The Social Enterprise

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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.

Written by thesocialenterprise

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