Stumbled across an interesting new blog just before Xmas, entitled The Shaftesbury Partnership. It's a name that conjures up any number of interesting possibilities, but is in fact a kind of ethical business consultancy working primarily with what it calls "system social entrepreneurs". The people involved include Nat Wei, co-founder of Teach First, and programme director of Future Leaders (recently featured in the Guardian).
So what is a system social entrepreneur? I think it's worth pasting up their entire post on this:
"Social entrepreneurs are those who take aspects of entrepreneurship most commonly but not exclusively associated with the private sector, using it for social good. In its most enhanced form, the business model underlying such entrepreneurship includes an element of income self-generated from the social economy.
There are two main types of social entrepreneur (though on rare occasions both types can appear in one person): community social entrepreneurs and system social entrepreneurs. Community social entrepreneurs are locally based, working at grass-roots level. System social entrepreneurs have both the skills and the inclination to grow initiatives to national size, affecting the entire system. System social entrepreneurship tends to take a strategic top-down approach working on issues that governments and the public see as some of the most intractable and challenging, but by working with community entrepreneurs on a grass-roots level it hopes to make real impact as well on the ground reaching parts that governments and other traditional agencies find harder to reach.
For large-scale social improvement (in the public sphere and elsewhere), both community and system entrepreneurs are needed, working together to address poverty."
It is the differentiation between 'system' and 'community' social entrepreneurs that I find most interesting here. Some might argue there is an element of elitism here (note that community social entrepreneurs don't have the 'skills' or 'inclination' to take things national / scale up, according to these definitions; giving them the opportunity to learn those skills, and gain confidence and ambition to use them might be a thought), but there is also more than a grain of truth. Certainly Teach First and Future Leaders have been strategic, top-down approaches to addressing unmet needs, and appear to be working well (I met Brett Wigdortz, the CEO of Teach First, at a conference recently and was impressed with him and their work). But the division seems slightly too stark to me here, and perhaps over-emphasises the 'rarity' of community social entrepreneurs who start local but grow to become national.Think of Anita Roddick who started with one shop in Brighton, or John Bird, who started with a monthly publication in London. Or, more recently, Colin Crooks, who started Green Works with one small local outlet. Whilst it is true to say that the majority of SSE Fellows are what might be termed 'community social entrepreneurs', there are certainly a fair proportion who would probably balk at that term. Also worth noting that our recent evaluation (by the New Economics Foundation) addresses this point:
The other interesting point for me is that the description of a system social entrepreneur here sounds very much like strategic social innovation, rather than person-led social entrepreneurship involving risk, opportunism, personal responsibility, challenging the status quo and so on....but then perhaps going down that road is too stark a differentiation from my side as well. The bottom line is that we need entrants to this movement from all backgrounds, working at all levels to solve complex problems; and working together where it brings benefits and improved results.
"Sometimes SSE fellows are described as being simply local community activists working for local people solving local problems. This evaluation aims to contribute to the debate as we find that whilst social entrepreneurs are working locally they often face challenges produced by processes beyond their immediate sphere of control. Some fellows are seeking to counteract disempowerment by ‘scale jumping’ to assert their specific concerns and actively seek to shape and change public policy at local and even national and international levels.
There is also danger that the ‘local-people-solving-local-problems’ view may strengthen a dangerous assumption that social enterprise is the panacea that will solve social ills on the ground, thereby relinquishing responsibility for addressing these ills directly, or more importantly their underlying and systemic causes.
The SSE programme is designed and delivered in a way that is sensitive to the diverse needs and attitudes of the students who are striving to achieve positive change for communities. The spirit of the SSE experience is in the way it seeks, through the endeavours of its students, to reverse trends of social exclusion, poverty and disempowerment at local, national and international levels. SSE guides students through a process of personal transformation, organisational development and by supporting a community of social entrepreneurs as part of a network that can work on a long-term basis to create wider and lasting change."