Tag Archives: Muscular Dystrophy

Are social enterprises creating white elephants?

Legend has it that the King of Siam once gave rare albino elephants to courtiers who had displeased him, that they might be ruined by the animals’ upkeep costs.

These days, the term ‘white elephant’ more often refers to an extravagant but useless gift that cannot be easily disposed of or serves little purpose, or perhaps a beautiful but functionless building that nobody visits….

A few weeks ago, I spoke at a conference for social enterprise organisations. I work in local government, so I talked about how commissioners of public services are increasingly looking for the ‘social value’ which a business in the social economy might bring. I was followed by three speakers from the private sector, all of whom had committed to ‘buy social’ and include social enterprises in their supply chains.

A group of local social enterprises spoke about their good work and the social impact that they were creating through activities ranging from support for people with mental health problems, disabled young people being able to visit the beach, to training for families to eat healthily and take more exercise.

All valuable and necessary goals in local communities.

After the conference, one of my private sector colleagues confided in me that he was struggling to purchase from social enterprises because they just didn’t sell the things that his company needed to buy…

And I thought about my own experience of public sector commissioning and how few of our contracts are placed directly with social enterprises (despite my employer having put a great deal of effort into trying to do so).

So, what is going wrong? Why are some social enterprises more successful than others?

Although the private and public sectors often want to buy goods and services from organisations with a social purpose, perhaps they can’t directly buy the social value or social impact that those organisations are keen to sell? Buyers want to purchase a product and get the social value ‘added’?

Maybe the social enterprises that ARE successful have found a way to sell products which by their very nature create social impact? Maybe they understand their market as well as their social value?

NMC Design and Print is an enterprise linked to the Neuro Muscular Centre in Winsford, Cheshire. NMC has used its social accounting http://www.nmcentre.com/nmc/about-us/social-accounts/ to engage with its market and create a commercially successful social enterprise providing a Design and Print service run by, and employing, designers with muscular dystrophy.

The products that they are selling include graphic design, other digital services and printing. The ‘social value’ comes with the fact that people with muscular dystrophy, who would otherwise struggle to find employment, provide these services.

NMC knows and engages with its market, understands its social value and has expanded rapidly.

See Detail is a company that makes the best use of the skills of the staff to provide services that are exceptional and rewarding for everyone.  In addition, they provide autism awareness training to the companies and organisations that they work with, and finally they are lifting people out of the, so-called benefits trap, and making a real contribution to society both in terms of wealth generation and in innovation and creativity.  See Detail’s main business is software testing  which people on the autistic spectrum are ideally suited.

Both NMC Design and Print and See Detail have managed to combine their business model and their social impact to create a commercially successful social enterprise. They have ‘packaged’ their social value for their own specific market. Sadly, many ‘social enterprises’ that I come across have not managed to do that.

Instead, social value dominates their purpose. This might be too specific or on too small a scale to be beneficial to prospective customers and the ‘enterprise’ ceases to be viable. A ‘beast’ is created which is valuable to a discrete group and often outwardly impressive but which is impossible to sustain and not really wanted by those with the means to pay for it.

So, my ‘take-away’ messages to social enterprises everywhere are;

  • don’t create white elephants, when dull looking, grey beasts are often stronger and more successful;
  • use tools like social accounting and audit to engage with your market, and
  • be very careful in the presence of Kings….

Anne Lythgoe

SAN Vice- Chair

Social reporting – a pretty penny or not?

Sharp intake of breath………’that’ll cost you a pretty penny’.

Those of us who have at various times in life owned older cars will appreciate immediately the unwelcome tones of a garage mechanic delivering his verdict on that elusive ‘knocking sound’.

For 10 years I’ve led an organisation committed to annually completing the Social Accounting and Audit cycle. Every year we have published our Social Accounts in an attractive, professionally produced form.

