Growing Inspiration, perspiration and change!

gardeningCalling all passionate growers! Come and join us to hear about some of the exciting growing projects happening in the borough and find out how you can be involved in a new urban growing project at DY1! Tuesday 3 May between 10-12pm at DY1, Stafford Street, Dudley.

To get you excited let me tell you about some of the amazing things that people have started growing across communities in Dudley.

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Effective charity leaders must be relentlessly, ferociously restless for change

a photo of Lorna’s RSA journal and mug of coffee While settling down with a nice cup of fresh coffee this morning I picked up my copy of the latest RSA Journal. The focus of this issue is communities, and asks: how can more communities play a bigger part in making change happen? I quickly got drawn into a great article about charities by the outgoing Chief Executive of Save the Children, Justin Forsyth. You can also read the article here.

The article opens with:

Over my working life I have worked as both a campaigner targeting the government from the outside and inside government, where I have been on the receiving end of campaigns. For the past five years I have been back on the outside as chief executive of Save  the Children. I am often asked what I have learnt as I’ve switched ‘sides’. The answer is simple: there are no sides. Or, more precisely, the two sides are not inside and outside, but people in both camps who are either restless for change or people who find comfort in the status quo. And I am clear – effective charity leaders must be unambiguously, relentlessly, ferociously of the former. Given the scale of our ambitions for social justice, the nature of shifting power dynamics driven by everything from the digital revolution to the rise of the emerging economies, and the degree of scrutiny that all institutions – from banking and politics to the media and charities – now come under, we simply do not have the luxury of standing still.

Justin then goes on to outline five lessons he has learned over the last five years at Save the Children. Here is an overview of them.

The first lesson is that it is more important to build a shared platform than to build one organisation.

The second lesson is that it is more powerful to recruit unexpected allies than to galvanise the usual suspects.

The third lesson is that it is as important to build an exceptional team as an exceptional idea.

The fourth lesson is that mass and mainstream is what gives permission for edgy and sharp. [He gives a great example of this in relation to a campaign to restart refugee search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean.]

The final and, in many ways, the most important lesson is that who you are should determine what you do, not the other way around.

Whether you lead a charity, a community group, a social enterprise, or are simply getting up to something for the good of others, do any of these resonate with you?

I’m really keen for CoLab Dudley to be a shared platform, and hope to have support through Dudley CVS to start some really exciting things with CoLab this year. I’m not sure I have much experience of recruiting unexpected allies, though on reflection I am surprised how much I’ve grown my networks in the last few years beyond the usual suspects in the community development field. As a result I have hugely increased my repertoire of tools and tactics to support change in communities, which in turn impacts on my ability to influence decision makers. I’ll stop there with the sharing of my reflections, as I’d love to hear some of yours.

I’d also love to hear perspectives on where we’re at in Dudley borough. Do you think we have charities which are restless for change, or which find comfort in the status quo? Who should we look to learn from in our sector? And where are the teams restless for change in our local public sector that we can work with on issues of social justice? Maybe we could interview people from some of them for this blog or The Echo.

Supporting innovation in our sector

Innovation T&F group questionBack in September we invited people to help us design a programme of support for our sector who are keen to lead innovation and transformation in their teams, organisations or communities.  This was part of work that Dudley CVS staff and trustees have been undertaking around five priorities we set ourselves this year, which I blogged about in August.

The group of us working on the priority around innovation, transformation and sustainability have recently fed back to Dudley CVS board, below are the highlights. These are from in depth conversations with leaders of eight different organisations in Dudley borough.

What do innovation, transformation and sustainability mean for people in different contexts?

Innovation

“Seeing things that work in other contexts and bringing them to your own work and applying them in different ways, to different things.”

“The ethos and core of who we are stays the same, but the way we meet that has to be continually up for discussion.”

Transformation

“Culture change.” “It needs strong vision and leadership.”

“It is ongoing on constant.”

“It is about change, responding to change, adapting to change, including being responsive to digital technologies.”

Sustainability

“Survival – diversifying income streams, looking at a variety of funding models.”

“I used to think it was  about staying where you are. Now I think it’s about pushing forward.”

“It’s not about the organisation, it’s about the customer. If the way to preserve services is that our organisation isn’t here, that’s fine. We have to help people to help themselves.”

