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‘Bottom Up’ is the New Black

November 2, 2011 Leave a comment

Leeds – Dec 1st

Whether it is more ‘civic enterprise’, community engagement or ‘Big Society,’ people with power, but increasingly little money, are looking for new ways to get things done.  The large capital infrastructure projects have not given us more inclusive communities and now we can’t afford them any way, so in some quarters at least interest is shifting from old school top down strategy to a more emergent process of bottom up development.  To processes where large numbers of people can shape their own futures and as a result the futures of the communities that they live in.

But making the shift from top down to bottom up is far from easy….

Over the last few years I have been developing low and no cost approaches to economic, personal and community development leading to new projects such as:

These are my best efforts to provide an infrastructure that allows the private, public, third sector and those of ‘no sector’ to give and get the help that they need to develop enterprising projects and people, and for the development of ‘community’ by building relationships and networks around local activists.  To bring ‘bottom up’ development to life.

This one day masterclass will provide:

  • an overview of the ‘responsive’, bottom up philosophy that underpins each of these projects and its relationship to more commonly found ‘strategic efforts at community development and strategy implementation
  • the implications for strategists and policy developers of the patterns and themes for development that emerge from these bottom up activities
  • practical ‘warts and all’ insights into each of the 5 projects listed above including their progress, impact and cost base
  • an exploration of the links between the various projects and how they work together to provide an infrastructure for progress
  • an overview of the factors that drive their development and an exploration of how these can be managed
  • insights into how the projects manage social inclusion
  • opportunities to explore how these projects can be used to inform economic, community and personal development in your own area.

Who Should Attend?

  • Professionals and practitioners interested in new apporaches to economic and community development
  • Councillors and lcoal authority staff with responsibility for neighbourhoods and community
  • Representatives from the private sector with an interest in community and neighbourhood development, corporate social repsonsibility or looking to develop links with their community
  • Funders looking for new ideas in community development and regneration
  • Local people looking for affordable and accessible approaches to community development
Find out more and book your place here – http://bottomupisthenewblack.eventbrite.co.uk/
First 15 to book get 50% off.

Stating the Bleedin’ Obvious…(unless you are policy wonk or their lackey…)

July 5, 2011 4 comments

  1. Not every small business or micro-enterprise owner needs a mentor.
  2. Mentoring is NOT the only helping relationship.
  3. Good mentors are rarely trained in ‘mentoring’, nor are they picked from a register.
  4. Successful mentors are usually selected from within the pre-existing network of the mentee.  They are spotted and developed as someone from  whom the mentee really wants to learn.
  5. Mentoring is an intermittent rather than a continuous relationship.
  6. Access to good mentors is usually restricted and respectful rather than a tradeable commodity.
  7. The success of the mentorship is usually down to the mentee rather than the mentor.  Good mentees know how to choose a mentor and manage the relationship with them to get the learning and the introductions that they need.
  8. The commoditisation of mentoring is not a good thing.
  9. Mentors are not coaches, advisers, consultants, counsellors or facilitators.  People looking to learn and develop themselves and/or their organisations should think carefully about the kind of ‘help’ they need.
  10. We should help people explore what they want to learn and how they are going to learn it – rather than prescribe yet another ‘cure-all’ that happens to be ‘affordable’.
  11. We should focus our efforts on building social learning contexts and helping people manage their learning processes rather than setting up registers and schemes.
  12. If the national association of image consultants got their lobbying act together I am sure we might all end up being encouraged to use a national register of image consultants in pursuit of GDP.

If you are interested in implementing ill thought through policy and exploiting it as way to make a few bob please do not get in touch.  If on the other you are serious about building a context in which people  can really learn then I would love to hear from you.

Just leave a comment below.

Elsie is Born…


I seem to have been a bit quiet on this blog, while I have been doing other things, including pushing Progress School along, working on Collaborate Leeds and incubating a new idea which has finally found the light of day today:

The Leeds Community Enterprise Accelerator or Elsie for short.  This provides a community based network of support to local enterprise coaches, advisors, facilitators, in fact to anyone who is helping someone else in the community to make progress.