I am a Social Accounting and Audit enthusiast. I make no apology! No sooner does a network colleague or contact from the charitable or social enterprise sector start to reflect on their challenges around funding, outcome measures, and the demanding competitive environment, then they walk straight into my slightly evangelistic pitch!

The responses I get when I’ve waffled on for a while about how brilliant Social Accounting and Audit is and the incredible transformational impact it has had on my own organisation, ranges from; “tell me more, that sounds good”, to; “sharp intake of breath……that must cost a pretty penny?” And if not the latter then something along the lines of; “We’re just so busy at the moment we haven’t got the time to even think about those lovely add-ons like measuring social impact”.

I think most people will realise that over a 10 year period a charity like ours will have had some extremely busy times and have often been tempted to play the “we’re just too busy” card! But we never have. Why?

At the risk of slipping this blog into the style of a Ronnie Corbett monologue and going backwards more than forwards…….I need to set the scene a bit.

The NeuroMuscular Centre (NMC) is the charity I work for. We’re a medium sized charity with a regional focus but national UK-wide reach. We are the Centre of Excellence for People with Muscular Dystrophy and their families. We provide a wide range of treatment, advice, and training services along with carer’s breaks. As well as this, the jewel in our crown, is providing supported employment in a graphic design and print social enterprise.

In 2015 we won the GSK IMPACT Award. This recognises the best small/medium charities working in the Health and Wellbeing sector. We won partly because we so effectively and consistently measure and assess the impact of our work.

NMC

Back in 2005 NMC was like so many others in our sector. We relied on case studies and pen pictures to evidence that we made a positive difference to a few people. But we had nothing to show the scale of the impact we made for lots of people.

Meanwhile back at the Car Mechanics with my 1974 Vauxhall Viva and the sharp intake of breath; ”if you want my advice mate, it’ll cost you a pretty penny if you don’t measure Social Impact!” Never mind the couple of person-weeks it takes to produce them and never mind the £1200 Social Audit fee. These are tiny (but significant of course) investments in the life cycle of vibrant small and medium sized charities and social enterprises. The payback from Social Accounting and Audit is huge.

The investment in time? “2 weeks you say?” Yes around 2 person-weeks are spent in total each year to produce the draft of our Social Accounts – the stage at which we’re audited. This investment of time is shared between a number of people in the team and so is not onerous.

This investment gets easier every year as Social Accounting gets increasingly embedded in the soul and culture of the organisation. Things that begin as chores become the normal way of working. The whole team, and indeed our service users, begin to think about measuring impact automatically, NOT because we have to do it for a feedback return for a funder or contract partner, but because we want to do it.

Social Accounting and Audit puts our organisation in the driving seat in the relationships we have with our funders and contract partners. We have powerful feedback and measured impact information instantly to hand. We use it to make our funding applications stronger and more impactful than those who still rely on case studies. We use the analysis and data that we’ve produced to provide updates and feedback.

Here’s my knockout question(s)………….

Do you ever have to go and hurriedly ask people for feedback in order to complete a feedback report for a funder with a tight deadline? How many times a year does this happen? Is that unplanned activity disruptive and mired with duplicated effort?

Does that 2 person-week investment still seem like an onerous commitment that you couldn’t possible justify?

If the mechanic had mentioned a £1200 bill to fix my Viva then I know what I’d have done! But the £1200 fee for the Social Audit is not a reason to consider changing your vehicle.

The Social Audit is a day packed with influencing opportunities, diagnostics, recognition and endorsement that will not only remove that worrying knocking sound but will turn your old Viva into a much more rounded, accomplished, economical and environmentally sensitive organisation.

It will be one of the most important events in the life of your organisation. You and your team will enjoy it, be stimulated and informed by it. The sense of achievement and reflection that will flow from it will outweigh EVEN the pleasure you got from the plushest furry dice you ever bought for your Viva.

Matthew Lanham – Chief Executive – Neuromuscular Centre

matthew.lanham@nmcentre.com