The Social Enterprise

An occasional blog on the work, partners and ideas of The Social Enterprise…

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

Written by thesocialenterprise

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!

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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.

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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

PHF should…

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As part of the strategic review of the Paul Hamlyn Foundation, David Russell of The Social Enterprise submitted a response to the call for contributions as to the future direction of the organisation. The response was first published on the PHF should… website.

Practice and promote the concept of ‘mission-driven ambition’

The Paul Hamlyn Foundation should seek to lead by example in practising and promoting the concept of “mission-driven ambition” of charitable foundations. The concept was flagged up to me by my fellow Clore Social Fellow, Nikki Jeffery, who attended the recent annual conference of Association of Charitable Foundations where this concept was a key discussion area for the day.

The concept relates to how charitable foundations can best maximise all assets at their disposal – financial, physical, intellectual etc. – to deliver their goals. This approach can in turn be adapted by grantees, resulting in broader and deeper social impact across the sector.

Though there is ever greater focus on the field of social investment, this as yet has not meaningfully extended to how foundations can “socially sweat” their other assets. There is a huge social return that can be generated by doing so. For example, not only assessing how a foundation’s endowment can be put to best use to deliver mission-related goals through its investment strategy – but how its procurement policy, property portfolio, people’s potential, etc., can also generate social returns.

A commitment to mission-driven ambition extends beyond assessing the triple-bottom line of the foundation – in respect to the financial, environment and social impact of its work. It envisions a 360° perspective of the foundation’s contribution to the sector through its work. This should be fundamental to everything that it undertakes. It matters less as to whether this should be reported, but more that all stakeholders are aware that this philosophy is driving its decision-making process. Thus, it is factored into the grantmaking, procurement, investment etc.

Over my five years in post at Survivors Fund (SURF) I have tried to realise to some degree this ambition. As an organisation committed to support survivors of the genocide, we have tried where possible to recruit survivors on to our staff – who now account for 50% of our ten person office. When travelling to Rwanda, I stay in accommodation run by and benefiting survivor’s organisations. In the UK, it is more difficult to translate that commitment into contributing to our mission to rebuild the lives of survivors, but it is still possible, such as by sharing our winning proposals with organisations that share our commitment to survivors.

The next best thing when a mission-driven decision is not possible is to account for how a decision can add value to the sector – hiring our meeting rooms at a charitable organisation, commissioning other charities to undertake our evaluation, investing in an ethical pension.

PHF has already established itself in a position of leadership amongst charitable foundations in this regard, but there is more that it can do. And in turn, there is more that it can help its grantees to do in this area too and certainly a great deal more to encourage other foundations to do. Maybe its influence can even extend beyond the sector.

This is as much about culture and mindset as it is about measurement and evaluation. The focus of monitoring and impact reports is often on the outcomes of work. As important, but often ignored, is an assessment and audit of whether and to what degree an organisation’s assets are contributing to its mission, which includes how and what means it is employing to achieve those outcomes.

Therein lies the missed opportunity, and unrealised potential, of the charitable foundation today, to challenge the sector’s current obsession with outcomes – and to determine how other contributions to social impact that are less easy, but potentially more meaningful and relevant, can be measured.

By definition, all charitable foundations and their charitable grantees are united by a shared mission of delivering public benefit. PHF should have the ambition to leverage all its drivers to lead the sector in achieving this mission by utilising all means and maximising all assets at its disposal.

Written by thesocialenterprise

April 22, 2014 at 5:35 pm

Dame Vivien

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David Russell speaks to Dame Vivien Duffield about her philanthropy, the Jewish values she inherited and the realisation of her latest vision, the Jewish Community Centre for London, JW3


Arriving at the unassuming offices of Dame Vivien Duffield, in West London, you would not be aware that the Clore Duffield Foundation, which she created out of the merger of the Clore Foundation, inherited from her father, and the Vivien Duffield Foundation, which she set up with her own money, is the leading funder of the arts and culture in the UK.

