The Social Enterprise

Featuring the work, partners and ideas of The Social Enterprise…


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As a Clore Social Fellow, a leadership development programme supporting leadership in the social sector in the UK, I was allotted a budget to be coached over a two-year period. Having never had the resource or the exposure to coaching previously, the experience was totally novel for me and ultimately proved transformative.

At the time, I was considering whether and when to leave the post that I then held, as Chief Executive of Survivors Fund (SURF). The coach with whom I worked through the questions enabled me to develop a better understanding of my motivations for the position I was then taking, and challenged me to consider the matter from a range of different perspectives. The result was that I rethought the approach that I previously was considering undertaking, and changed course in a way that I would never have done if I had not been coached. Together this ultimately led to a decision which was more positive for both the charity and myself, in setting a new path for the transition.

As importantly, the process opened my eyes to the value that access to coaching offers, through supporting individuals to take a more systematic approach to address issues which they require (and often do not otherwise) have support to tackle through working with an expert independent party. As such, in recent years I have begun to informally coach a number of individuals who have approached me for support. This includes the Director of a charity, and the Chief Executive of a start-up social enterprise.

To develop a better grounding for that coaching, in September 2018 I started the Tavistock Executive Coaching Programme which is enabling me to explore my interest in how coaching can be made more accessible to small charities and social enterprises, having benefited myself from that opportunity. As well, how coaching can be used to strengthen the organisations which I support through sharing and applying some of the learning across the leadership of those charities.

The programme is rooted in a systems-psychodynamic approach to organisations and is practice-based, and is validated by the European Mentoring and Coaching Council (EMCC) to Senior Practitioner Level. Through to December 2019 I will be keen to engage in coaching those in a leadership or management position at social sector organisations based in London, to enable the coaching to be conducted in-person. If this is of interest to you, or your organisation, then please do contact me. Thank you


Written by thesocialenterprise

May 24, 2019 at 10:00 am

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The Social Enterprise, in partnership with Survivors Fund (SURF) is organising a free series of Rembrance and Trauma workshops on the realities and challenges of encountering trauma when conducting, recording, translating and editing oral history interviews.

Over the six-week programme, participants will develop a basic understanding of how to effectively record testimonies of survivors of genocide, and an awareness of trauma and how it may be triggered, particularly in spaces of remembering and re-telling traumatic experiences from the past (especially oral history interviews and testimony recording).

The workshops are practice-based, with participants working with testimonies to understand and document their emotions in engaging with them, to develop an understanding of the personal impact that the work has on them.

The workshop will be led by the Founder and Director of The Social Enterprise, David Russell, who also serves as the UK Coordinator of Survivors Fund (SURF). For over 15 years he has been working with testimonies of survivors of the genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda, editing Survival Against the Odds, a volume of testimonies of survivors, as well as curating Heroes of our Time, an exhibition of testimonies of survivors.

The workshops will be held in North London in May to June 2019. For further information, please contact david(at)

Written by thesocialenterprise

March 29, 2019 at 4:16 pm

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Four Thought

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Following the presentation of Spoken Truths, my research project as a Fellow on the Clore Social Leadership Programme, I was invited to adapt it for the BBC Radio 4 series, Four Thought. The result of the adaptation is Big Business, Big Charity, a new fifteen minute talk on whether supporting big charities is the best way to improve the world.

You can listen to the broadcast on demand here…


For those interested in making a donation to a small charity, then please do consider Survivors Fund, to which you can donate directly here.

You can learn more about the work of Dr Lisa Smirl and her theory of Drive By Development on Spaces of Aid.

And to see where and when to donate blood, please visit Give Blood.


Written by thesocialenterprise

August 11, 2015 at 8:00 pm

Spaces of Aid

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I was proud to call Lisa Smirl a friend. Last week I attended the posthumous launch of her important book, Spaces of Aid: How Cars, Compounds and Hotels Shape Humanitarianism. I have extracted some choice quotes from the preface here. It is provocative, fearless and honest – and an exemplar of Spoken Truths…

The book, and accompanying website, will ensure that Lisa’s legacy lives on…

Aid workers will tell you that the spaces and experiences of working in the field often sit uneasily with the goals they’ve signed up to. Aid workers visit project sites in air-conditioned Land Cruisers while the intended project beneficiaries walk barefoot through the heat. The aid workers check their emails from within gated compounds, while the surrounding communities have no running water. But the longer they work in the ‘field’, the more normalized these experiences become. Instead of living and interacting with the communities they have come to assist, aid workers are drawn towards other international ‘expats’ and rarely move beyond a small number of hotels, restaurants, offices and compounds. While these observations are intuitive and much bemoaned within aid circles, no concerted academic or policy study has dealt with the impact of these factors on theory or policy.

