Turning the Corner - The Third Sector Strategy Conference - The view from a CIC
As the representative of a relatively new, small, but ambitious community interest company called Care About You CIC, I arrived at "Turning the Corner - The Third Sector Strategy Conference" feeling a mixture of excitement and trepidation. I had a pocket full of business cards and some questions about getting going; getting funding; and getting our approach to collaboration to a point where the young people we work with across Europe can grow their own experiences beyond our workshops and share their own CABY CIC ideas with others.
We know that our own CIC vision is both an ambitious and fairly strategic one, and we have been struggling to get the best foothold, so I was heartened to hear John Chillcott, Chair of SEEE (Social Enterprise East of England) outline a strategic focus for the third sector built on economic recovery in the UK, developing partnerships with LEPs and accessing EU funding. When he talked about these things as the first input of the conference I began to feel that some of the strides forward he envisaged might just be possible for us too, and that we weren't trying to fit our "big dreams - through the eye of a needle" ( more on knitting and stitching metaphors later!)
At the beginning of John Thompson's (Professor of Social Entrepreneurship at Anglia Ruskin University) talk on collaboration, mergers and acquisitions in the third sector - I wondered whether it was going to be really relevant for us - being new, and small, and all. But, I couldn't have been more wrong. His explanation of the trend for many companies to not ask the question "how well are we really doing?" early enough, or act on performance data far before the financials start to show the curve is in a downward direction, made perfect sense to me. So, much so, that even though mergers and acquisitions are a distant speck on our horizon, I was tempted into signing up for the Collaboration and Partnerships workshop later on in the day.
No one could accuse Nick Temple (Social Enterprise UK) of waiting for the downward curve or seeing how the trends went before taking robust action - and not just on behalf of his own company but as advocate for the Social Enterprise sector nationwide. Nick left us in no doubt that social enterprise is no longer a "fringe" activity. On the contrary it is delivering employment and economic growth in many sectors. He went on to explain how SE UK were attempting to ease the journey for us through lobbying, engaging and acting at government level with things like the Social Value Act and their report Communities Count: Four Steps to Unlocking Social Value. He also talked about the Social Enterprise Alliance, attempting to influence manifestos ahead of the 2015 General Election in areas of:
- Pro-Social tax and regulation
- Smarter Spending
- EU procurement regulations which allow for ring fencing to social enterprises.
Lynne Berry inspired me differently - she spoke with experience and passion about how future volunteering demographics are likely to change with an aging UK population. This wasn't just about the increased expectations on, and lengthened careers of, older people, but also touched upon how reduced the older generation's charitable giving/funding pots might be in the future. In this generation, older women in particular, have been in paid employment most of their lives; many in responsible, strategic or management positions. As they approach retirement, will they actually want to offer their time for free any longer, and, if they do, will they be satisfied with less responsible roles.
Buzzing with questions, ideas and a few new network contacts made over coffee, I ventured forth to the Mergers, Acquisitions and Collaboration workshop. Here, Chris Carr shared a personal case study, allowing us to consider and debate the most effective models and motivation for our own companies to collaborate or merge with others.
After lunch - very welcome and well organised (these things matter don't they?) - I went on to Claire Routley's "The Future of Fundraising" workshop. Claire started us off with an exercise that drove right into the history of; and contemporary attitudes towards; giving and fundraising. She also helped us take a glimpse into what future campaigns might look like, and what we needed to consider to make the most of them.
My day was topped off listening to the loud, gregarious and "revolutionary" John Bird. Without a doubt, his stories of how "The Big Issue" came into being and the challenges he met and overcame along the way, were scary and irreverent, but ultimately inspiring. I have repeated his story of the five hundred and one homeless charities, who had been ardent "No" supporters, eventually saying "YES" to a social enterprise approach, several times to colleagues in the few days since I heard it.
John was funny and a showman - with a serious message. This was exactly what we needed after an intensive day which started at the strategic/policy end of the work; took me through operational applications and models to apply in our own organisation; and finished with stories from an individual who has managed to influence and change lives for the better for thousands of people in the UK and beyond.
On the way home, I mostly rubbed my feet (it had, after all, been a long walk in heels to and from the station!) but whilst I did so, I also made lists of "things to do" and "people to contact" from the conference. It grew and grew - and for me and our little CIC, I could not have asked for more.
P.S. I guess you might have been looking for some further knitting and stitching metaphors. Apologies, but, much like the speakers on the day, when pushed for knitting vocabulary, I was found wanting in that department, and so must simply "cast off".
Rachel Rouncefield CABY CIC