the media and anyone else about Good Money Week using the Good Money toolkit (currently being updated with new resources for 2015).

As the Good Money Week campaign reminds us, ‘Money makes the world go round’ but ‘Good Money’ makes it go the right way.

*This article originally appeared on the Charity Bank blog on 1st October 2015: http://charitybank.org/news/good-money-week-is-approaching-dont-let-it-pass-you-by

Diary from a whistle-stop tour to Taiwan

During September, I was invited by the Taiwanese government to speak at 2 conferences over 2 days in 2 cities – the capital Taipei and another big city in the centre of the island – Taichung.

It was a bit of a whistle stop tour, but ably enhanced by a steep emersion into Taiwanese life from my guide and translator Tracy Chee, who in fact turns out to be Malaysian, with cousins who run the Wet Wok in Plymouth, so small world indeed!

I was pretty tired the first day I arrived, having just flown back to the UK from a holiday cycling in Southern Albania and then straight out to Taiwan the next day. The cultural contrast was immediate – high rise, manic urban activity (Taiwan) vs an agrarian laid back mountain village lifestyle (Albania). However, I was to find that there were some similarities.  The other side of the island features many mountainous areas where the economy struggles and the locals suffer from poor access to education and jobs.  Social enterprises are providing a vital opportunity to gain employment and an income for these people.

Taichung was the first destination.  My hotel room suggested (I was on the 19th floor) that we might be going to a high rise block  of a city full of skyscrapers.  However, I was pleasantly surprised when we arrived at the venue which turned out to be an old wooden winery which has been converted to a conference venue within Taichung Cultural & Creative Industries Park. 

There 3V1A9801was a large audience comprising a mixture of social enterprises, students and those interested in social enterprise.  For the morning session I was pleased to meet  Anthony Wong who works in policy for a Hong Kong based social infrastructure organisation, he was talking about social impact measurement.

5D3A8794My main talk was in the afternoon, for which I had been asked to focus on social impact as well.  I tested the waters to find out who was actually running a social enterprise.  A few people put their hands up but it seemed that the audience was mainly at very early stages in their journey.  I therefore concentrated on talking about how social enterprises can show that they are making a difference right from the beginning.

Art4SpaceI used our Social Enterprise Mark holders as practical examples. I gave them some concrete case studies from Art4Space, who have run a brilliant project called ‘Birds Fly to Africa’ where British school children have designed mosaics that have been constructed and sent out to African schools alongside building new classrooms.

Co-WheelsI also talked about some more technical demonstrations of social and environmental impact, where the Car Club Co-wheels has worked with other car clubs to show the environmental and social difference that they have made collectively.

JTHLastly I talked about Social Enterprise Gold Mark holder John Taylor Hospice and its excellent social impact story. They have looked at all aspects of their work and categorised their impact in a very logical way, e.g. overall impact such as doubling the amount of care that they give as a social enterprise and local impact, volunteering impact etc.  There was interest in these case studies as well as interest in the concept of labelling.

After the conference, we then went on to visit a local project that helped disabled adults learn how to exploit and hone their artistic skills in order to generate an income for their families.  The work was really outstanding.  I wanted to buy a picture but it wouldn’t fit in my suitcase. We then travelled by high speed train to Taipei – a very efficient journey and so much faster than going by car.  I think our train operators could take some lessons in this respect!

The next day I still hadn’t adjusted to Taiwanese time and ended up over-sleeping.  Luckily the room maid came and woke me up 20 minutes before I was due to meet the driver.  I went with Tracy, my guide, over to the Taipei New Horizon which is part of another regeneration area.  We had a look around the old buildings, which were arts, exhibition and café space, again very well and sympathetically restored.  I loved some of the art work that was on show and nearly ended up in the Chinese Painting Conference which was running alongside in the centre rather than the Social Enterprise one!

3V1A03965D3A87163V1A0419

 

 

 

 

I had the benefit of talking to my co-presenters and moderator before the session over lunch.  I learned more about the difficulties encountered with supporting immigrant brides from other parts of SE Asia as well as the challenges of the less developed areas of the island.

