Thursday, 2 September 2010

Moving on to a new site

It is time to move on to another site, this one actually has my full name! Join me there, should be fun.

Saturday, 28 August 2010


Trying out a new idea for improving my photography. Inspired by a blog post by Alexandre Buisse via @Canugurl.

I am going to post seven photos every week to my picasa site for now, and then as it gets going will look to create my own domain. Let me know if you like any of them.

Saturday, 17 April 2010

Taking a look at the impact of your backgrounds...

Thanks to a bunch of folks off-line and a couple on-line, I am back! It has been a really busy couple months since I returned from the holiday break. I graduated from my MBA, which was fun, and started to do more social business consulting. All very exciting, although time consuming! Tons of half-written blogs and half-thought through ideas are stored in my e-mail box and written on sheets of paper. Here is one that is simple, and has opened my eyes a bit to where people come from, their backgrounds and how teams work.

It was an insight from one of my professors that started me thinking. He asked us about the training of the politicians of various countries.

- In the UK/US/Canada the previous training is generally law, with some lifetime civil servants
- In the Middle east the politicians generally come from previous military experience
- In China the majority of previous training is engineering
You then think about the way those three different examples govern their countries; in the commonwealth it is usually through legislation, in the middle east there are clear rules and hierarchy, and in China there are five year plans. I probably did not get all of them exactly right, and I am not trying to stereotype, just to call out that it has an impact.

If you think of your own team composition, what have they studied, what are their interests? Putting together a diverse team has real advantages to solving problems and working together as a team. What is your ideal set-up and what have you learned about working with people from different backgrounds?

A recent quote I found...that also draws attention to the same idea.
"The leaders in China are engineers. The leaders in the US are lawyers. Draw your own conclusions. Paul Saffo"

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

People – getting involved in social entrepreneurship

The entrepreneur life is not for the faint-hearted, it is hard work and you need a lot of passion for your idea. The social entrepreneur does not get any breaks, and in most situations the challenge is even greater as the market is less well-defined. However, the characteristics of the two do not change, as entrepreneur’s they share these traits: Passion for their idea, experience in the field, come in pairs, and have been close to another successful new venture. This is a tall order for most people and due to the hurdles in forces most people away from entering the field.

As someone who is personally interested in the field, I was also somewhat daunted by the risks associated with ‘going it alone’. Upon further investigation, there are multiple routes into the social entrepreneurship field, potentially even more than the larger field. As the field is newly growing and trying to attract talent, the sector is quite open to people from the business world entering and lending a hand. Here are a couple routes:

Post-corporate: This is the most traditional method for non-profits and charities to attract senior business people, for both board and CEO roles. Successful corporate people, who are financially secure and want to know give back to society. They find the idea of sustainable business models operating in social areas, even more interesting. One such example is the CEO of Café Direct, who retired from a very successful career to move into the CEO role of this exciting social venture.

Within-corporate: Many corporations are keen to be associated with this growing sector. While in your current position, it is possible to start dedicating portions of your time to a social venture. In both the cases of Cool2Care, which started while at IBM, and Teach First London, which started while at McKinsey, we see great examples of migrating from their current employer to running the social venture that they started while fully employed.

Start from scratch: Spoken about above, the traditional route to starting a venture. This route is likely taken when you are already involved in the social sector, as you need to be close to the problems.

The sustainable business model in social sectors is an opportunity that has more possibilities and has wider appeal to the corporate business person. A growing number of routes and examples of success make this a more attract option for the socially conscious executive.

Funding sources

The dominant funding source for social sector companies has been grants from either foundations or government, while smaller charities can usually rely on donations. These funding sources are quite timely to attain, and usually come with various strings attached to usage and the additional reporting can be cumbersome. In many cases this type of funding is critical as few other sources of funding are typically available. For funding these companies, a useful framework is displayed below to show the different stages. The most common social companies are in the first phase, which rely on grants and donations. Many companies do not exit that phase as creating a sustainable business model is not possible. In the middle phase is the most complicated and we will discuss this one in more detail. The last phase attracts normal venture capital funding and would also likely be viable for stock offerings and large corporate investment.