I have high hopes for Elsie in post Business Link austerity economy.  I think it will provide a sustainable high value model to provide practical crowd sourced enterprise support to those that most want and need it.

Have a look at Elsie and tell me what you think.

Towards the Enterprising Community


No-one can agree on a community.  Is it defined by political geography? Physical geography? Economic geography?  Interest, practice, culture?  So how do we use such an elusive, slippery yet, for some of us, attractive and powerful concept?

Well, personally I have given up worrying about how ‘communities’ are defined by outsiders (politicians, funders, missionaries of various kinds, what Paul Theroux calls the Dark Angels of Virtue).  The only thing that matters for me is the individual, or the usually small group sat in front of me, and their perception of their community, defined their way.  Any other attempt to work with the concept for me is just hot air.  We all define community personally and, very probably, uniquely.

But that does not make the concept useless.  Quite the opposite.

I spend a lot of time helping people to look at the relationships and contexts that they are a part of and the extent to which they help or hinder them to become the kind of person that they wish to become, accomplishing the things that they most wish to accomplish.  And I will spend time working with them on how they can get more of the support that they need from their ‘community’.  I spend a lot of time and energy building networks of people who just love to ‘help’.  Many of these networks are a blend of face to face and online – mediated through blogs and social networks as well as through a range of meetings, gatherings and parties.  And I try to connect individuals from one network into individuals from another, so that help can start to flow across and between different groups.

So first we have to find self interest.  That which really matters personally.  That which shapes who we are.  That on which our identity is based and through which it can be constructively shaped.

Then we have to find common cause and build networks and relationships where we can successfully negotiate our self interest.  We then forge connections between these networks to build a diverse, resourceful ‘community’ of individuals who are helping and being helped as part of their daily practice.  Surely this puts us firmly on the trail of the enterprising community?

And for great things to happen people have to learn to help each other.   The stereotype of the selfish backstabbing ‘Apprentice’ does not thrive in an enterprising community – though they may do well in The City.  Successful citizens in the enterprising community learn to associate, collaborate, cooperate and mutualise.  To find those with whom there is a common cause.  And they understand that giving hep to others is as important as getting help themselves.  The have theGo-Giver mindset and they express it through their actions.  They live it.

So, as those who attended Enterprising Community: Big Conversation explored, enterprising community is not a place or a neighbourhood but a philosophy, that can be summed up as ‘Concentrate on yourself and helping your neighbour’.

And where does entrepreneurship fit into this practice?  How does this help the start up rate?  Well the more powerful and enterprising individuals we have, embedded in enterprising communities the more great start-ups we will have, borne into a context where they may well enjoy the support of a wide web of community.  We are truly building a community where enterprise and entrepreneurship may thrive.

Enterprising Communities – Missing a trick?


One of my favourite frmaeworks for thinking about team work was published in book called Dialogue by Bill Isaacs.  The model suggests that if a gourp is to make progress it needs to have 4 distinct roles handled effectively.

Firstly it need Movers.  These are peopl who float ideas, lead initiatives and generally make things happen. Spontaneous, action orientated and often extrovert – happy to put their ideas out there. In a community I often think that these Movers are akin to entrepreneurs.

But a productive group also needs skilled Followers.  These are people who can take the energy and ideas of the Movers and build on them, add to them, take of the rough edges, put in the hard work and generally get the job done.  They are close to what Mike Southon calls cornerstones.  People who help turn the vision into reality.

But in addition to Movers and Followers a productive group also needs effective Opposers.  These are people who are going to check the facts, collect the evidence and if there is an objection to be raised, they will raise it.  Constructively, powerfully and effectively.  They will skilfully play the role of the Devil’s Advocate and if there is a weakness or a fault-line in the thinking they WILL find it.

And finally a productive group, or I would argue and enterprising community, needs Bystanders.   They stand back from the cut and thrust of the idea and its development but will instead provide perspective, an overview and perhaps some historical context.  They also help to manage the group process, ensure that deadlines are met and that resources are available when they are needed most.  They may well ‘chair’ the conversations.

People can play more than one role in the model, but in an effective group or community all 4 roles are played well.