Innovation, transformation etc definitions

Emerging themes

The people we have spoke to frequently touched on ways in which the sector is becoming more like social enterprise, using tactics previously thought of as belonging to business. Publications such as the Compendium for the Civic Economy and The Convergence Continuum: towards a 4th sector in global development? highlight ways in which the boundaries between the private, public, and non-profit sectors have been blurring. Pioneering organisations have emerged with new models for addressing societal challenges that blend attributes and strategies from all sectors. They are creating hybrid organisations that transcend the usual sectoral boundaries.

The key question we explored with people we have spoken to was: how might we support voluntary organisations in Dudley borough to innovate, transform and become more sustainable? We were explicit that ‘we’ didn’t mean specifically Dudley CVS, it could mean anyone who wanted to be involved, including people supporting each other.

Five headline themes are emerging around:

  • Collaboration and less competition. Collaboration has been mentioned more frequently than anything else.
  • Seeing or knowing about other things from elsewhere / other contexts to bring and innovate with. This has come up a number of times.
  • Creativity – trying things out, making mistakes. This has also been mentioned a lot, sometimes in relation to a perception that the sector underestimates it’s knowledge and skills, it’s ability to be nimble and creative. People we spoke to wanted the sector to be more confident.
  • Commissioners understanding the impact and value of the sector. (Influencing commissioners was also a major discussion point in the Task & Finish group which met to discuss supporting collaboration in the borough.)
  • Vision and leadership.

Other points which stand out from the conversations include how we respond to and use digital technology to help innovation etc. Also suggestions about using assets (buildings, equipment, skills etc.) differently, and sharing assets with each other. One conversation delved into alternative forms of finance, such as social investment bonds. Another explored the importance of language and framing – the need to help overcome fear, resistance and closing in with an optimism around opportunities and a focus on what we do have (rather than what is being taken away).

Our next step is to start evolving our some of our support to respond to what we’ve found, and the ideas we heard during these conversations. We’d love to hear from you about:

  • Your thoughts on the emerging themes
  • Ideas do you have around support you would like
  • Examples you’ve seen or read about of innovation being encouraged and nurtured

Support for social entrepreneurs

country


Happy Global Entrepreneurship Week!

“Global Entrepreneurship Week is the world’s largest celebration of the innovators and job creators who launch startups that bring ideas to life, drive economic growth and expand human welfare.”  (From http://uk.gew.co)

What better time to let you know about events and support for local social entrepreneurs?

An exploration of opportunities emerging in the West Midlands – this Thursday

Local people and organisations are invited to run activities during Global Entrepreneurship Week, and one of our local organisations, the Beacon Centre for the Blind have signed up. They are hosting an event this Thursday. The Opportunities for Social Enterprise, Investment and Impact conference is a West Midlands wide event, and places for people who live or work in Dudley borough have kindly been subsidised by Dudley Council, so are free. Just hop over to Eventbrite to register.

A marketplace event – on Friday 27 November

A different kind of event coming up for social enterprises and social entrepreneurs in Dudley borough has been organised by the local Synergy network (@synergy_dudley on twitter). On Friday 27 November they are hosting a marketplace event at Brierley Hill Civic Hall.

Doors open at 9am, and the event kicks off at 9.30am with talks from the Leader of Dudley Council, our Chief Officer Andy Gray, along with other Synergy network leads and local MPs. A panel discussion leads into  a free lunch at 12.30pm and the afternoon marketplace will be open until 4pm.

If you’d like to pop along for part or all of the day please contact Tim Jones at Higgs & Sons Solicitors on 0845 111 5050 or email tim.jones@higgsandsons.co.uk

Dudley CVS support – available any time

And finally, don’t forget that we offer free support to social entrepreneurs and social enterprises in Dudley borough. I recently interviewed Becky Pickin about the support Dudley CVS provide.

Have a listen to the short clip to hear about how we help people – from the first step on the journey of understanding what a social enterprise is, to developing ideas and undertaking market research, to setting up governance. I also asked Becky about Synergy, so if you’d like to hear more about what it is, just click the play button.


Do you have any questions about social enterprise? Are there any local social entrepreneurs you’d like to see featured on our blog? Leave us a comment or get in touch with us on twitter or Facebook.

Celebrating our work with people, communities and organisations

Dudley CVS Annual Report, 2014-15

I’m really pleased to share the work I and my wonderful colleagues have done to support individuals, communities and organisations last year. The Dudley CVS Annual Report outlines how we’ve been connecting and inspiring people and organisations to achieve positive change and championing their work. It covers the year April 2014-March 2015.

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Be the hedgehog!

photo of a hedgehog on grassWhat have hedgehogs got to do with radical innovation?