I enter through a small corridor, at the end of which, are double doors into a large and airy office. Stepping though them, the importance of the woman I am here to meet becomes apparent. It is the walls that give it away. They are adorned with awards and honorary degrees, from the array of institutions in the UK that she has supported through the Clore Duffield Foundation, as well as Israeli organisations that the Clore Israel Foundation in Jerusalem, which she also chairs, has funded.

Despite her reputation as a no-nonsense, straight-talking matriarch of the arts, I found Dame Vivien to be welcoming and even a little cautious. She does not give many interviews, preferring instead to let her actions speak louder than her words. However, as our talk progresses, her boundless enthusiasm for philanthropy and the arts, and a sustained connection to her Jewish roots shines through.

It was from her father that she developed the passion and responsibility for philanthropy, interest in the arts and Jewish values. Charles Clore was a self-made man, establishing his name and wealth through an array of retail ventures, notably the department store Selfridges and the once ubiquitous high street store brands of the British Shoe Corporation. He was to become equally well known as one of the great scions of philanthropy and in particular for his support for Israel.

Dame Vivien knows little of her father’s upbringing in London’s East End. He was born in 1904 to parents who had recently emigrated from Riga. “They came with nothing except a sewing machine, as his father was a tailor. But no one even knows the original family name. He never talked about his past.” This may be due to the difficulty of his childhood. His mother died when he was very young, and his father soon after moved to Israel, where he lived out the rest of his days.

Charles visited his father only once in 1927, and did not return to Israel until he had a family of his own, 30 years later. At the invitation of Sir Isaac Wolfson, they stayed at the Weitzmann Institute. This experience inspired his support for the Institute and other Israeli causes.

By that time, Charles had separated from his wife, Francine Halphen, who he had met soon after the war. Though they had two children, Vivien and her older brother Alan, the marriage did not survive. “She missed France, and returned there. She was much more cultured, from a wealthy Parisian Jewish family. Her father survived the trenches, emerging from the First World War as a decorated Major. But he made a promise to himself that he would never have a cold meal or do a day’s work again, and rigidly stuck to both those. So he was not a great role model.

“However, my mother had a good education, at the Sciences Po, and she was awarded the Croix de Guerre for bravery in the Second World War, driving an ambulance for the resistance. Her brother survived Auschwitz and testified at the Nuremberg Trials and her sister had a terrible war too. But they rarely spoke of their experiences. That was true of her generation, more so of those that lived through the occupation in Europe.”

It was Charles who brought up the children, and from whom Dame Vivien believes she has inherited many of her traits. “He was very philanthropic and always very generous, loved the arts, and had a great eye for it.” He also was very protective of his only daughter. After she completed her undergraduate degree at Oxford University, he forbade her continuing her studies in the USA. He also stymied her hopes of following him into business, believing that “the boardroom was no place for a woman”. He was very much a typical Jewish father of that time and no doubt this played some role in Vivien marrying young. Though it was the fact that she was marrying out that aggrieved him more.

It was from this first marriage to John Duffield, who was to become a wealthy financier, that she has two children, Arabella and George. Her marriage did not last, on which she comments “it is possible to enjoy a successful marriage, family life or career, but near impossible to experience all three.” Of her children, she is evidently proud. But her children were not brought up Jewish and she regrets not passing on to them the values she received from her father.

“I am terrible in that respect, as I am passing on almost nothing of Jewish life to my children. However they are very aware of their Jewish roots. George has spent the past five years making an IMAX movie about Jerusalem, which is due out in September and will be screened by National Geographic. He also spent time studying at the Hebrew University. And Arabella has studied at the Weitzmann Institute, and now sits on their board.”

Many institutions have benefited greatly from the beneficence of Dame Vivien Duffield. But two in particular have her to thank for their very existence.

It was on a visit to the children’s museum in Boston, USA, that Dame Vivien had her first eureka moment. She was determined that the UK should have its own hands-on exhibition for children, a place that celebrated both play and learning. She realised that vision in 1992, having committed most of the funding required to establish Eureka! The National Children’s Museum – located at the suggestion of Prince Charles, in Halifax in Yorkshire.