Yet we seem to be obsessed really with just one of them.  The Movers.  The Entrepreneurs.  We spend a lot of time and money developing the entrepreneur, but very little time developing people to play the other three roles.

One of the marks of the enterprising community for me is that it knows how to engage its Movers and Entrepreneurs and equip them with the Followers, Opposers and Bystanders that they need to really build a successful project, whether it is business start-up, a community project or a campaign.

We often rely on advisers or mentors to play these roles.  But when an entrepreneur works with a group of their peers, drawn from their communities and markets who know how to follow, oppose and bystand skillfully, I can guarantee that they will get much more value.

And they will also win lots of advocates for them and their work.

What would a real Enterprise Zone be like?

March 21, 2011 1 comment

So much for innovation in enterprise policy.

The best we seem to be able to do at the moment is rehash 1980s style enterprise zones to distort the market in favour of some places over others through a combination of tax breaks and more relaxed approaches to planning.  An enterprise zone becomes little more than a place where we encourage entrepreneurs to put their businesses because of a few breaks that the state can afford offer.  They are often little more than a business park with flexible planning requirements.  It looks like there will be 20 of them, funded to the tune of £1.25m each per year.  And at that level of funding any tax breaks are likely to be tiny.

But what would a real ‘enterprise zone’ look like?  Not some policy makers confection but a community that really knows how to support enterprise?  A community that does not try to pick winners in the pursuit of GDP but really supports individuals and groups in pursuit of whatever matters most to them?

Well, the first pre-requisite for such an enterprise zone would be that a high percentage of the population really were clear on what mattered most to them.  They would be aware of the current situation (politically, environmentally, financially culturally and socially) what they love about it, what they hate, and what they want to change as a result.  They would be helped and challenged to clarify their self interest.

They would have some kind of idea of what progress looks like to them.  They would have some idea about the direction in which progress lies.  They would be encouraged to reflect on the nature of ‘better’ to produce a creative tension between how things are and how they might be.  This creative tension would drive enterprise.

And they would have some kind of game plan about how they were going to make progress.  They would accept that the responsibility for progress is theirs.  They would know how to deal with both set backs and success and have what psychologists call a high internal locus of control.  In short they would believe that they can influence their future. That it is not essentially down to fate, luck or others.

They would be living and working in a community that recognised enterprising people (NB these may or may not be looking to start a business.  Enterprise in human endeavour comes in many more forms than just entrepreneurship) and individuals and groups in that community would know how to help.  In short a real enterprise zone would be packed full of people who know how to help and are themselves ‘help able’.  In such an enterprise zones we would indeed ‘all be Jim’.

People would feel a sense of belonging because they were part of community that wanted them to succeed and likewise provided opportunities to help others succeed as well.  Success would not be down to fiscal policy but to social policy.  We would succeed in our enterprise because of the people in our community not because of planning or taxation perks.

In short an enterprise zone would be little more than a competent community.  And this has more to do with regeneration ‘between the ears’ than with planning regimes, taxation policy or property development.

Enterprising Communities: The Big Conversation


Enterprising Communities: The Big Conversation‘ will bring together policy makers and practitioners to explore the challenges of developing and sustaining enterprising communities.

Using ‘Open Space’ methodologies The Big Conversation will give you the chance to say what you need to say, exchange ideas with others and build your networks from across the UK.

Topics for exploration might include:

  1. Enterprise – more than just business: enterprise for well being and community
  2. The competent community: the role of peers in supporting enterprise
  3. Fresh approaches to enterprise development: what could innovation in our industry look like?
  4. Opportunities and threats to enterprising communities: what are they and how can we respond?
  5. Enterprising communities: Do we know them when we see them?
  6. Connecting communities: the role of enterprise in building bridges between and within communities
  7. Enterprise and the economy: from enterprise to wealth creation.
  8. Sharing interesting practice: a showcase for innovative approaches.
  9. The Enterprising Campus: lessons for, and from, education
  10. The Coaching Community: can a coaching culture drive community?
  11. Is Capital still King?: the role of knowledge, social capital and finance in creating enterprising communities
  12. Nurturing enterprise: the impact of social media

But this is your conference.  Bring your own ideas for discussion.  Perhaps even a short presentation.