The middle phase companies often start with donations and government funding during their start-up phase as they can attract that funding due to their social aims. In contrast to other start-up business, this is effectively free money they can use to help bootstrap their early stage growth. As the company looks to grow further there is has been an emergence of new ways to fund the companies in this middle sector. Companies such as Bridges ventures has started to raise funds to invest as venture capital money into socially good business models. Many of the same requirements apply, as other venture capital investments, although the fund has been sourced with this end use in mind. In addition, other creative funding sources have been created such as stock offering direct to consumers; as was the case with Café Direct

Future activity in this space is still unclear as growth is abundant. It is quite likely that mergers and acquisitions could become common as these new business models look to grow and expand, while increasing their efficiencies and economies of scale.

Management & Measurement

A critical problem in the social sector is measurement of the benefit that they have created in the system. For non-profits and charities the donors and government grants are looking for clear measurement of social impact; and those that can demonstrate the impact are more likely to get initial and future funding. The companies will measure market, operational and financial performance, in addition they will also need to understand their social performance. This extra dimension of measurement is what makes these companies so valuable, and also adds the complexity.

First coined in 1994, the triple bottom line ( was used widely in the environmental sector in the late 1990s. It is now being more widely used across the social sectors as more sophisticated measurement tools are available to describe and track the impact of these companies. The concept allows companies to measure their full cost accounting; as social impacts are taken into the balance sheet, companies will make different decisions. Social entrepreneurship companies, as described in the first blog, do not suffer from this measurement problem nearly as much as others. These types of companies are driven much more by market forces and their measurement of profit decides whether their products or services are seen as valuable in the market place. This brings up other issues regarding how socially focused these companies are, although this is a demarcation issue for tax laws mainly.

With this framework in place, it allows these types of companies to adopt many of the business principles and approaches to managing their business. They should not be bashful of bringing over all of the strategy and processes that have been used for decades in the business world. Having customers, tracking market share, investing based on ROI, keeping fixed costs low, these are all acceptable ways to run the business. To push it further, having 6 figure director salaries, 15% profit margins and going after your competitors even if they are public sector is also acceptable; as long as the social impact is being improved by more customers being served with an increased quality, this new venture is adding value to community.

While measurement is still a critical issue for these companies, by being more market driven they resolve some of the more complicated measurement challenges. If they continue to offer great products & services and restore equality to the social systems then the market will reward them with customers and profits.

Thursday, 18 June 2009

Defining social entrepreneurship

A growing sector and of particular interest to me, is social entrepreneurship. Like all new fields it can suffer from a wide and misunderstood definition. The nomenclature is important to distinguish itself from non-profit or charity programs, as being a socially led company operating with clear business practises.
Entrepreneurs have long been heralded as uncovering latent demand in the market place, solving problems in imaginative and innovation ways. Jean Baptiste Say[1] wrote at the turn of the century that an ‘entrepreneur shifts economic resources out of an area of lower and into an area of higher productivity and greater yield’. The social entrepreneur does the same by looking for inequality within the community and social system. This field is driven by the same passionate drive for business performance, with this social need at the beginning of the design in the venture.

To discuss further, let us talk through a couple examples of how a business model mindset could still work in the social sector. With my three examples I will move from organisations that are closest to the historical charity group to the other edge close to for-profit.
Fifteen restaurants are a social venture for providing underprivileged teenagers an opportunity to start a career in the restaurant industry. The foundation takes in hundreds of teenagers each year and staffs their restaurants from chefs to hosts to waiters and because of the quality of food, charges a hefty sum for the meals. This is a business that makes good money, and for most people is just a great restaurant; yet it serves social good while maintaining itself as an on-going concern without the continual funding of its initial foundation.
Fair Finance is an organisation that provides cost effective medium sized loans to the underprivileged in our city centres. The current alternatives are high-priced loans that take weeks to process, often time being refused by the high street banks. The company has adopted the micro-finance principles to an urban environment and been able to sustain good margins with these loans and only have 5-7 bad loan percent. This is again a business that anyone would want to finance, with a focus on the underprivileged and giving great rates with a social good outcome.
Whole foods is on the edge of this spectrum, as they have found a way to get everyone to eat better and charging a premium price for their organic and healthy food. As most health food stores were not very well branded or had low quality environments, it was not common to buy these types of foods. The re-engineering of the experience and then being able to attach this high price has made the company an on-going concern, while making those communities eat much better food.

This is my definition of the social entrepreneurship sector, which does purposely preclude a large section of the ‘third sector’. I do this to attract the serial entrepreneurs to an area where all of their business skills can be tested, prestige and pay can follow, all with a social goal in mind.
[1] J.Gregory Dees, “The meaning of Social Entrepreneurship”, 2001