More clean teeth, not more toothbrushes

We don’t need another hero

Do social entrepreneurs think they’re better than ‘normal’ businesspeople?

Speaking at last month’s Big Social, a London gathering of those working in or supporting social businesses, Dr Margaret Mountford suggested at least some of them do. Watch out for a ‘holier than thou’ attitude, warned the former sidekick from The Apprentice.

At the same conference, a session on branding for social enterprises touched on personal brand. How you come across to others can be particularly important, the facilitators said, because social enterprises are often associated with the small teams that run them, and are often founded by individuals whose personal story is wrapped up in how the business came about.

In an age that encourages (or even demands) all of us to develop a personal brand, the social entrepreneur is surely no more to blame than the rest of us for feeling that their profile, their story, really matters. Meanwhile, those of us writing about social enterprise (including me) find an easy way in to complex problems and business models by talking, instead, about the personal journey behind it all. How they struggled, how they failed, what they learned, how they triumphed.

But has it got just a bit too personal? Continue reading “More clean teeth, not more toothbrushes”

Pictures without pity

Which image of Africa would you rather see: skeletal, abandoned child, or healthy-looking working family?

Most people would say the latter; certainly most of those in the aid sector  – some of whom were discussing this at the recent PICS festival – now consider the starving child images not only unethical, but also unhelpful. They’re “not effective”, is the general view.

Provocative without the pity

But effective for what? Fundraising appeals today still deploy the same imagery, and the same language, as they did in the 1980s, when “poverty porn” made it to the mainstream with the Ethiopian famine hitting our headlines. That’s not only an indication that we’re seeing the same problems as we did three decades ago; it means we’re also stubbornly looking at them in the same way.

Continue reading “Pictures without pity”

How to tell it

yourstoryI hate wasting anything – time, food, money – so it drives me mad to see official publications, nicely designed and translated and distributed, that read like a copy-paste of an internal report. Or websites that leave you re-reading sentences and clicking through pages before you can understand what they actually do. It doesn’t matter how glossy or cool it looks. Overuse of jargon, heartsinkingly long paragraphs, and vague sweeping statements instead of actual facts – it’s a wasted opportunity to tell your taxpayers, partners and public what you do, and why it matters. Continue reading “How to tell it”

In defence of failure

It was the title that drew me to this evening’s Kapuscinski Development Lecture –  I love his writing (yes, despite the recent criticism of his journalistic accuracy).

The writer himself, though, doesn’t seem to feature much in the lecture series other than as a thread to tie together the rather grandly-named “top global thinkers” on development.

The optimism of today’s speaker, Lord Malloch Brown, on the impact of aid surprised me somewhat. Not surprising in itself – this is an ex-UN and former UK government minister for Africa, after all – but I must have got so used to hearing the same gloominess about Tanzania’s future (or been in that frame of mind myself) while I was there that it was odd to hear someone talk now of development over the past 50 years as “the world’s best-kept secret”. Maybe you need a bit of distance from the day-to-day struggles to be able to see the bigger picture. Because it’s true, in many ways: eradication of disease, access to education, numbers of people rising from extreme poverty – all have impressive figures to quote.

But it’s precisely this need for “measureable results” (aargh! the anti-aidspeak alarm bells ring) that restricts us all so much. Continue reading “In defence of failure”