Who Should Attend?

If you want to discuss and explore the challenges involved in creating and sustaining enterprising communities with your peers in a participative and creative environment then this event will be right for you.

Enterprising Communities: The Big Conversation is being organised by Mike Chitty with support from Leeds City Council.

Interested?

Find out and book your place here http://bigconversation.eventbrite.com

Dock Street Market – and the role of the Leeds communities

November 23, 2010 Leave a comment

I went to a very wonderful opening for Dock Street Market last Friday.  It used to be a decent enough shop that had many fans and reportedly turned over a million a year.  But still it could not survive.

Now the shop has been taken over by a number of local artisan producers and entrepreneurs, all of whom offer a phenomenal product.  We have fish and chips reinvented by the wonderful Fish &, excellent north Italian coffee and more from Bottega Milanese, superb breads from the Riverside Sourdough Bakery and more.  The people behind these businesses are phenomenally hard working and focussed on quality, service and value.  They are doing their bit to make the collaborative project a success.

But my interest is in the role of the rest of us.  The fine citizens of Leeds.  Of the 700 000 plus people that live in the city, my guess is that the vast majority will not even know that the Dock St Market exists.  They are ‘strangers’ to the market.  Perhaps 10 ooo or so are aware of the market and certainly a couple of hundred rocked up at the opening last week.  These constitute ‘prospects’.  People who know the market exists and may become customers.

But customers so far, by definition, are a smaller group.  Having only just opened not many of us have had the chance to spend our cash in Dock Street Market yet….

A large part of the success of the market will depend on the rate at which strangers are turned in to prospects, prospects are turned into customers, and customers are turned into loyal supporters of the brand.

Historically this process of marketing and sales would be down to the entrepreneurs.  This is their job.  But I am interested in the role of the rest of us.  Those who are already prospects and customers, and our ability to help in the sales and marketing process.   Our power to influence others to check out and support the development of the great independent traders  in Dock Street Market.

Because the ability of a community to support great business is perhaps as important in developing an enterprise culture as the development of the entrepreneur.

Social media has amplified the voice of the prospect and the customer.  It can help to reach the strangers.  As can word of mouth strategies based on good quality referrals and introductions.

So of course let us keep giving the entrepreneurs the training and skills that they need.  But let us also consider how we can equip the rest of us to properly support businesses in our community.

Good luck to all behind the Dock St Market venture.  And let’s see just how much the rest of us can do to really support the kind of independent, artisan based businesses that many of us say we want to see thriving in Leeds.

You can find Dock St just south of the river.  It is well worth checking out!

More on Dock Street Market. And More…from Bronchia

A Community Ecology of Enterprise

November 5, 2010 Leave a comment

Enterprise is not just about ‘entrepreneurial types’ and ‘business ideas’.
It is not just about business and commercial endeavour.
If I want to make something happen to improve things in my community I may start a business, but I may start a campaign, or a festival, or a local action group.  I have worked with many people whose motivation was not to develop a business, but to make a difference, and in some cases setting up a business has been a means to that end.  No more than that.  It is simply a means to an end.
Well managed and run these kinds of community based activity all contribute to a more enterprising community and provide the kind of community ecology and practice ground from which commercial endeavours may spring.  They also help to build the social capital that is essential to building a sustainable and resilient local economy and community.
If LEPs were to think more about the kind of community ecology that supports enterprise and how this can be developed I suspect they would get a much greater ROI than on more traditional approaches of advice, managed workspace (we are awash with these in Leeds, mostly under-used and inappropriate for the communities they were built in) and access to finance.
Yes the web matters.  But it won’t be primarily because either a LEP or the national Business Link site offer generic advice and guidance (which to be frank just replicates what is already out there in most cases) but because local sites and sites of shared interest will provide highly specific and contextual advice – usually in the form of dialogue and conversation rather than factsheet.  The web will provide a platform for conversations that cannot easily take place face to face.
We have to start to think differently.  We have to innovate. We have to be prepared to try new approaches.  I hope LEPs are up to the challenge.
For me this means getting away from thinking about one to one advice for high growth, one to small group for lifestyle and start-up (in deprived areas) and one to many (content led websites) for the rest, and instead seriously building the networks, social capital, self belief and self-reliance that will allow our communities to become much more enterprising.

