Social Enterprise Mistakes – Thinking other people know what they’re doing

| No responses | Posted by: David Floyd | Theme: Social Innovation & Investment

There’s a point in all our lives when we realise –with shock and/or growing horror – that our parents don’t know everything. Many of us cease to be in awe of any conventional authority figures soon after that and, for example, by the time we reach voting age may believe that politicians don’t know anything much at all.


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What this lack of openly acknowledged deference often masks is the underlying sense most of us have what we first start a social venture that other people we encounter in the course of getting our venture – particularly people with more power than of us and/or the responsibility for large amounts of money – must have a clear vision of what they’re doing and why.




In the case of your innovative scheme to tackle youth unemployment through a disruptive combination of skateboarding and environmental action, it’s likely that public sector agencies – including local authorities or central government departments – could be ultimately be major funders of your work.

From the outside, it’s very easy to assume that ‘the government’ or ‘the council’ takes all the decisions about what it supports or spends money on based on clear, fully mapped out, plan of action. They don’t.

Politicians make decisions about principles and structures then civil servants and council officers have to somehow work out the practical actions to make sense of it all. Politicians might (they’re very likely to) decide that unemployment’s a bad thing and there should be less of it. Various different employees of public sector agencies will have some money that they have to spend – in different ways – on tackling the problem of, for example, unemployment.

They don’t know how to tackle unemployment. They’re not sitting around waiting in eager anticipation for you to turn up and tell them about your exciting disruptive ideas – but they do have some problems that you may be able to solve.

At this point, due to the enthusiastic promotion by some in the social enterprise world of charismatic leadership models, it’s unfortunately necessary to make clear what this doesn’t mean for early stage social entrepreneurs.

It doesn’t mean then when approaching people working for your local council (or, in fact, anyone you’re hoping will listen to you, let alone pay you to do something) you should give the impression that you’re so confident that your social venture will be brilliant that anyone who either doesn’t recognise its brilliance already, or persists in not recognising it after a full five minute chat with you, is a complete idiot.

It does mean that when talking to possible commissioners, funders and partners in the public sector you might be able to recognise problems that they have, and that you can solve, that they may not have noticed yet. It also means, you shouldn’t assume that just because a particular approach isn’t currently been tried, there’s necessarily a good reason why.

If you can convince someone working for a public sector agency that what you’re doing can solve a problem they need to solve then, even in times of austerity, money can often be found from somewhere. Sometimes slightly chaotic situations where particular budgets have to be spent in a short space of time create unpredicted opportunities for new ideas to be funded.

Although a social entrepreneur launching an innovative scheme to tackle youth unemployment through skateboarding and environmental action may focus initial on public sector funders or customers, variations on the same principle apply to large charities and businesses.

None of this means that most public sector (or other) organisations are currently operating in an ignorant state of chaos which they’re waiting for you to drag them out of but within complicated organisations set up to tackle complicated social problems, there’s often room for social innovation to sneak through.


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