It is hard to believe we are already more than halfway through the 2012 On Purpose programme, In my case, this means I have moved from the School for Social Entrepreneurs (SSE) to HCT Group, a social enterprise in the transport industry.
My first few days at HCT Group have been a chance to meet the team and to learn more about what the company does and to begin to get to grips with the project I will be working on. And once again it will be a steep learning curve reinforcing that the On Purpose programme is designed to challenge. The placements provide an opportunity to hone new skills and to learn by doing rather than to practice what you know. I have no prior knowledge or experience in procurement, but that is exactly what I will be working on at my new placement. HCT Group has reached a scale now where decisions over what to purchase and where can have a significant impact, and I am excited by the challenge of designing procurement processes and systems which focus on all three bottom lines.
In my first week at HCT Group I also returned to the SSE to witness one of my projects come to fruition. At SSE I designed a bespoke 2-day training event, delivered by SSE on behalf of the Goldman Sachs Foundation, for 35 social enterprise leaders from around the country.
Participants on an SSE learning programme can usually expect an excellent calibre of speaker, and this event was no exception. Phillip Blond, Director of the think tank ResPublica, opened proceedings and his one-hour session was a tour-de-force covering the current political landscape, insights into how to manage failure, and how systemic collapse is bringing great opportunities for social entrepreneurs looking for public service contracts. He believes that we will soon see the rise of trust platforms. While I don’t know much about trust platforms I’m going to keep an eye out for them.
June O’Sullivan, CEO of London Early Years Foundation, reminded us all that generally customers and potential customers don’t give a damn about your social mission. They are only interested in the service you provide, so social entrepreneurs just have to make sure that what they deliver is better than everyone else’s.
Nigel Kershaw of Big Issue Invest inevitably stole the show when he gave a colourful and frank assessment of where he feels the blame lies for many of society’s ills, temporarily forgetting that representatives of Goldman Sachs were in the room.
One of the recurring themes from the two days was the tension between the search for competitive advantage and the potential gains to be had from forming links with other service providers within the sector. Paul Farmer, CEO of Mind, believes the solution is a middle ground between cooperation and competition, namely “co-opetition”. I’m not sure if that was a word before this session, but I quite like the sound of it myself.
Best of all, the two day event gave me a chance to meet some really interesting people leading some amazing businesses. Inspiration isn’t hard to find in a room full of social entrepreneurs.