Many questioned the location, chosen in an economically deprived area to serve as a catalyst for regeneration, but it has benefitted a huge number of young people in the north who would never have got to a London museum. Living in Leeds at the time I remember the thrill of such a stunning museum arriving on our doorstep. Now it has 250,000 visitors a year, an impressive number for a regional museum that charges for entry (as Dame Vivien strongly believes all museums should).

Dame Vivien hopes the success of this venture can be replicated with JW3, the Jewish Community Centre (JCC) for London, the second UK institution that owes its conception to her uncompromising vision.

“I had built several community centres in Israel, including the first Arab community centre in Ramallah. I then heard that they were building a Muslim community centre in the UK, and I thought there is no reason we should not have a Jewish community centre too.”

“I was speaking about this to my good friend Julia Neuberger, and she said that I must visit the JCC on the Upper West Side in New York. Together we did. It is spectacular, and as soon as I walked in I immediately wanted to build one for London. That was exactly ten years ago.”

Many questioned whether the JCC model, so well established in North America, could be adapted to the UK, or whether there was a need for such a project.

“It has been a long, hard journey, but we are getting there. I will be full of ideas of what it could be doing. I want to make sure that it reaches more than the Jewish community, for it to be used by the local community too. The first few years will be very experimental. We do not know what the demand will be, how we will use the piazza. But it is exciting times ahead.”

She hopes that its success will exceed all expectations, in the size and diversity of its audiences, in the quality of its programmes. And that, like Eureka!, JW3 will confound critics of its location. It is not in the Jewish heartland of Hendon or Golders Green, nor in the cultural hub of Central London. It is on the busy Finchley Road, across the street from the Camden Arts Centre and Dame Vivien is convinced this will work for it.

Such stubbornness has served her well. Few philanthropists have given away as much of their wealth, or as greater proportion of it. It is estimated that she has donated over £300 million through her Foundations over the last 40 years. Most impressively she has helped to raise many multiples of that, most recently leading a one billion pound fundraising campaign for Oxford University and, most famously, in her former role as trustee of the Royal Opera House, helping to secure over £100 million to build its current home in Covent Garden. And at almost every gallery and museum of note in the UK today, from the British Museum to the National Gallery of Scotland, you will find a Clore Learning Centre.

This partly accounts for her decision, to spend down the funds in her Foundation, as “Israel needs the money now, as who knows what will happen in ten or twenty years there.”

As to her children “They are both into philanthropy, but I doubt they will follow me into supporting Israeli causes as they have their own pursuits. I don’t think it’s fair to burden the next generation with the responsibility of pursuing the aims that you want to pursue. You have to give them the wherewithal to do their own thing. So you have to do what you want to do yourself whilst you are alive.”

She would like to see a more pluralistic and less polarised society in Israel but is deeply pessimistic as to whether that will ever be realised. However, she is encouraged by the indications of a greater engagement in philanthropy in Israel.

“Though Israel has less of a tradition of philanthropy, that is beginning to change, albeit slowly. Around 10% of donations to the Weitzmann Institute is now from Israelis, which has been a significant development. However, they still have some way to go. The small number of very wealthy families should be giving more.”

It is this responsibility to give, which she inherited from her father, and has driven her own philanthropy, and notably that of her children too. “Simply, if you have money, you have a duty to give.” However, she notes that philanthropy is evolving too.

“Jewish philanthropy is still huge. But I don’t know about the next generation. It is not that they are less generous, but they do not like giving to established charities. They like doing their own thing. Also, if you think how much people spend on their art, it would not kill them to give a bit more to arts charities, for example.”

For many years hence though, it is likely that the Clore Duffield Foundation, with Dame Vivien at its helm, will continue to lead and inspire ever greater philanthropy. I am intrigued to know whether there will be any other landmark campaigns that she will personally spearhead now JW3 has opened its doors.

“I do not know what the next challenge is. I haven’t worked out what I want to do next. But there may be one last project.” So watch this space!

First published: Jewish Renaissance Magazine, October 2013 Issue
For more information on Jewish Renaissance, please visit:

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October 8, 2013 at 2:43 pm