Penny for your thoughts?

Penny for your thoughts?


Robery Ashton, Social Entrereneur writes for SEEE....

I've been rather busy of late. In fact so busy I've blogged for nobody and become something of a recluse. It's what happens when large conundrums present themselves and block the light. Yes, I've been in a dark place trying to make sense of social investment.


A penny might help you with your thoughts, but I've been on the hunt for considerably more. Collecting pennies won't help, even though I know full well that they do add up, as Pennies (described as the digital charity box) have ably demonstrated. My research has led me to conclude that today, social investment is the name of the game.


And frankly I think that's a healthy step towards a more vibrant, responsive, flexible and focused social enterprise sector. I remember one charity CEO looking startled when asking me where she could get revenue grants for a new social enterprise cafe I replied she should recruit some customers. Capital grants for set up costs were easier to get back then, but revenue costs has to be covered by trading margins. That's how in my view it should be.


Then look at the low investment returns being achieved by grant making Trusts today and you see why social investment is increasingly attractive to even the biggest grant-makers. Getting your money back to re-invest in someone else's venture makes sense, even more now than in times of healthy investment returns.


But what does that mean to us? Social entrepreneurs usually set out to change something in the world that bothers them. More often than not they're driven by personal experience, often of some injustice. This emotional connection gives them the grit and determination they need to confront challenge and overcome the barriers others place in their way.


But that same emotional attachment to,their cause can distort their vision of reality and cloud their judgement. One lesson I have learned over the years, through a series of hard knocks, is that unless others can relate to your mission, your best hope is recognition as a martyr. The way to,change the world is to lead change, not try to change things single handedly.


So paradoxically, we need to welcome social investors into our lives with open arms. Yes, they can be annoying in the demands for hard evidence of both need and social,impact, but without their demands, important things can be overlooked. Nobody on a crusade of social change spends a long time preparing cash flow forecast, yet without that attrition to detail, you stand a good chance of failure.


Cast your mind back to,those halcyon days of almost ad lib public sector funding. Then, providing you repeated all the key statistics from the tender document in your proposal, you were in with a chance. Most funding was for a maximum of three years, so sustainability beyond then was of little interest; either to the funder or the bid writer.


Today, fortunately, it is more considered. If you're going to change lives, you need to stick at it to help those who come along behind those you help. It can get easier with time, as anyone who's run something for a few years can tell you.


Which brings me neatly to my point. I, and I guess you, want my social enterprise to be sustainable and grow for years to come. To grow we all need investment and to be sustainable we need to add common sense business practices. So welcome the questions social investors will be sure to ask. They will force you to do things in way that will almost certainly make your future more secure.


Robert Ashton is a social entrepreneur and author. He founded and now Chairs Swarm Apprenticeships in 2013. @robertashton1


Disclaimer: SEEE does not necessarily share the views presented in this blog