Monthly Archives: November 2014

An A – Z of social entrepreneurship: E – H

Efficiency and effectiveness

A useful distinction is that efficiency is the relationship between inputs and outputs [productivity], while effectiveness is the relationship between inputs and outcomes [impact]. Charles Handy, management writer and thinker, suggests “Efficiency seeks to minimise cost given a particular outcome, effectiveness is more concerned with improving the outcome, and so it will accept higher costs for higher outputs.”

Meeting social, financial and environmental objectives – the so-called ‘triple bottom line’ – complicates the picture. How do you balance efficiency and effectiveness?


Success is not final, failure is not fatal; it is the courage to continue that counts.” Winston Churchill.

To paraphrase David Robinson, founder of Community Links in London… If we don’t fail it means we’re not taking risks. If we’re not taking risks it means we’re not trying to do things differently. And if we’re not trying to do things differently, we should be!

But nor should we waste our time flogging dead horses – know when to give up and move on.


What is the ideal size for your organisation? It can be dangerous simply to assume that bigger means better – it can be a liability or an asset. Impact may be a better measure than size alone.

The strength of many social ventures comes from them being rooted in local communities, yet scaling up successfully brings benefit to more people (social impact). One way to reconcile this may be to replicate a proven model, adapting it to each local context under a franchise, licence or less formal arrangement.


Management structures in not-for-private profit enterprises tend to be ‘flatter’ than in mainstream businesses, with relatively little distance between the administrative worker and the chair of the management committee. This can blur lines of authority and responsibility creating confusion, but ‘empowerment’ is more than a jargon word; it can harness additional staff resources – particularly important when times are hard


An A – Z of social entrepreneurship: A – D

As a contribution to Global Entrepreneurship Week (17 – 23 November) Chris Lee blogs his personal and highly selective reflections on what increases the effectiveness of social entrepreneurship to mobilise resources of all kinds for positive change and social impact in and beyond local communities.

A – Accountability

Even when you’re spending your own money you’re not truly free to behave as you might wish. You have a responsibility to guard against your actions having a negative impact and to be aware that a poorly executed plan may harm the credibility of those who follow you. When you’re working with vulnerable people, as clients or employees, their welfare should also be your concern.

 B – Balance

Rarely are there right and wrong ways of doings things, even when applying a proven model in a new situation. For all the online advice and training manuals, social entrepreneurship is about testing new and different ways to bring positive change in society and seeing ever obstacle as a new opportunity. Ultimately the ‘right way’ is likely to be a compromise – balancing conflicting needs and interests.

 C – Collaboration

It’s too easy to stereotype entrepreneurship as being competitive (and aggressive if you believe ‘The Apprentice’…) and social entrepreneurship as being about collaboration. In reality, entrepreneurs of all varieties know the value of networking and building mutually-beneficial alliances with others. Indeed, with growing need and shrinking resources, partnership may be the only answer in some cases!

 D – Decision-making and democracy

When asked, four years on, why he’d not consulted the community when setting up a (very successful) social enterprise, the entrepreneur replied “They’d still be trying to decide what to call it if I had.”  

Consultation and involvement are our watchwords, but they can make decision-making more cumbersome. Business decision-making tends to be more streamlined. But, ultimately, which brings better decisions?

Letting go … and getting on

Sometimes we just have to take a leap of faith

Sometimes we just have to take a leap of faith

This week I learnt that a fellow ‘graduate’ from the School for Social Entrepreneurs East has just handed in her notice with her current employer. It’s the ‘big moment’ for many entrepreneurs – cutting loose from the security of regular paid employment to enter the liberating but uncertain world of self-employment and, in some cases, also becoming an employer. Scary and exciting times ahead!

Having worked in time-limited projects for the past 15 years or so, I’m used to the financial insecurity or being ‘between jobs’ every year or so, and I’m eternally grateful to my (permanently employed) other half for her understanding and support for my chosen career. After all these years, I think she’s accepted I’ll never get a ‘proper job’.