The physical environment of the aid world – the hotels, planes, cars and compounds – has been a fundamental yet overlooked aspect of aid relations since the advent of contemporary humanitarian response. Each one of these built forms has played a key role in the evolution of development practice. Consider, for instance, how the Land Rover has normalized the use of high cost, petrol-guzzling SUVs and the way this has impacted on town planning and pedestrian safety in places where most people walk; or how the highly guarded humanitarian compound has drawn upon colonial architecture to maintain hierarchical spatial divisions between the aid workers and local residents. Taken together, this landscape of aid has been a key driver in how the West has collectively understood aid and for the kind of policies that have been pursued.

The influence of these spaces of aid has increased in recent years as security considerations and reliance on abstract planning technologies, such as logical frameworks, have led to policy being heavily based upon the views of a select group of individuals: experts, international field staff or consultants who live in or visit the field. This book shows how these individuals’ understanding and exposure to a situation will often be bounded and secured. Their experience of the field will rarely extend far beyond the hotel conference room or humanitarian compound. The resulting policy made at headquarters is therefore also spatially constrained by an overly narrow understanding of the place that is being assisted.

It is important to stress that this book is not a moral tirade against the luxurious lifestyles of aid workers. Almost every aid worker comes to the ‘field’ with the intention to improve other people’s lives. But as aid dollars become ever more scarce and aid workers are increasingly the target of violent attacks, a careful examination of why it seems so difficult to merely ‘do good’ is drastically needed. What is it about the way in which aid is delivered that continues to reproduce situations where aid money is wasted, projects are left unfinished and aid workers are themselves under attack? This book points to the elephant in the room: the way in which aid workers work and live.

Extracted from Spaces of Aid: How Cars, Compounds and Hotels Shape Humanitarianism by Lisa Smirl

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March 27, 2015 at 11:23 am

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Spoken Truths…

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As the final component of my Fellowship on the Clore Social Leadership Programme, I decided to focus my research on the “unspoken truths” of the “social sector”: from how beneficiaries are often excluded from boards of charities and funders to how public schools which cement social inequality are still considered to be charitable institutions.

My research explores just some of these truths. In the hope that in speaking of them, they can be discussed and debated. For if they remain unspoken, nothing is ever likely to change.

Rather than write up my findings in a report, I thought it would be more engaging for you, and more interesting for me, to present my research as verbatim theatre – spoken truths as the spoken word.


Spoken Truths… is an audio recording of the live performance of the verbatim theatre piece that I, David Russell, 2013 Clore Social Fellow, delivered as my research project on 4th December 2014 at Sandys Row Synagogue, London E1.

The first voice that you hear is my own. You will then hear the voices of two actors, Felicity Finch and Rick Warden, who amplify the respondents that I interviewed on the topic. The performance is directed by Rachel Grunwald (Clore Fellow). The script was supervised by Helena Thompson of SPID Theatre Company. Any errors, omissions, exaggerations are my own!

Written by thesocialenterprise

January 16, 2015 at 8:43 am

Solo in Wild Nature

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I recently returned from my first “solo” – a twenty-four hour immersive experience in wild nature in the Spanish Pyrenees organised by Active Earth and Way of Nature UK – which I attended as part of my Fellowship on the Clore Social Leadership Programme.

The four-day Solo in Wild Nature programme, which culminates in the solo, is led by Korbi Hort and Andres Roberts, both experienced “solo” practitioners. Andres is a proponent of deep ecology, and in fact had recently returned from undertaking a 28-day solo in America, the experience of which he shared with our small group in preparing us for our own solo. Korbi has lived and climbed around the St Anviol valley for over a decade, and led the outdoor activities which included hiking and canyoning, and our scouting for potential locations, which preceded the solo.

The solo provided a genuine space and opportunity for meditation and reflection. We prepared for it through practical learning with Andres introducing us to Qigong and the philosophy of aligning body, breath and mind and Korbi leading us through a guided meditation.

Some members of the group took with them to their solo a specific question which served as the basis for their inquiry, whilst others, such as myself, determined to utilise the experience for the practice of mindfulness. Journeying out with only the basics – sleeping bag and water, with food and tent as optional – we travelled light and treaded lightly.

Arriving just after midday to a beautiful scenic spot, with no distractions such as phone, laptop, books, writing equipment, the focus was exclusively on wild nature and ourselves.

It was the first time for as long as I can remember that I was so off-grid. It was a unique opportunity to soak in an epic backdrop, sunset and starry night. It served to refocus and re-energise my busy mind, by focusing on the now. To practice what we had absorbed on meditation and mindfulness, particularly that which is taught by Thích Nhất Hạnh.

The beauty and power of wild nature only serves to heighten one’s array of senses, and the unique environment and the particular circumstance serves as an unparalleled opportunity to consider deeply the inquiry taken into the solo. For me, this was in developing a greater understanding of my place in the world, and my role in it. Through my experience, I have discovered no better way to develop an authentic perspective, than perched on a cliff top with the valley below, sky above and a horizon as far as the eye can see.