Dear Lord Young…

November 1, 2010 7 comments

Congratulations on your appointment as the new enterprise csar.  I am sure that the unpaid and part time role will keep you engaged.

I am pleased that you will look at how to ‘encourage people to start businesses rather than find jobs as employees’.  It makes a refreshing change from the usual line of the ‘private sector creating jobs’.  As we know big businesses have, on the whole, been laying people off over recent decades rather than taking them on. And just how long can we keep going with the mentality of ‘gizza job’ and ‘on yer bike/bus’ in a 21st century globalised and localised economy?

Can I suggest you take an early look at the semantics of ‘encouraging people to start businesses‘  and the very practical consequences that are likely to flow from it.  When a figure in authority, never mind Government, sets out to ‘encourage us’ to do something, some of us come over all suspicious.   Are you really interested in our well-being, or is there a more self centred game being played?  There is a good chance that in the very act of ‘encouraging us’ you serve to engender resistance to the very idea you wish us to entertain.  Psychologists call this reactance.

I have not read in detail the guidance on the Regional Growth Fund.  But I understand, from correspondence with someone that has, that it specifically says that self-employment is not something it should be used to promote.  Instead it should be used to encourage jobs created by employers.  There seems to be somewhat of a contradiction here.

But back to the point of encouraging  people to start businesses.  I believe that what you really want to achieve is a society where more people do start businesses that survive and thrive.  This should be the real policy goal.

So how to get there?

I would advocate that you should dissuade as many people as possible from starting new businesses.  Only for those people who insist that this is something that they have to do should we roll up our sleeves and help.  By working in a focussed way with a relatively small number of highly committed people we might have a chance of getting some real success stories.  And as we know, success breeds success.  More positive role models out there leads to more people following in their wake.  This contrasts with the current approach of offering a little support and encouragement to a lot of people, resulting in high business failure and loan default rates and a widespread perception that a journey into enterprise is likely to leave you worse off than when you started.

Can I also suggest that you do not wave money at people, New Enterprise Allowance style,  in a bid to encourage them to start a business?  The reality is that we have armies of advisers out there wading through thousands of appointments with people who are often half-hearted in their aspiration to start a business, but whole hearted in their commitment to securing the money that they see themselves as entitled to.  Instead of offering them a carefully calculated economic incentive (calculated to make things cheaper for the treasury I suspect rather than enabling people to start businesses with a decent level of working capital), offer them nothing, except excellent and committed advice, coaching and support that they need to put together an idea that is worth investing in.   I suspect that almost overnight the numbers of individuals engaged in ‘enterprise development’ would fall dramatically, but those that remained engaged would be there for the right reasons – to develop long term and sustainable strategies for self employment or entrepreneurship – and not just to secure a grant or a loan that they can default on with relative impunity.   NB don’t expect many of the enterprise support agencies to support this idea.  They have developed business models that survive on a mass market for enterprise development.

Of course access to finance matters.  But let others be the gatekeepers to it, not those who are supposed to be coaching clients to develop their enterprising ideas.

Then of course we have the challenge of helping the hundreds of thousands of people who will be faced with redundancy over the next few years.  Can I suggest that we put in place a service that does not ‘encourage them to start a business’, but that does encourage them to fully explore and understand all of their options?  I am sure that many of them have the potential to become successful, if initially reluctant entrepreneurs, if only we can provide them with the right kind of support.

And finally, don’t get all hung up with ‘national voluntary mentoring schemes’ and traditional business support organisations.  Instead get interested in what you can do to encourage communities to provide the support that local people need in pursuing their enterprising ideas (these may be much wider than self employment and business start ups).  Some of the more imaginative enterprise coaching schemes have started to develop community panels to provide practical assistance to local people.  This is an approach that can certainly be developed further.

There is tons of potential out there – and at the moment we are wasting much of it.

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