Well, as suggested in a Disrupt & Innovate blog post“hedgehogs symbolise radical innovation because as curling up into a ball – their very successful defence strategy for millions of years – became ineffective when the car was invented, hedgehogs changed their strategy and learned how to run.”

The Disrupt & Innovate project ran a campaign this summer to find civil society hedgehogs. Using a twitter hashtag #BeTheHedgehog, they sought examples of “people, teams or whole organisations that are courageously innovative reacting to changes in the world by changing themselves and the way they pursue their mission…  so that all of us can learn from them and from each other and get better at what we do.”

We are now looking for hedgehogs in Dudley borough, to help us design a programme of support for people in our sector who are keen to lead innovation and transformation* in their teams, organisations or communities. If you are a hedgehog, or know one, please leave a comment below or get in touch with me (lorna@dudleycvs.org.uk / 07501 722255 / twitter @dosticen) so that we can involve you in a conversation later this month.

* What do we mean by innovation and transformation? – you may well ask, as these are buzzwords which have lost their impact through over-use.

Innovation

Innovation can be defined as the act or process of introducing new ideas, methods or devices. In our sector we tend to focus on what is often called social innovation. This is about finding novel solutions to social problems that are more effective, efficient, sustainable, or just, than present solutions. Social innovations create value primarily to society as a whole rather than private individuals.

Social innovations can be described as new strategies, concepts, ideas and organisations that meet social needs – they extend and strengthen civil society. Social innovation includes the social processes of innovation, such as open source methods and techniques and also the innovations which have a social purpose.  (From wikipedia)

Transformation

This could mean changes in how an organisation is structured, how it operates, and/or how it is financed – often in response to changes in the context in which it is working. Examples of transformation we could develop knowledge around and try out include:

Obviously we don’t want organisations to innovate and transform for the sake of it. We are here to connect and inspire people and organisations to achieve positive change so that we have caring, vibrant and strong communities across the borough. So part of our focus is on supporting organisations to be resilient and sustainable. As well as financial sustainability, we are keen to support organisations to be adaptable and develop their leadership and strategic muscles. 

If you’d like to help us design ways that we can provide support around all of these sorts of things please get in touch. We’ll be thinking and talking about ideas this month and getting ready to start doing things next month.


Image credit: Soerfm, shared through wikimedia commons using a creative commons licence

A fireside chat and five priorities

Photo of Joel Gascoigne and Nick Holzherr in front of screen with glowing fireplace

Photo from the fireside chat shared by Laura Creaven on twitter

On Tuesday I went along to a Fireside Chat* with Joel Gascoigne, co-founder and CEO at Buffer. Buffer is a really handy software application which you can use for free to schedule posts to social media accounts in Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and more.  Joel studied in the West Midlands at the University of Warwick, and Buffer was developed and launched in 2010 while he lived in Digbeth, Birmingham. The co-founders moved to Silicon Valley in 2011 and have always been the subject of much interest and attention because of their radically open and transparent business practices.

Buffer made the salary calculations and salaries of each team member public and openly publish revenues from their paid for products. They are fully transparent with email (all team members can see all emails) and they have introduced transparent pricing so you see where every penny (or cent) goes if you subscribe to a paid plan. In Buffer one of their values is default to transparency.

I thoroughly enjoyed hearing Joel share his story and respond to questions which were submitted through twitter. And it got me thinking about what we’re sharing about Dudley CVS. Then I realised we haven’t really talked much about some priorities we’ve developed this year, and now is a great time to share them here because we have just started getting together as staff and board members to take each of them forward.

Our priorities have been shaped in response to what we heard from our sector in a survey we carried out late last year (Kate shared the findings in this post) and also give focus to key areas of activity we have been developing. Here is a run down of our 5 priorities.

Championing Dudley CVS and the sector 

Our survey told us that the top request in relation to support we should offer over the next year was raising the profile of the voluntary and community sector. A group of Dudley CVS staff and trustees met last week to begin collective work around this priority, so you’ll soon be seeing a growing offer to groups and organisations around this. Do get in touch with Becky (smallgroups@dudleycvs.org.uk) if you have skills or ideas to contribute to our work around this.

Enabling and promoting innovation, transformation and sustainability

Our survey also highlighted that people want support in relation to:

  • identifying gaps in local provision, working with new and existing groups to address unmet needs in communities
  • developing groups and organisations
  • ways to diversity income streams
  • innovation and transformation
  • advocacy and leadership of the voluntary and community sector

While we offer support around these areas already, we think there will be some value in us offering a programme of support which people can access in different ways. A group of Dudley CVS staff and trustees met last week and discussed some initial ideas, the next step is to involve people from local groups and organisations in shaping the programme. If you’d like to make suggestions please add a comment to this post, if would like to join an informal ideas session in September please let me know (lorna@dudleycvs.org.uk).