My speech itself went down well and we were joined by the Minister with Portfolio Professor Joyce Yen Feng who actually teaches social enterprise in a Taipei University – so she was very well briefed. A number of her students were in the audience too, so maybe her arrival triggered the high turnout?  Time was limited for discussions but there again was a lot of interest in how the Mark operated and I learned that there is a proposed similar scheme in China.

All too soon it was time to say goodbye to my new friends.  I have to say I was very impressed with their commitment and the government’s commitment to social enterprise.  The gap that I identified is the real in depth business support for social enterprises to grow.  We have seen a decline of this in the UK and this continues to be a problem for new starts, and I detected a bit of confusion about where to start. At one stage I got asked to define social enterprise vs social economy!  It is very confusing for those starting out – social impact, social value, social business, social innovation etc etc!!

Before I got my flight home, Tracy kindly took me to view Taipei 101 – this used to be the world’s tallest building.  It was amazing and although we didn’t have a chance to go up it the shopping centre full of top designer stores challenged the senses.  I will definitely be returning to Taiwan, but not to go designer clothes shopping!

Many thanks to the Taiwan government for inviting me.

What makes Social Enterprise Mark certification different?

There is often confusion between the various ‘badges’, ‘identifiers’ and ‘certifications’ available to organisations looking to prove their social and ethical credentials, and we are often met with questions about the relationship between the Social Enterprise Mark and other certification schemes.

Following the official UK launch event of B Corps last night, which I attended, we thought this may be an appropriate time to distinguish how the Social Enterprise Mark is different from other schemes. Of course, it is testament to the strength of the social enterprise movement that there are a number of options available to those looking to accredit their social enterprise credentials, but it may be useful to clarify the differences between these options.

The Social Enterprise Mark CIC is the ONLY UK and international certification authority that independently guarantees that a business operates as a social enterprise, with the central aim of using income and profits to maximise their positive social and/or environmental impact, which takes precedent over more standard business models, which are typically driven by a requirements to maximise personal profits for owners and shareholders.

Applicants must meet the qualification criteria (summarised below) in order to be awarded the Social Enterprise Mark, and are re-assessed each year to ensure they continue to meet the criteria. The Social Enterprise Mark is not a membership scheme – it is a certification, subject to an independent Certification Panel.

Summary of qualification criteria:

  • have social or environmental aims
  • have own constitution and governance
  • earn at least 50% income from trading (or pledge to achieve this within 18 months)
  • spend at least 50% profits fulfilling social or environmental aims
  • distribute residual assets to social or environmental aims, if dissolved
  • demonstrate social value

Approval is not automatic; not everyone who applies for the Social Enterprise Mark is successful, but we will always give advice on required changes. Approximately 30% of organisations applying or expressing an interest in doing so are assessed as ineligible, from the point of initial enquiry, through their application and our assessment, up to the point of scrutiny by the Certification Panel. We review Mark Holders continuing eligibility on an annual basis and whenever an organisation is found to no longer be meeting our criteria, their Mark Holder status is removed.

To help illustrate the key differences between the Social Enterprise Mark and other certification/accreditation schemes, we have produced a useful comparison, which sets out the differences between the Mark and the newly launched B Corp certification.

 

Looking at social impact in particular, we have recently strengthened our assessment of how applicants and renewing Mark Holders demonstrate that social/environmental objectives are achieved. We now require a minimum of three ‘social impact statements’, which illustrate how they are striving to meet their social and environmental objectives. This is to ensure Mark Holders are reflecting upon their social/environmental impact and at the very least can articulate what they are doing year on year to make a difference.

The Social Enterprise Mark is not just an internal assessment for social enterprises to evaluate their social impact; it provides proof that they have been assessed against sector-agreed criteria, and have been guaranteed as a genuine social enterprise.

Subject to meeting the criteria, organisations can become a certified social enterprise and verify their credentials from just £350+VAT per year. The annual licence fee is based on the organisation’s annual income, ranging from £350+VAT to £4,500+VAT.

