Defining Social Enterprise

One of the main questions floating around the summit was one I discussed a short while back, i.e. 'What is a social entrepreneur?' In part this was because one of the three pitches didn't really seem to fit the unspoken definition. You might say the definition doesn't matter, but it does because social enterprises, and startups in particular, need both new policy and funding models to prevent their social goals being overridden by business imperatives.

Pushing profits from an enterprise into non-profit areas, or simply doing charitable work alongside running an enterprise didn't really seem to go down well as social entrepreneurship; which I personally think is a fair point. Philanthropy already exists as a way of life and having a social conscience or running ethical businesses is great, but still not the same thing.

What makes 'Social Enterprise' different to what's gone before is the new trend towards the use of corporate principles to drive enterprise robustness in what was traditionally a non-profit and charity dependent space. Like many others I feel this is a positive move as long as it doesn't compromise the primary goal of making the world a better place.

The hierarchy of importance here is clearly on the social rather than financial connotations of the term that comes from entrepreneurs being traditionally associated with the singular business of making money. The term 'enterprising' in its essence however is about finding workable solutions in challenging situations, and maybe this is the definition of the entrepreneur we ought to be focusing on.

My Definitions of Social Enterprise:

Social entrepreneurs are people who create and implement innovative and independently sustainable solutions for addressing social issues.

Social enterprises then can be defined as "Enterprises effecting positive social change, independently and sustainably."


Do you believe you are a social entrepreneur and does this definition makes sense to you? Comment and let us know!

The Wrong Trainers

As part of the i-Genius summit we spent an evening watching a series of short films made by some of the guys at the conference. My favourite was this one done by Bold Creative, who work on creative media projects with young people to help tell their stories. It is run by Martin Orton and Greg Villalobos, who we'll hopefully be able to collaborate with in the future. Check out "The Wrong Trainers: Dillon's Story" above. Awesome work guys!

Reflections on the i-Genius World Summit

It's been a week since the i-Genius World Summit for Social Entrepreneurs ran its course, and amazingly enough I've already been in touch with half the people I met there. I think that pretty much sums up how great it was to be at an event with people you actually want to get contact info from!

The summit itself was organised superbly, especially considering it was put together by just two people. Jo, Julie... take a bow! The Pearl Island Resort was beyond what you'd expect from a 5 Star place. The rooms blew our minds. Mine was basically two huge connected rooms with two balconies, a walk in closet, a massive open shower, and a study with a huge bath in it! The Resort spans a huge acreage and is an exercise in detailed design using the original tin mine as inspiration. Three swimming pools, including an adult one with a bar in it. Tennis courts. Bars. Snooker room. Long stretch of beach with a beautiful flat calm sea. And food you would not believe; from the breakfasts with everything you could dream of, to the dinners with lobster and crab and king prawns and meat, and, and, and...!

Amazingly the conference lived up to standard set by the location too. The format alternated between talks and workshops. Attendees included some really big names but I'm not going to focus on them, because actually they were not the ones that made the event at all. The inspiring ones were the unknowns that made the journey and got involved and shared themselves and their experience. From the three who set it all up - Tommy Hutchinson, the founder of i-Genius who led from the front and deserves much kudos for realising his vision, and Jo Matthews and Julie Whitaker who put it all together; to all the others that you're going to hear more about over the next couple of weeks. Off the top of my head - Adam, Ahmed, Barry, Ben H, Cliff, Dave M, Dave K, Dev, Grace, Mike, Greg, Martin, Hiikmah, Lotis, Jo, Luke, Mark, Sara, Olivier, Morten, The KaosPilots, Meriem, Ioannis, Olly, Sheetal, Parag, Ronald, Mounir, Tim... too many to list here!

i-Genius Summit

The third day ended with an investors den session where 3 of us (Anna, Lucian and me) were given the opportunity to pitch to a panel of investors - Matt Williams from Making Waves, Isabel Maxwell of Robert Maxwell fame, and Sheetal Mehta who set up some VC stuff at Microsoft and now runs Innovative Social Ventures Ltd. 7 minute pitch followed by 20 minutes of questions from the panel in front of the entire summit audience! Have to admit this was all a bit stressful for me because it was the first time I was pitching my vision and it really wasn't perfectly defined with no revenue or cost models or any of the concrete stuff that VCs usually want to know. I wasn't even sure it was even happening right until I got there and hadn't had time to do much before hand. With all the fun and games during the day it meant that I ended up writing the presentation between midnight and half 3 in the morning during the summit period, along with missing most of the workshop sessions to get it all together.

Amazingly enough the pitch went really well. One of the areas I struggled with in the QA session was describing examples of how the site could be used. I completely drew a blank like sometimes happens, but afterwards so many people came up with ways of how they could see our vision being put to good use. Thanks guys. Will be in touch to explore more!

Also judging from some of the questions and suggestions offered, two of the investors didn't quite to get what I was talking about - I think due to the difficulties of relating futuristic digital visions to previous offline experience with the volunteering sector, but pretty much the whole audience did, which was absolutely fantastic. Everyone fed back ideas and thumbs up and encouragement. Cliff Prior who runs the UnLtd Foundation came up and offered me an assessment for a Level 1 grant to help us get started, which left me really touched because I hadn't even asked for money. I really wasn't ready for all the love! I walked away encouraged and inspired and more determined to make this work so watch this space because I want you to be involved too!

In between the sessions, there was laughter and pool sessions and drinking and great food. People split off and combined back again, making the whole thing feel much more like a holiday in the sun, than a conference of any sort. The final day ended with an overview of the future of i-Genius and a chance for people to share their thoughts on the event. You couldn't help but feel moved by the passion and feeling and collaboration amongst so many bright, interesting people; all steeped in the humanity of trying to find sustainable ways of making a positive difference for others less well off, locally and globally. All I can say to end is that if you can make the time, attend the next one!!

