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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

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

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


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On graduating with a degree in Social and Political Sciences, I had little or no idea of what I wanted to go on to do. I had an undefined view that I wanted to “make a difference”, but as to what that difference would be, or how I could make it, I was unclear.

It was then that I spoke to the father of an old friend – a successful businessman and philanthropist. Though he had left school at 16, he had been in the same predicament. The advice he gave to me was based on his own experience, taking the first job offer he received. Getting your foot on the ladder is hard enough. Trying to find your dream job from day one, is nigh on impossible. The worst that can happen, he told me, is that you learn what you don’t want to do.

Applying for every job I thought I might want to do, I took that advice and accepted a position as a graduate trainee at an independent communications group. It was the best move I could have made.

Cutting my teeth in the private sector, enabled me to develop many valuable skills that have held me in great stead as over time I began to specialise in advising social sector organisations on their communications. It was then that I left the communications group to set up my own PR agency, specialising in charity PR, and then selling my stake in that to set up another agency, The Social Enterprise, that focused on broader consultancy to charities – including policy, programmes and development.

It was from there that I was offered my current position, as Director of Survivors Fund (SURF), an UK registered charity representing and supporting survivors of the Rwandan genocide. The position is challenging, as we are a small organisation (I am the only full-time employee in the UK) managing a comparatively large budget of up to £1 million per annum. As such, it is vital to be able to do everything – which in the past week has for me included writing funding proposals, managing a board meeting, developing a new programme evaluation model, writing this article and finding and making a new meeting table (sourced through freecycle, a wonderful resource!)

The best training for the position is twofold.

First, undertake as much work experience as possible, in my view the broader the better. Get a feel for the kind of organisation that you want to work for, large or small, public sector or social sector, local or international. Also, try finding opportunities in different departments – communications, finance, research. Do your research and tailor your approach to secure the opportunity, and mine the network to get that all important break – GradLink is a great resource for this purpose.

Second, consider a practical masters degree to develop your skill base – but do not jump into it after graduation. Build up some work experience first, and once you have an idea of what you really want to do then focus in on the programmes that offer what is best suited to you to take you to the next level. I was incredibly fortunate to be offered a Reynolds Fellowship in social entrepreneurship from New York University. It gave me the exposure to learning and access to contacts that are now proving critical in my new role. Whether I would have benefited as greatly from the programme without the 7 years of working beforehand; I question.

Ultimately there is not one best route into a job in the social sector. The difference I want to make may well have been possible in the private sector – working in corporate social responsibility – or in the public sector – working for the Department for International Development. What is most important is to open yourself to opportunities and take the opportunities open to you. Obstacles are there to be overcome, and failure to be learned from. Good luck!

First published: The Cambridge Student, October 2009.

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November 7, 2009 at 4:23 am

The Social Enterprise Weblog

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It is now a year since The Social Enterprise was founded. Since that time, our website – – has remained static. This blog will present a more dynamic virtual window on to the work of the organisation, its work and clients.

As a reminder, below is posted information on The Social Entperise:

The Social Enterprise strives to change society for the better. Our services range from public relations to policymaking, stakeholder engagement to research and innovation. We work with a wide array of clients, including charities and businesses, on a partnership basis. Our fee structure, and approach to work, is flexible in order to offer what is affordable and convenient for our clients.

By definition we engage in daring and difficult action, undertaking projects that are often complicated and/or risky. We work systematically, purposefully and creatively to build our enterprise to deliver transformative solutions that are pattern breaking, sustainable and scalable.

The Social Enterprise relishes the opportunity to address issues of social importance to enact positive change in the world. Ultimately, we deliver for our clients a return on investment in our services – whether in the form of increased funding, raised awareness or an effective new approach to its work.

The business, as the name indicates, has a social mission. We choose to work with organisations that strive to make a difference, not just a profit. We measure our success against a triple bottom line: financial, social and environmental. The surplus we generate is reinvested in the business and our clients.

Written by thesocialenterprise

May 14, 2008 at 8:06 pm