To find out if you qualify for the Social Enterprise Mark, use our handy criteria checklist. If you are eligible, why not start the application process today to guarantee your social enterprise credentials with the Social Enterprise Mark.

Social Enterprise

If The Government Are Serious About Halving The Disability Employment Gap…

By Steve Hawkins, CEO of Pluss

Credit to the Government for being so clear. They want to halve the disability employment gap. That’s the difference between the percentage of people with disabilities who are in work and that of the working age population as a whole.

Pretty much everyone agrees this would be a good thing – for the individuals themselves, for employers, for taxpayers, for all of us. Research by the Social Market Foundation indicates that achieving the goal would boost the economy by £13 billion.

But the ambition won’t be achieved by wishing for it. True, the imaginative Disability Confident campaign has captured headlines and made inroads. And much good work is being done to build the ‘presumption of employability’ for people with disabilities, although this remains a work in progress on both sides of the interviewer’s desk.

But these are only complementary activities. I believe that over the next decade our ability to reduce the disability employment gap will be largely dependent on a single factor. It’s this. What help will people get to make the journey? In other words, what will the programme that is required to do most of the heavy lifting look like?

It’s critical to recognise that helping into work someone with a learning disability or autism, or someone with profound and enduring mental ill-health or with multiple and complex support needs, is an entirely different industry to helping roomfuls of jobseekers close to the labour market to get a job.

At its heart, this question is about the challenge facing some people that ‘any job’ isn’t good enough. The greater the level or complexity of the disability or health need, the more precise the fit of the person, the job role, the support and the employer must be.

It isn’t that people with complex support needs can`t work – our experience at Pluss is that they make some of the most outstanding employees for the companies we support. But it’s important to recognise that, as we move along a spectrum of support needs from simple to complex, the pool of potentially suitable jobs and work settings steadily shrinks. At the same time, the need increases for a thorough technical understanding of how an individual’s support needs impact on both the navigation of labour market and the capacity to work well in a job.

A successful intervention therefore requires not just ‘any job’ but exactly the right job with the right employer in the right place with the right help both leading up to a job start and in-work.

As we have seen on the Work Programme, getting it wrong for this group of customers means that all too often the negative perceptions of employers (that people with disabilities can’t work, that they’re not as productive, that reasonable adjustments might be too much hassle) can get reinforced.

This need for an increasingly exact fit between person and job is why the Universal Job Match process is routinely unsuccessful, for example, for someone with autism or with severe and enduring mental ill-health. In our world, it’s rarely the case that an approximate job match is good enough.

I think this approach begins to explain some of the differences in programme performance. 52% of Work Choice starts between the 1st April 2014 and 30th September 2014 obtained a job outcome by 31st March 2015. In contrast, only 12% of ESA new claimants  and  only 5% of ‘ex-IB’ ESA participants on Work Programme get a job outcome after being on the programme for 2 years.

The procurement and commercial arrangements for Work Programme have exacerbated this challenge of working with ESA customers. The commercial drivers of the programme and the scale of contracts have ensured that specialist primes have been excluded from the programme. The use of non-specialists as primes, many of whom are also non-providers, has led to a one size fits all approach that works for some but clearly not for all.

Differential pricing was designed to be the tool to persuade the market to invest in support and expertise for those people whose disabilities placed them furthest from the market place. The market, left to its own devices, has failed this test.

It’s important to say that the Work Programme works well for a large number of people. It has established its credibility as a programme that is effective for those jobseekers without complex support needs for who a wide range of jobs and workplace settings are potentially suitable.

That’s what the replacement mainstream employment programme must be allowed to focus on.

But the greater or more complex a customer’s disabilities, the less effective will be a high volume programme delivered by primes that are driven by the commercial model to a one-size-fits-all approach and that have no in-depth disability specialism.

I believe the evident strengths of the current specialist Work Choice programme, and the comparably poor ESA performance data for the Work Programme, provide a strong evidence base to support the need for a specialist programme, commissioned in a way that ensures the inclusion of experts.

