Sad news about Steve Jobs. I woke early yesterday morning to hear the news on Radio 4. He was cited as the most culturally important person of the last 30 years. The news was accompanied by a number of Jobs’ insightful quotes, but this one really stands out for me: “Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking, and don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it.”
I’m sure there’s going to be a lot of Jobs’ quotes in the media in the coming weeks and I apologise for being quite so obvious, but I love some of what he said as much as I like the products that he was integral in developing. At age 56 it’s a sad, tragic loss.
As Jobs knew, employee engagement and loyalty is much easier when you have clearly defined values to sell to your staff. It’s been shown to help with worker recruitment and retention, greatly increase productivity and reduce staff absenteeism. Running an organisation that bosses, staff and customers can have pride in isn’t just the right thing to do, but it’s the smart thing to do.
Professor Michael Porter at Harvard Business School has spoken a great deal about business creating greater shared value, and he’s not the only one. Large corporates are all too aware that people are taking a keener-than-ever interest in corporate values and sustainability when choosing with who they might develop their careers. Big businesses are also facing customer cynicism, which is at an all-time high. This is partly why I believe they are keen to work with social enterprises in ever-greater numbers. Over the past 12 months we have been working more with private businesses; we’re encouraging them to open up their supply chains to social enterprise, modernise parts of their corporate responsibility strategies and adapt their businesses to a fast-changing world by becoming ever more socially enterprising. Doing the right thing is not always at odds with profit – in many cases it can enhance it – and corporates can really engage their staff by being supportive of social enterprise. For the movement it’s an important step because we’re raising awareness of social enterprise at the heart of big business.
You may already know that PwC has invested in the Fire Station on Tooley Street, London Bridge and developed a new social enterprise hub – a base that signals their support for our sector (and will be Social Enterprise UK’s home soon). RBS Natwest has launched a new micro-credit loan fund, Microsoft’s new director of social enterprise is working very closely alongside us to maximise their sector impact and Business In The Community have launched ‘arc – Building Better Business’ a new support programme for social enterprises in London.
Relationships between the corporate sector and social enterprise sector have never been so potentially fruitful. I understand many people are concerned that our sector might be used to ‘cleanse’ the image of tarnished business that continues to behave in greedy and selfish ways, but I genuinely believe that the tide is turning and the relationships we cultivate are assessed on the balance of net-gain for society and the sector. We have engaged the corporate ear and we must wisely use this opportunity to create the biggest and best impact for our world by challenging and changing usual business doctrines.
Maybe it’s because we’re all in business that were beginning to build such productive relationships and understand how business needs to change. Business is getting this agenda much faster than many politicians – too many of whom see us as a peripheral, ideological and a marginal business sector. Ed Milliband was widely slated for talking about the role of good business, and how the predatory way of doing business needed to change. It seems odd that it wasn’t well received given that this is exactly the consensus that is emerging from business and economic analysts and across publications such as the Financial Times and the Harvard Business Review. Ed Miliband was a good friend to Social Enterprise in Government and he needs to give it support in opposition or risk having the socially-responsible business ground stolen by opponents.
We kicked off the conference season with the Liberal Democrats in Birmingham; highlights included agreeing a number of potentially impactful actions with the BIS minister Ed Davey. I just hope he can encourage the rest of his department to take social enterprise as seriously as he clearly does.
We were delighted to host our Labour Party event at Blackburne House, the social enterprise founded by my boss, and had a constructive discussion with Baroness Thornton, one of our new patrons, as well as Emily Thornbury MP, David Hanson MP and former transport minister Paul Clark about how Labour could create a clearer narrative on social justice, social enterprise and the role of good businesses in creating a fairer, more resilient economy. Themes that (surely by some coincidence) made their way into the leader’s speech later that day. I also shared a CBI platform with Helen Goodman MP and would have loved to accept her invitation to go for a dance if it wasn’t for a pre-booked train home!
We had a great breakfast with our minister Nick Hurd at the Conservative conference. He gave his time generously and is clearly sincere in his support for our shared aspirations for the sector. We had a collective discussion about some really important issues including the Social Enterprise Bill and the future of the Work Programme. I doubt it could be a more challenging time for any OCS minister than it is right now, but Nick’s knowledge of the sector and his obvious commitment to it creates the best hope we have of getting Government to take us more seriously and deliver on their pre-election commitments.
We also held a lively fringe meeting – thank you to our members for coming along. It was chaired by the Guardian’s Patrick Butler with John Coulthard (Microsoft’s director of social enterprise) and Richard Fuller (MP for Bedford). If you haven’t come across Richard then you should make yourself aware of him. A great orator, entertaining company and a fabulous and intelligent proponent of our sector. He gave a provocative and energetic analysis of what needs to happen to grow social enterprise: risk, more risk, planning for failure, capitalisation, innovation, localism and a revolution in commissioning. He’s an exceptional asset and one to watch.
What of the PM’s speech? The only thing I could think was where has the Big Society gone? It featured lightly with just two mentions. I’m guessing we’ll have to wait and see what happens there.
So the conference season is over and life returns to some sort of normality. Our conference activities are only made possible through the love and support of some of our members so thanks to P3, Sandwell CCT, HCT and Locality. Your investment on behalf of the whole sector is very much appreciated. As is the tireless work of the policy team here at Social Enterprise UK to get these meetings and events organised in the first place. A really big thank you.
See you all soon