So, having let go of secure employment years ago, this week I had a ‘letting go’ experience of another kind at The Repair Shed, where I feel we’re now officially ‘in business’. We currently have two commissions to make things with two deadlines to meet.  The first commission is for a pallet product – a portable, table-top rack for an aspiring social enterprise in Colchester to display their wares at events – the next one being on 28 November! The second commission is for a first item of play equipment we’ve been asked to make for a local playgroup. We’re using reclaimed wood to make a slotted Christmas-like tree for hanging coats, gifts, whatever on. For obvious reasons, this needs to be ready as early in December as possible.

With two products to be made and only three of us in The Repair Shed, the ‘letting go’ for me was getting on with the display rack while my colleagues worked on the design and manufacture of the tree. Overhearing their deliberations, it was all I could do to stop myself interfering and contributing my own views. I think I managed reasonably well, but you’d need to ask them.

The ‘getting on’ element in the title of this blog is what we do next; how we adjust to the changed situation and our ability to look forward, rather than back.  Like most parents, I’ll never forget waving off our young daughter to school – going with a friend but, for the first time, without us. What mixed emotions – pride at her self-confidence, apprehension about her safety, but a strange regret about her growing independence. I’ve just about got over it a dozen years later.

On reflection – building a shed day 400

IMG_5486Never let it be said that I’m an admirer of Donald Trump, but I once heard that he spends an average of three hours a day reflecting (in the early hours I think it was).

I’ve always believed that we spend more time with our heads down (eyes glued to screens most likely) than is good for us personally or professionally. So I applaud Trump for finding such space in his day to reflect…

Before embarking on my current journey, I worked in an advisory role with charities and social enterprises for over a decade. That experience convinced me there’s a valuable role for outsiders to take people away from their desks (and preferably out of their offices) to ask what may be very simple, but surprisingly challenging, questions. I’ve often stumped people by simply asking “how would you define success for your organisation?”

Readers of this blog will know I’ve been ‘building a shed’ (The Repair Shed) for the past 400 days. I started the timer on 1 October 2013 when joining the School for Social Entrepreneurs (SSE) start-up programme at the Eastern Enterprise Hub. One of the most valuable aspects of the past 12 months has been the many opportunities I’ve had to reflect with others on where I’ve been going, going wrong, and why.

This blog: Started to coincide with my attempt to start a social enterprise , I doubt anyone is really interested in my learning, but just sitting down and writing a regular blog has taken me away from enterprise development and ‘forced’ me to draw out lessons from what can be quite a solitary activity – getting a venture off the ground.

Even posting my ‘80 Enterprise Essentials’ over the past 40 weeks has meant I’ve re-visited tips that I put together back in 2011 and thought about which of the 80 I’d replace if I was compiling the list now.

Learning days at the Eastern Enterprise Hub: Each day has been an opportunity to ‘take stock’ of what’s gone well and less so in the intervening periods, and to benchmark my progress against others in our 16-strong student cohort. For me, the Action Learning Sets (facilitated, small group problem-solving sessions) really helped me through particular stumbling blocks.

My Lloyds Bank mentor: A part of the SSE programme package, my mentor has been a great sounding board, someone with experience in a very different part of the business world, with a personal and professional interest in my exploits. Having to account for myself on a regular basis is scary but valuable.

The Repair Shed Steering Group: Nine months in, I set up a steering group to increase my accountability. I don’t believe even the most maverick social entrepreneur should operate alone. Like the meetings with my mentor, the regular reporting is scary but the reflection and guidance from others is ultimately very helpful.

Monitoring by the School for Social Entrepreneurs: I’ve always said that spending someone else’s money brings responsibilities, and completing feedback surveys and keeping spending records to make claims is part of that obligation, as is the whole process of ongoing monitoring and evaluation.

Research with Sheffield University: Beyond the East of England, I’m part of a national longitudinal study – Start Up Journeys for Social Good – to better understand the support needs of social entrepreneurs. A programme of online surveys, Skype interviews ,and a visit to Sheffield University are further opportunities to assess progress and review the direction of travel.

So I may not be able to trump Donald, but if The Repair Shed doesn’t ultimately achieve what I hope it will, it won’t be for a lack of opportunities to stop, think, assess and act.

You can find all Eighty Enterprise Essentials at and more about The Repair Shed at