Senscot AGM – 27th June 2007 – Laurence’s comments

Senscot AGM – 27th June 2007

Laurence Demarco’s comments

Senscot trustees are determined that we do not reduce our commitment to the social enterprise sector – but they are keen that we extend our range to other areas.  We are a network for social entrepreneurs and the Third Sector doesn’t have a monopoly on these.  SEs are active in the Public Sector (sometimes called intrapreneurs, innovators working in large state bureaucracies.  They are to be found in the private sector – often successful business entrepreneurs who want to ‘put something back’.  And they are to be found in local communities (sometimes called community activists) working to transform the place they ‘belong’.

Senscot’s mission is to recognise and support the role of all social innovators wherever they are.  So, while continuing our social enterprise commitment – with more emphasis on the Local Networks which Colin supports – a few words on how we might extend our activities into other sectors.

Public Sector: I attended a seminar last week, hosted by the Scottish Executive, about embedding innovation in the public sector.  Geoff Mulgan from the Young Foundation told us that this issue is gaining priority with governments internationally as they try to adapt to the speed of change.  The culture of the civil service is risk averse – failure is punished.  The challenge is how to get support to isolated innovators.  One approach might be thematic.  To identify individuals, say in the prison service, who are trying new things – or would like to.  As with our current work, we would contact the key practitioners, and learn from dialogue how we can help.  Our aim would be that these thematic constellations become peer support networks for front line innovators in a particular field.  The different thematic groups could converge into a national network of innovators in public services – nurturing its own counter culture – bold – open source – bouncing ideas – embracing the future.

Private Sector: There are many relatively young people in Scotland who have made serious money – fast – not just young people.  Some of them are left feeling there must be more to life than this.  Some would like to use their skills and wealth to improve society – but are not attracted to traditional philanthropy.  Are there social enterprises already trading which are open to a relationship with successful a business entrepreneurs whose main motivation is social gain.  Surely there must be.  The challenge becomes the sensitive matching of entrepreneurs across sectors – so that each gets what they want.  As obvious partner for such activity would be the Entrepreneurial Exchange and there are other groupings of Venture Angels forming.  We would like to spend more time on this.

Community Sector: Social entrepreneurs are also active in local communities – providing vital leadership and they too are often isolated and unsupported.  These are the ‘place entrepreneurs’ whose work has geographical identity.  Who resuscitate towns, villages and neighbourhoods which face significant difficulties.  Senscot will continue to work with other community intermediaries (like CRNS, DTA, Community Woodlands) to grow the Local People Leading campaign.  LPL is trying to develop a distinctive community politics for Scotland.  A central plank of this campaign is to promote the spread of community anchor organisations, independent, multi purpose organisations which provide a focal point for local community activity – including the acquisition and management of assets.  This links again with our social enterprise activity because its only through developing their own income streams that communities can achieve relative independence.

So – if resources permit I`ve mentioned 3 areas where Senscot would like to extend our activity as we move forward.  Before I end though  I’d first like to say a few words about what the work we do means to me personally. 

The government says that it supports the growth of social enterprise for practical reasons.  It helps the economy.  It can improve the quality of public services.  It is acknowledged that we are best at working close to the poorest people in society.  Government support for the community sector is a bit more vague.  Stuff about spreading power – making communities more resilient and independent.  There is nothing wrong with any of these reasons.  The private sector’s support for our work – what there is of it – comes from enlightened self interest.  JFK put it as well as anyone.  “If a free society cannot help the many who are poor – it cannot save the few who are rich.”  The realisation that as the world shrinks, we are all more and more connected.  There’s nothing wrong with this either. But these pragmatic reasons miss something – for many of us our work has a deeper meaning – more radical.

The mind set of ‘pure’ social entrepreneur is this – I am a business person, but I will not engage in any activity which damages people or our planet.  I will treat my customers and staff honestly and fairly – and if I’m good enough at what I do to make a profit – I will not use it to enhance my personal wealth – but to do more for the common good.  Let us be clear friends – that is an extraordinary commitment – especially the last bit – the subordination of private to public benefit.  In the face of the prevailing culture in our society – it is revolutionary.  If our movement continues to gather momentum – it has the potential to change society – to change the way we deal with each other – the values which inform civil and commercial life.

Senscot is consciously part of this counter culture.  A counter culture which holds paramount the concept of social justice – and which believes that social justice can be measured in any society in the gap between the rich and the poor.

In social enterprise we are not talking about an alternative to capitalism – our economists offer us no alternative – there’s nothing else.  But we are talking about an adaptation of capitalism – we may even be seeing a mutation of capitalism. Profit, not as an end in itself, but as a means to drive social change. Social entrepreneurs globally, who grasp the power of this – will play an increasing part in the future of our world.

Good luck with your adventures.