Category Archives: An A – Z of social entrepreneurship

An A – Z of social entrepreneurship: W – Z

As Global Entrepreneurship Week and this A-Z come to an end, the last four letters of the alphabet consider ways we can be kinder to ourselves. Investing in the people running social ventures is every bit as important as any capital expenditure.

 W – Working week

The UK is said to have one of the longest working weeks in Europe. Despite trends in part-time employment (or should that be under-employment?), zero-hours contracts and a perceived threat to UK jobs from migrant workers, I still think there’s a case for a three day weekend.

Workers would choose a Friday or Monday as their extra day – effectively extending the weekend nationally to four days with an associated economic boost for the leisure industry. Absenteeism and days lost through ill health could well go down and job satisfaction and productivity up. And if pay was for job done, rather than hours worked, it needn’t mean an automatic 20% reduction in wage levels.

For a more reasoned case for a shorter working week see

X – x x x

The art of being yourself at your best is the art of unfolding your personality into the person you want to be. Be gentle with yourself, learn to love yourself, to forgive yourself, for only as we have the right attitude toward ourselves can we have the right attitude toward others.” Wilfred Peterson

A great number of us in the social economy so enjoy our (paid) work we would possibly do it unpaid if we could afford to. Certainly In my case the distinction between paid and unpaid work is becoming increasingly blurred.

But do you love yourself as well as your work?

My experience of working in the not-for-private-profit sector for 35 years is that we are better at caring for others than for ourselves. Our commitment to the cause often means we work ridiculously long hours for very little financial reward. Even where that’s our choice it can also be a selfish one; burn-out benefits no one – the sector loses experience and expertise and, at worst, it may put an additional burden on the NHS.

Y – Yes

I have a poster on my cellar wall at home – it reads ‘say yes more than no’. It’s bold, simple and effective (see it at It’s a wonderfully positive approach to life that I try to follow (and people who know me well can manipulate me to say ‘yes’ when they want my help…)

But, like being over-passionate about a cause, not knowing when or how to ‘say no’ can also be self-defeating. It feels great to feel valued, wanted and needed, but learning to say no (without feeling guilty or causing offence) is probably one of the most useful skills you can acquire early in your career to sustain yourself.

Z – Zzzzz…sleep, rest and relaxation

When you’ve said ‘yes’ too often, and worked longer hours than is good for you or your productivity, you need to know how to re-charge your batteries. Not easy when you’re excited by what you’re doing, but rest and relaxation is an essential part of most people’s 24-hour day.

In 2007, a hotel chain put up hammocks in their UK headquarters – allowing staff to take short naps as necessary. Whether the company still encourages siestas is not reported.

For those with less enlightened employers here are 20 excuses if you’re found napping at your desk

A bonus – wise words from the wonderful Nicholas Bate at Strategic Edge…                           Pause and consider 101

An A – Z of social entrepreneurship: T – V

T – Teamwork

 Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success.” Henry Ford

Entrepreneurs are traditionally portrayed as young, individualistic, passion-fuelled go-getters – and social entrepreneurs are also increasingly stereotyped in this way (too much in my opinion). In reality, of course, their success most often depends on teams and networks – often unrecognised publicly in the rush for the next big idea or public award.


What is it that sets your social venture apart from others – your unique selling point? Your USP should attract attention for the best reasons and leave a lasting impression. It doesn’t need to be literally unique of course.

Nearly 15 years ago – in the days before Starbucks and Costa – a community cafe in Market Rasen invested £2000 in an Italian coffee machine – a lot of money at the time. Great coffee became their USP in relation to other cafes – not just in the town but across Lincolnshire. The cafe survives today (I haven’t recently tasted their coffee).

 V – Values

Your USP may be your values – what you stand for beyond providing a quality product or service. Some years ago, research by Community Links in London found that most organisations could help themselves by being much more upfront about their values – even to the extent of displaying them on website home pages and in other prominent places.

For organisations with a particularly strong value-base, they also suggested this could differentiate one bidder from another in contract negotiations. Even in our increasingly cash-strapped economy values are still important; reference the Social Value Act and the rush by mainstream businesses to portray themselves as ‘social’.

An A – Z of social entrepreneurship: P – S

P & Q  – Price and quality 

There’s a danger that, in the fight for public service and other contracts, social enterprise is promoted as a cheaper vehicle for providing goods and services. Some social entrepreneurs who should know better find themselves making such claims. In only a few cases have I ever found this to be true.