Returning the next day, we concluded the programme with a collective review of our experiences. What did we notice, how were we effected, why is the solo experience so powerful.

What I received from the experience is a renewed appreciation of the world around me, and a real acknowledgement of the importance of taking a step back and step out of one’s regular routine to develop a true perspective of ourselves. Others discovered within themselves the answers to the questions that they had taken with them into the wild nature. The solo is as much about what you give, as what you receive, from wild nature.

What you will find on the solo is down to you.

Written by thesocialenterprise

November 9, 2014 at 7:53 am

Responsible Investment

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Howard Pearce, David Russell and Elliot Frankal

First published: Third Sector Online, 11th July 2014

Third sector organisations collectively hold assets worth over £100 billion[1] through endowments, reserves, pension funds and other investments – generating financial returns to support their aims. But no matter what they invest in, most trustees know that a charity’s most precious asset is its public reputation.

That is why the scandal one year ago this month involving the Church of England’s investment in payday lender Wonga has caused sleepless nights for many charity trustees across the UK. More so as it was followed by Panorama’s exposé of Comic Relief’s holdings in tobacco, alcohol and arms firms and Greenpeace’s loss of around £3 million through currency speculation[2].

These scandals are a wake-up call to trustees that they need to be on top of their organisation’s investment strategy and portfolio to ensure it is not undermining everything else the charity does.

Here are some simple steps that trustees can take to help not only avoid the reputational damage of a similar scandal, but to potentially use their investments for positive social impact. Their investments can help them achieve their charitable goals just as grants, campaigns or fundraising can.

Three actions for trustees

There is no magic formula to totally avoid all possible investment risks.  All charities and investment portfolios differ in size, scope and in the environmental, social and governance (ESG), and other issues they seek to tackle. However these three steps can help trustees to meet best practice:

  1. Find out what and where exactly your money is invested – including for example the underlying companies, countries, and currencies.
  2. Assess your portfolio and reputational risks and decide if your investments should be better aligned to your mission – but without compromising your financial aims.
  3. Implement a responsible investment strategy that best suits your mission and financial goals.

Step 1 – Understand the nooks and crannies of your investments

The essential starting is to understand exactly what is held in your charity’s portfolio. As part of modern asset management investment advisors and fund managers encourage trustees to diversify their investments into areas such as pooled funds, private equity, infrastructure, hedge funds, debt funds yielding fixed income and other areas that can make a trustees eyes glaze over.

These can help protect long-term returns but takes trustees into complex areas where the companies in which investments are made can be hidden by layers of intermediaries. For example, the Church of England’s investment in Wonga was made indirectly via a “fund of funds”, that invested in a US venture capitalist fund which happened to have co-funded the launch of Wonga [3].

Asking your funds managers and advisers to provide information and explain all the underlying investments in your portfolio is the key first step in your review process.

Step 2 – Find a balance

The second crucial step for charity trustees is to decide the right balance between charitable mission and investment goals. The Charity Commission’s guidance to trustees (CC14) is that charities must get the best possible risk adjusted return on their investments and trustees must set clear financial targets and avoid risky investments, that may be associated with their charitable mission.

With this in mind, there are now a growing number of social, environmental, ethical, sustainability or stewardship funds on the market that offer a range of responsible investment strategies and can deliver identical or top quartile returns as traditional funds. Also some traditional mainstream funds are now taking into account financially material ESG factors. As demonstrated by the Comic Relief episode, it is no longer a legitimate excuse that investing responsibly will not secure market, or above-market, returns.

Step 3 – Tailor your approach

The next step is to decide which responsible investment strategy best fits your organisation. Historically, ethical investment has been understood as being about exclusion – i.e. NOT investing in particular companies or sectors. However this has evolved and there are now four commonly understood ways to put responsible investment into practice: ‘negative screening’, ‘positive screening’, ‘active ownership’ and ‘ESG integration’.

  • Negative screening involves avoiding sectors or companies that clash with your charitable ethos
  • Positive screening involves selecting and supporting entities that help achieve your charitable mission.
  • Active ownership involves using your influence (often with other investors) to change negative behaviors of the entities you may be invested in.
  • ESG integration involves ensuring that financially material ESG issues actively inform investment decision-making.

There are many examples across the sector of charity trustees putting one or more of these strategies into practice. From a housing charity investing in a sustainable property fund, to a health charity drive up corporate best practice on access to medicines the Environment Agency’s Pension Fund which uses an ‘environmental overlay’ to ensure financial material green issues are fully factored into all their investments.

Ultimately, money doesn’t perform, people do and it’s up to charity trustees to take action and implement their preferred investment style.

Howard Pearce is Director of HowESG, David Russell is the Director of Social Enterprise and Elliot Frankal is the Director of ESG Communications

[1]NCVO Civil Society Almanac



Written by thesocialenterprise

July 11, 2014 at 12:30 pm