That is why a specialist disability employment programme led by specialist primes must be the cornerstone of the Government’s strategy.

When we know if that’s the plan, we’ll know how serious the Government is about halving the disability gap.

 


Pluss is a certified social enterprise with the Social Enterprise Mark. This means that Pluss has proved it is genuine against independently-assessed criteria for social enterprise. The Social Enterprise Mark provides assurance that profits are used to help disabled people  gain opportunities to work, acting as a guarantee that Pluss is trading for people and planet.

Act like Amazon or save the Amazon?

By Isabelle De Grave, Charity Bank

We can choose to buy from, work for, and even set up companies that have a sense of purpose beyond profit. But how do we spot them?

In the digital age, the demand for information, often just a click or a ‘google’ away, is immense. At the same time public interest in the inner-workings of organisations, their ethics, standards and practices, is growing.

As a business, it’s not enough to simply say you’re ethical; you need to be able to prove it. Today there are a number of ways to do this, and companies are beginning to take notice.

The view from inside an ethical bank

From my vantage point, inside an ethical bank that lends its savers’ money to charities and social enterprises, I can see the potential for ethical business to grow. Charity Bank’s strong community – people who really care about where their money ends up – fuels my optimism, as do recent events…

The exposure of Amazon’s treatment of its employees, pushing people to their physical and mental limits in the name of production and profit, instantly provoked public outrage. It also sparked action, a petition on change.org to make Amazon UK pay their workers the Living Wage, along with the publication of an Amazon-free shopping guide.

Disenchantment with corporates

It must be sinking in. We care about how companies treat people, what sort of activities they’re invested in and how they affect the environment.

Anyone attuned to the current tone of Twitter and the blogosphere will recognise the growing public interest in the way businesses operate. The feeling towards companies which pay little or no attention to purpose and values is pure disenchantment, neatly captured by Dom Jackman, founder of Escape The City, in his blog “Dear Corporates: A quarter of a million of your workforce are escaping…”

The ball is in our court.

We can choose to buy from, work for, and even set up companies that have a sense of purpose beyond profit. But how do we spot them?

Here are some steps that Charity Bank has taken to point people towards its ethical credentials and a few other ways of identifying ‘good’ businesses. These are all credible signs that an organisation cares about its employees, society and the environment. Whether you’re someone who wants to check that a business is ‘walking the ethical talk’ or you’re a business owner, I’d recommend looking out for them.

  1. SE_Business_Identifier_RGBThe Social Enterprise Mark. If you invest at least 50% of your profits in a social mission, you may qualify for the Social Enterprise Mark. We became the first bank in the UK to earn the Mark making Charity Bank an independently certified social enterprise. See if you can apply.
  2. Living Wage accreditation. Companies that pay all employees the Living Wage can seek an independent certification and become an accredited Living Wage employer. We did this back in 2014.
  3. The B Corporation certificate. A growing number of businesses, including Charity Bank, are showing that they take their impacts on their employees, society and the environment seriously by applying to become a B Corporation, which provides an independent certification of ethical business.
  4. Measuring and sharing social and environmental impacts. This is something that’s core to our business of lending to charities and social enterprises. We share information about our loans on our website so that savers can see the impact their savings are having. See our approach here. There’s no standard approach to accounting for impact on society and the environment but there are some useful resources and initiatives. The Common Good Balance Sheet is worth a look.
  5. Using finance for good. If you’re a small business or a charity looking to put money away in a savings account, you could consider opening a savings account with Charity Bank, as a way of earning a fair return and boosting your organisation’s social impact by supporting the work of charities and social enterprises. And if you’re an individual looking to save with an ethical bank, this all helps to show you’re in the right place. You can check out our savings accounts here.

There are a few ethical banking options out there for businesses, charities and individuals. The space is maturing slowly but surely. As well as Charity Bank, there’s Triodos Bank, Ecology Building Society, Charities Aid Foundation and Unity Trust Bank.You can find ethical and mainstream banks ranked in the Good Shopping Guide’s ethical league tables and more on ethical finance and movements in a blog by Patrick Crawford, Charity Bank’s chief executive here.