Supporting and enabling collaboration in Dudley borough

Ranked fourth in the list of support people want us to offer is supporting and enabling networking and collaboration. And ranked third is creating the conditions for our sector to influence. A group of our staff and trustees will be reviewing pervious and current work around this and shaping what we can do in the next 12 months. I have already been sharing some examples of activity over the last few years and thinking on collaborative practices on the CoLab Dudley blog. We’ll keep you updated on the work of the group looking at this priority, our first meeting will be next month.

Collaborating and demonstrating impact (using PSIAMS)

Dudley CVS and a number of voluntary organisations in the borough are changing their approach to working with people, and using a tool called PSIAMS to help them manage relationships, communicate and collaborate within and across teams, and to measure the impact and value of their work. We already have a great team supporting the use of the approach and software (Mark Ellerby from Cloudberry, plus Dudley CVS officers James Baggot and Adam Deyes). There will also be a trustee and staff group working on ways that our sector can collaborate and demonstrate impact.

Ensuring use of our venues benefits local communities 

Over the last few years Dudley Council has been working with Dudley CVS to explore ways to make the most of the council’s underused buildings and land in a challenging climate and safeguard them (or even unlock them) for community use. Asset transfer was a option for one building we looked at, a management move was an option in another. The council is continuing to develop and test new processes which involve community-based organisations taking on facilities. The initial steps with us should help to set the tone and ease this transition for other facilities and organisations.

Dudley CVS are now managing Brierley Hill Civic, and we have staff and a Lunch on the Run cafe moving in to a building on Stafford Street in Dudley Town Centre (the name of the building will be revealed shortly). It is really important to us that we both show that we can make a financial success of such ventures, and that we can do that in ways which support, connect and benefit local communities, groups, clubs and societies, as well as our sector more widely. We have a group of trustees and staff with a diversity of skills and connections who will give time to making ensuring we achieve this.

Do leave a comment or get in touch if you have any thoughts on any of our priorities, and please do share links to information about what your group or organisation is currently focusing on. We’d love to hear about it!


For anyone interested in the Buffer event, I’ve archived some useful links, tweets and pictures from the Fireside Chat here.

*Fireside Chats were a series of radio addresses given by President Franklin Roosevelt and the contemporary spin on this at the event I went to was a backdrop of a 3 hour You Tube fireplace video screened for the entire duration of the talk. It was nearly as mesmerising as a real fire!

Helping people to get ideas off the ground

Imagine you have an idea for an activity in your community, something open to all, that people could take part in every week. There are often lots of things which get in the way of getting such ideas started, even simply to try them out to see if they work. Rooms for community activities cost money to hire (understandably). Funders need groups to have lots of paperwork in place. And they often assume you know everything you need to at the beginning. There isn’t much scope for learning from experience and adapting things as you go. It’s easy to see why lots of great ideas never get off the ground. And why lots of rooms in community venues often sit empty, without these amazing activities taking place in them.

Which is why it is so exciting for Dudley CVS to be working on something which is re-thinking how things usually work. Our starting point is discovering all sorts of amazing things in Wrens Nest which can support projects – rooms and resources in a the community centre, skills and talents people have and want to share, ideas of things people want to do together. Open Hub is the name given to this platform we’re creating to nurture local projects and enterprises.

On the 2nd of February this year two mums from Wrens Nest Estate took part in an Open Hub project co-design session. In just over an hour we shared visions for the community, discovered all sorts of skills and talents we each had, looked at some projects started in other parts of the world, and designed a Stay & Play project. The first session took place 3 days later and has been running weekly since. Promoted through Facebook and word-of-mouth to begin with, 8 families (that’s 13 kids) joined in during in the first 5 weeks.

On 24th of February five local residents took part in a session to co-design a cooking project focused on healthy eating and trying out recipes from Slimmers World. A week later 13 adults and 4 kids got together to cook their first meal and eat together. They have been getting together to cook and eat each week since.

We’re still in the middle of lots of learning and testing of how to create these completely new ways of working, and we will share this in due course. In the meantime we’ll be making all the individual project designs and resources we’ve developed open source, so that anyone can borrow and build on them. To find out more contact me (lorna@dudleycvs.org.uk) or add a comment right here on this blog.