Social entrepreneurs will never ultimately win a battle on price, however much we may want to be the chosen provider, and it’s a dangerous route to go down. In reality, social enterprise is an expensive business model – employing people deemed ‘unemployable’, providing what others won’t, and locating in places others don’t go. I’ve always believed ‘better not cheaper’ is a much more sustainable mantra than ‘more for less’.   

R – Risk  

– “If we wait for the moment when everything, absolutely everything is ready, we shall never begin.” Ivan Turgenev

Textbooks tell us we need to have a fully grown business plan in place before launching an enterprise to minimise risk. But increasing in a fact-moving business environment, there’s a case for getting products/ services out there before they are fully formed.

The argument for a ‘lean start-up’ is that there’s no substitute for market-testing with real products and services and that early-stage feedback is more likely to be taken on board because it’s not written in stone in your fully developed business plan. 

S – Systems 

When asked how he ‘turned around’ an international charity that had grown too fast for its own good, the new Chief Officer’s one word answer was ‘systems’.

Social entrepreneurs are renowned for being flighty and fact-moving. Frustrated staff at a great social enterprise once told me “the business runs best when xxxx [its inspiring founder] is not around”.  

Just as there is usually a team behind every great social entrepreneur, so there needs to be systems people who can identify what works that can be shaped into a regular way of working that gives the enterprise firm foundations and brings stability from day to day.


An A – Z of social entrepreneurship: L – O

L & M – Leadership and Management

Management is about now, leadership is about the future; one implements goals, the other sets them; one relies on control, the other inspires trust; one deals in rational processes, the other in emotional horizons.” Amin Rajan

Another useful distinction comes from Lord Bilimoria, founder of Cobra Beer, who suggests that “leaders make things possible, managers make things happen”.

Either way it’s good to try not to confuse the two – many do – and remember…. you don’t need to be a leader or a manager to use those skills (particularly if you have greater expertise in both areas than the leaders and managers do!)

 N – Negotiation

 Gone, I think, are the days when negotiation was all about playing hardball and ‘getting your own way’ whatever the cost. Most entrepreneurs are in it for the long haul and recognise that it’s more about trying to end up in a (jargon alert) win-win situation with the other party. Any parent knows this makes for more rewarding relationships!

But nor is negotiation about bending over backwards and underselling yourself. Traditionally the not-for-profit sector has said ‘give us half the money and we’ll work twice as hard’. Being business-like – increasingly important in these hard times – is about saying instead ‘give us half the money and we’ll do half the job’.

 O – Obstacles and opportunities

Two sales executives were sent to a tropical island to research the market for shoes. One e-mailed HQ to report “bad news, no one wears shoes.” The other reported “good news, no one wears shoes.” Which would be your e-mail?

There’s a lot of bullsh*t spouted about necessity being the mother of invention and simply working smarter to save money as an excuse for slashing expenditure. But I do think some organisations have suffered in the past from the relative ease of access to funds for good works. Developing flabby organisations can lead to flabby thinking, and I’d like to think that a bit of belt-tightening might stimulate creativity.

An A – Z of social entrepreneurship: I – K

I – Ideas

 “It you have an apple and I have an apple and we exchange these apples then you and I will still each have one apple. But if you have an idea and I have an idea and we exchange these ideas, then each of us will have two ideas.”  George Bernard Shaw

 My experience of the social economy is that people freely share their ideas – most of mine are ‘borrowed’ from other people. I still suspect that people keep their best ideas close to their chests – human nature? But David Floyd’s blog (much quoted by me) on the subject of sharing ideas is worth re-reading

J Jargon

Over 30 years ago I launched an international campaign – the Campaign Against Confusing Acronyms and Abbreviations (CACAA) and the same goes for jargon, bullsh*t, spin whatever gets in the way of clear communication. Of course, some use it intentionally to confuse and exclude, but we hope social entrepreneurs are above this.

My advice is: learn it then lose it. You should aim to understand the jargon associated with mainstream business but note – in a survey some years ago, 27% of business leaders admitted that they didn’t understand the jargon they were using. If 27% admitted this, think how many really didn’t understand it!

 K – Knowledge

 How many times have you heard an organisation say ‘we’re a learning organisation’ and then observed how they fail to live up to that claim? A friend of mine was once brought in to help an organisation establish what it means to be a learning organisation. I don’t under-estimate the potential value of doing that.

I’ve been involved in the knowledge business – assuming that embraces information, communication, learning, and education – all my 35+ years in the not-for-private-profit sector. I love and often quote Gandhi on the subject “Live as if you were to die tomorrow, learn like you were to live forever.”

But a cautionary note from Ian E Wilson – “No amount of sophistication is going to allay the fact that all your knowledge is about the past and all your decisions are about the future.

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?