Good stories: How social enterprises can communicate 

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Loud and clear…sometimes

Social enterprises have great stories. So why do they so often struggle to tell them?

One-fifth of social enterprises in the UK say they’re not good at marketing, branding and PR; more than half consider themselves average at best. Among small charities, the picture looks similar: over 40% say they need upskilling in external communication.

This isn’t very surprising. Communication is not necessarily prioritised among the operational stuff; it’s often considered something anyone can do, and so not worth much investment in specialists.

It’s also really time-consuming to do well. Continue reading “Good stories: How social enterprises can communicate “

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My freelancing toolkit

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Sole trader

Freelancing means being your own accountant, new business department, admin assistant, facilities manager and boss all in one day, alongside doing the work you’re actually qualified to do. So you need all the help you can get, and ideally without forking out each time. Every freelancer has their own mix of resources — here’s what works for me:

Facebook

Yep, Facebook is top of my list, thanks to the groups that put you in instant contact with hundreds or thousands of other professionals. Continue reading “My freelancing toolkit”

Pirates, purpose, and programming: the business of education

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Photo: ellalarose on Flickr

Talking about the UK education system isn’t very uplifting. Family income and where you live still seem to define how well you’re likely to do at school. In international rankings of reading, maths and science performance among 15- and 16-year-olds, little has improved despite government ambitions to make our schools among the best in the world by 2020. Meanwhile, there’s both a shortage of qualified teachers and a ever-tighter budget squeezes on the schools employing them, with almost two thirds expected to cut one or more teaching posts before September.

But another trend, said Joe Hallgarten, former director of Creative Learning and Development at the Royal Society of Arts — speaking at a recent On Purpose event — is the rise of organisations working outside or with schools. (The Charity Commission for England and Wales, for example, lists some 65,000 registered charities dedicated broadly to young people’s education.) They’re bringing writers and artists and scientists into classrooms. They’re helping kids start a business, or teaching them martial arts or philosophy. And they’re introducing them to modern-world skills like coding — “the new piano lessons”.

Continue reading “Pirates, purpose, and programming: the business of education”

Blind spots and business models

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Marjorie, age 23, has created a project for women in her village to make and sell pads

Mention reusable sanitary pads, and most people in this country react with confusion, if not outright disgust.

Not in other parts of the world. A year ago while in Uganda I kept coming across community organisations or women’s groups who were making their own, both as a solution to the lack of affordable sanitary products and as a source of income to the women and girls making and selling them.

It turns out Uganda’s the home of one of Africa’s largest manufacturers of washable pads, AfriPads, which might be one of the things inspiring others to make their own versions. (Interestingly, the AfriPads product itself was actually inspired by a North American brand that found a market among health- and environment-conscious Canadians). Continue reading “Blind spots and business models”

Write better #1

Michelle Obama’s recent speech at the Democratic National Convention caught attention far and wide— but what made it so good? Journalism training specialists Poynter have a useful analysis here.

Speeches are a valuable resource for learning effective writing: as Poynter’s author points out, because they’re meant to be heard, they use more rhetorical devices than stuff that’s written down. The sound and the flow and the language jumps out at you, even if you don’t know why that is.

There’s lots of good stuff in the post about choice of language and structure, but one lesson I particularly like is: express your best thought in a short sentence, preferably using simple words (“when they go low, we go high”). It’s an approach that applies to most forms of communication, and reminded me of another helpful (and helpfully brief) resource. Continue reading “Write better #1”

Making things

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Sand-filled bottles are stronger than bricks – and supposedly bullet-proof

After an intense few days inside one of Uganda’s largest refugee settlements, I’ve stumbled upon two slightly different (and a bit more uplifting) movements.

On the way back to Kampala, I stopped for a night at the Social Innovation Academy, created about two years ago to address the desperate lack of job prospects in the country.

60+ young people aged from 18 to late 20s live in dorms and traditional African huts and new constructions made from sand-filled plastic bottles; several more buildings are in various stages of completion, including new housing for volunteers and a huge hall. Hand-painted signs are dotted around: “Do something every day that scares you”, “People who say it cannot be done should not interrupt those already doing it”.

Scholars get free rent and board, and training for as long as they need it to develop business ideas that will benefit themselves, the community, the environment, or all three. Continue reading “Making things”

Good business

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It’s Responsible Business Week in the UK, which aims to get all sorts of enterprises to share what they’re doing, and all of us to demonstrate how we’re working together “for a fairer society and a more sustainable future.”

As blog editor at London’s newest Impact Hub in Brixton, I’ve persuaded three of our members doing business differently to take time out of changing the world to explain what goes on behind the scenes.

First up, it’s Mighty Good Undies, whose super-soft underwear ticks all sorts of ethical-sustainable-eco boxes. Continue reading “Good business”

Stories from Uganda

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Photos: Busembatia, eastern Uganda (©Anna Patton)

Here’s what came out of my trip to Uganda, late last year:

The Guardian published my story – Uganda is a land of entrepreneurs, but how many startups thrive? – on the reality behind a recent report claiming the country is the most entrepreneurial in the world. It’s easy to start a business, and many people – even those in a full time job – do so, but few manage to grow or even continue their venture.

I explored the “growing and thriving community of social purpose businesses in Kampala” in a piece for Pioneers Post magazine [paywall]. Continue reading “Stories from Uganda”

More clean teeth, not more toothbrushes

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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”

When mobile money means business

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Dan and Luke working with One Acre Fund in Uganda. Photo by Michael Koch

I recently interviewed the founders of Ugandan fintech venture Beyonic, a finalist at this year’s Sankalp Africa Awards for sustainable enterprises. Launched in 2013, they aim to eliminate dependency on cash by helping businesses quickly set up and manage mobile money payments.

Cash doesn’t allow people to become part of the formal economy; it’s also insecure and costly, explained cofounder Luke Kyohere. And while mobile money for person-to-person payments has massively taken off, businesses have yet to exploit their full potential. That’s where Beyonic comes in: making it easy for a business to pay people using existing mobile money systems. They’ve landed some big clients (including Save the Children), but also another social enterprise, Educate!. For them, paying wages and expenses with cash meant time and money spent on travel to/from Kampala, plus risk of muggings and holding huge amounts of cash on site. Educate!, when I met them in Uganda, said getting mobile payment systems in place is one of the things that’s helping them scale up.

Read more from Luke and his American cofounder Dan Kleinbaum below. Extracts of this interview were featured in this Pioneers Post article, What the world needs to know about African enterpriseContinue reading “When mobile money means business”