As the Amazon storm calms, perhaps it’s time to reflect on our own power to redefine success in business. With the tools to raise standards of purpose, transparency and accountability at our fingertips, now is an exciting time.

*This article originally appeared on the Charity Bank blog: http://charitybank.org/news/act-like-amazon-or-save-the-amazon-the-ball-is-in-our-court

 


25% discount on Charity Bank loans for Mark Holders

IMG_2290To celebrate becoming the first UK bank to be awarded the Social Enterprise Mark, Charity Bank has announced a partnership with Social Enterprise Mark CIC to offer Mark Holders a 25% reduction on their standard loan arrangement fee.

Please click here for full information

Important information

  • Quote CBL/SEM to claim your 25% discount. Charity Bank’s standard arrangement fee is usually 1% of the agreed loan but may be individually negotiated
  • The offer is available to all Social Enterprise Mark holders, which have not borrowed or submitted a formal enquiry or loan application about a Charity Bank loan in the past twelve months
  • All loan applications are subject to approval by Charity Bank and applications must be submitted by 31st May 2016.
To find out more about Charity Bank, visit: http://charitybank.org/charity-loans  or follow @charitybank

Hooked on government support…

…from one dependency to another

You can’t have failed to notice the high profile fall of Kid’s Company over the last few months.  It reminded me of some of the dangers that can lie in reliance on government contracts for the delivery of public services, which has been repeated as a mantra for the social enterprise sector for nearly 20 years.  This of course is not the only issue for Kid’s Company, but one that I focus on here.

Many forget that, historically, social enterprise has its roots (along with the charity sector) in delivering where the conventional market has failed.  However, unlike charity, it uses a business model that creates enough revenue to either:

  1. deliver very low profit margins to reinvest because the social value/impact is included in their business delivery model which would otherwise increase profits; or
  2. deliver high margins in one activity that supports the cross subsidy of another less profitable social activity, freeing the company to deliver its social mission without the interference of others.

This provides a very flexible model that is really focused on social need. It is often more resilient too because it tends to have a number of revenue generation sources.

The government’s (and others’) wider promotion of opening up public service delivery, and the more recent emphasis on social investment as a means to deliver public services, whilst providing potential profit for investors, have realigned  and shifted the focus of social enterprise policy.  In fact, in my view, the term “social enterprise” was coined in the early 2000’s in many ways as a result of the opportunities that the spin out of public services presented to new and existing social enterprises.

It is perhaps not surprising that the government became so interested in social enterprise, given the drive to look at alternative delivery models.   I remember the Labour Government’s social enterprise strategy was pretty much solely focused on this aspect.  A number of us at the time, including the likes of Nigel Kershaw from The Big Issue, questioned why the government weren’t interested in supporting social enterprise to succeed in the open market as well.

It is only when I speak to social enterprise practitioners and commentators outside England that I realise how focused and obsessed the whole sector has become with government contracts.  We are constantly urged to ‘influence commissioners’ and ‘prove social value/impact’.  We hang on the words of government and the civil service to predict our futures.   But to what end?  To replace one dependency with another?

If we look back, the track record of successive governments have not been good in this area.  It is about to get a whole lot worse.  Commissioner loyalties are fragile and fickle especially in the light of more austerity.

Our collective memory seems to have been removed from us.  We need to spread our risks, focus on how we become less dependent on government and get back to the reason we exist in the first place – to deliver a social/environmental solution through an ethical business approach.

SE_Business_Identifier_RGBThe Social Enterprise Mark certification can help to prove your social credentials, as it encourages our Markholders to reflect on their social mission, value, and their independence, in order to differentiate and promote themselves, in order to achieve a sustainability that best serves the people they are in business for.  Government contracts do count as trading income, but  an overdependence on one source of income that is subject to the vagaries of political pressure never makes good business sense.