Sà-wàt-dee from Phuket!!

After a night in Bangkok I'm now writing this from the Mangosteen resort in Phuket... or 'Mangoteen' as the locals pronounce it! The pictures on the web are a stunning exercise in deceptive scale, meaning that the swimming pool isn't quite the lagoon it seems, but apart from that it is about as nice as expected. Very peaceful, great food and not enough villas for it to feel crowded, even in high season. I am of course the only single guy probably ever to have visited, apart from honeymooners and baby boomers, but they've got a cheap deal and it's well away from the tourist stuff. Perfect for winding down. Phuket itself is a lot bigger than expected and the journey from the airport at the north tip to Rawaii right down south took about an hour by taxi. You can do this for 450baht if you're prepared to wait an hour for a meter cab, but I eventually gave up and for 200baht more got a ride down in a private cab.

Pic 1. The Mangosteen Resort - Marketing Shot

The Dream

Pic 2 - The Reality :)

The Reality

Plan for the first half of this week is to chill out and do nothing but eat, swim, catch sun and sort things out for i-genius. So far I've done the first three... now on to something constructive!

USP & iVolntr: Problem Statement

After much research and rework to define and simplify what I'm trying to achieve with the Urban Survival Project, the answer seems to come down to a two step process. To achieve our goal of improving opportunities for inner city kids, I think there needs to be a social and technical infrastructure in place.

First, create a flexible available pool of literate urban volunteers via a volunteering platform ( Second, enable them to connect with and help young people and any one else who needs it, by making it easy to help people immediately and online. In light of that, here's a first draft of some questions and answers I've put together to help outline what I'm thinking. I'd love some feedback :)

What is the aim of the Urban Survival Project?

Revolutionise urban volunteering!

How will we achieve this?

By approaching it from a social-networking and cyber-volunteering perspective - i.e.

What is the opportunity?

There is an increasing sense of social responsibility amongst young professionals, particularly in the corporate space, combined with a need for kudos on a personal level and offset by limited available time. There is thus a keenness for volunteering and particularly helping disadvantaged young people that is not being realized because there are too many barriers to volunteering. This is especially so for a commitment-phobic web-savvy professional generation that takes ease of use, interactive engagement, fun and immediacy for granted.

What do we need to do?

  1. We need to make volunteering easier.

  2. We need to make volunteering immediate and temporary / non-committal.

  3. We need to make some aspects of volunteering possible online and through the use of digital media, online document editors and wiki software. In other words, we need to enable true cyber-volunteering.

Why do we need another volunteering site?

There isn’t one out there specifically dedicated to engaging volunteers and catering for their needs. The volunteering sites out there focus primarily on organizations looking for time or donations, or alternatively provide for people and groups developing ideas or setting up social projects.

Why set this up as a social network?

As I see it, the largest untapped volunteering resource is the commitment-phobic, web- savvy, young professional group that has become accustomed to interpersonal interaction norms set by Facebook. Social networks are proven to be a highly successful way to connect and engage people in the 15 to 35 demographic. There is also a significant amount of social kudos for individuals and groups to be gained by showcasing their good deeds and developing their social ideas in a space where their friends and colleagues have visibility. The network would also contain organizations and projects as individual entities that members can interact with as they do with each other, as well as providing volunteering opportunities as Facebook style updates to members; thus making it easier to volunteer both in terms of usability and also in terms of findability. The combination of the two will create the ease and immediacy that most of us are looking for.

Why do we need another social network?

There isn’t one out there that is designed to achieve anything useful. There are plenty of Web 2.0 sites trying to do this, but they don't recreate our social graph and aren't really social networks. Attempts to achieve this through existing social networks have also not proved successful. Neither Facebook nor MySpace for example, are designed for useful collaboration between individuals, and are primarily fun sites rather than useful platforms. Creating a useful social network creates the opportunity to reuse and scale for a number of other collaborative needs.

Why do we need another website for young people?

There aren’t very many sites specifically for young people, and there isn’t one that covers the breadth of issues they face, at a literacy level that makes sense particularly to young people in the NEET (Not in Education, Employment or Training) category.

Why would non-profits and other volunteering websites support this?

This network would drive traffic to their sites by feeding their volunteering opportunities into the pool of users based on localization information and user preference, and thus increase their possibilities of engaging with and leveraging an audience that they currently struggle to pull in. Being able to create their own organization profiles that could be synchronized with their data feeds will also help create a referral channel at no cost. We could enable donations directly through member profiles like Facebook causes. Finally, and crucially, this project would help them build dedicated and long reaching networks of people that support their cause.

Finally, we're good to go!

Only a week to go before I head out for Thailand. Frantic rush to get a new engagement off the ground at work while also finishing off research that validates what we're trying to do. In terms of priority, been putting off everything else that gets in the way; blogging included.

Anyway exciting update. Have finished the bulk of the research I wanted to do, and the outcome looks good for what we're trying to achieve. While there are loads of volunteering sites out there, most of them fall into what we could call 'Web 1.0' category i.e. static, corporate and text based, where the user has to search for what they want to do, and then apply.

Amidst these, there's a small few that have moved into 'Web 2.0' category in terms of design and interaction, with some nice innovative ideas for connecting people with ideas and causes and non-profits. Some of them have member profiles too, but none of them allow any social graph recreation and they are all still about trying to improve the way organisations find help, funding or volunteers.

The Urban Survival Project and are about revolutionising the way volunteering works by coming at it from a true social networking perspective, and then differentiating again by making social networks useful.

Anyway, watch this space for some nice visuals that explain what I mean as soon as I've got time to create them in power point :)


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The Urban Survival Project is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial-Share Alike 2.0 UK: England & Wales License.