Tag Archives: Social Franchise

Nets, Networks and Networking to Create Collective Impact

This week I visited the West Country to speak to a group of people working or interested in working in social enterprise. I really wanted to have a day at the seaside and take a train along the Dawlish track which was the subject of such dramatic TV footage last year. Continue reading

Growth in a downturn: a big ask, but the right question.

Where has the month gone? I am scared by the speed by which our lives pass; it seems we have so little time to make any real, lasting difference. As a result, I have spent most of January talking to people and confirming our plans to really grow the organisation. The Government suggests that we have two alcohol free days a week free.  No chance this month. Neither did I get a chance to attend any of the Samba classes that have been happening across LEYF in preparation for our annual New Year Party this evening, when over 200 of our staff are due to party on late into the night (although I will be gone by 10 ish!).

Outside of LEYF, the world remains a rather unsettled place. The economy is not recovering, the Eurozone is a disaster, child poverty continues to grow as does unemployment among the young. There is an edgy feel about.  The politicians talk about creative capitalism or moral capitalism.  Young people apparently consider the whole thing ‘Peak’. So we have a choice: we sit tight and ride the storm, keep calm and do nothing, whinge, run for the hills or see things like the Chinese do, that every crisis is just as much an opportunity. Interestingly, we have just entered the year of the Dragon: a time for wisdom, strength, benevolence and good fortune.

Back at LEYF, we have decided we can expand our pioneering approach across London. It’s a simple enough model: community nurseries with a range of fees, alongside apprenticeships all wrapped within a multi-generational approach. This ambition is only possible because I trust that LEYF staff will come with me.  We may lose a few people along the way, but that may be right for both them and us; working for a small organisation is not quite the same as a big group or a network of internal franchisees.

Why do it? Why risk upsetting the apple cart? Because we have a duty to share what we do well for small children. Child poverty continues to rise to the detriment of the child, the family and society as a whole. Many people are lost and lonely, so why should we not roll out our way of doing things to benefit many more people?  The bankers and many other private businesses are growing despite often appalling records; they appear to show neither remorse nor a duty of care to their customers. So if we can do something that brings a social good, it is only right that we make the effort to do more of what we already do well.

The risks are immense. Can we keep the quality? Will staff remain motivated? Can we create the right support structure? Will parents abandon us? The signs are that none of this will happen anymore than it would happen in a smaller organisation. The success is having sharp, intelligent, knowledgeable, skilled and entrepreneurial leaders across the organisation, individuals who also come with a natural and clear sense of social duty, coupled with the ability to connect with the community.

It’s probably a big ask, but when 650,000 children across London live in poverty, it’s probably the right question.

As Goethe says:

Seize this very minute; what you can do, or dream you can, begin it; Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.”

Celebrating Social Enterprise and scaling up

There has been so much for me to write about this week, it has been hard to choose! But as all blog guides say stick to one or two points, my views on the launch of the two year funding will have to wait for next week (sorry). In the meantime…

Global Enterprise Week kicked off with a youth-led event at the Westminster hub where we celebrated young entrepreneurs. I felt somewhat embarrassed to be on a panel of oldies, as most of the entrepreneurs were the same age as my children. I did however get an invitation to join a Chamber of Commerce, although could not be sure whether this was a compliment or reminder that I would never again be ‘down with the youth’!

On Tuesday I spoke at Understanding Social Enterprise in the very Christmassy Charing Cross Hotel; quite the Edwardian oasis in the busy forecourt of Charing Cross station. A great event, with so many people keen to change their business model to a social enterprise. It worries me though, just how many conversions and spin outs there are with only one customer. Social enterprises are businesses first and foremost and they need to know how they will survive in the market. Even more importantly, a social enterprise needs to be the best in the business, since any business operating from a social value is more open to criticism.

My constant advice is that you should:

  • know your business
  • know how it will make you a profit
  • be able to explain your social value
  • remember people choose you because you offer the highest standard in whatever sector you operate

Personally, I believe in social enterprises because the business is in itself the very means of reducing or dealing with a social problem.

The true purpose of business is to add value and make a difference – not just by providing useful services but also by adding value to the lives of employees, adding value to the life of the community, and adding value for the sake of future generations by treading as lightly as possible on the planet.”

Sinclair (2006)

Thursday was of course Social Enterprise Day when each year we give our Margaret Horn Lecture in celebration of a new and socially enterprising idea or issue relevant to Early Years.  I introduced this now annual event in 2006 to celebrate our first paid Director who gave 40 years of her life creating something special. As a pupil of Octavia Hill she learned that you could be a charity and still charge people, whilst being enterprising in your responses to local social and economic needs. This year I felt privileged to give the lecture, and better still as it was hosted by the RSA and chaired by Matthew Taylor.

June speaking at this year's Margaret Horn Lecture at the RSA

June speaking at this year's Margaret Horn Lecture at the RSA

With the title ‘Child Poverty: why social franchising is a giant step in the right direction‘ this year’s lecture told the LEYF story, with a specific focus on the past 18 months.  During this time, we examined our model to see how effective it might be in helping many more children achieve their potential and then take on the challenges of a fast changing world. In particular, we took a close look at our actual delivery model to check if we had consistently woven all our good practice into an outstanding curriculum and organizational set of practices, knowledge and attitudes.  Working with the Centre for Enterprise and Economic Development Research at Middlesex University (supporting their work with Third Sector Research Centre at Birmingham University), we explored a number of approaches to growing the business; including a great deal of time looking at social franchising. As a key part of this project, we also spent a year measuring our Social Return on Investment.

We concluded that we have an almost moral obligation to scale up, with social franchising of the LEYF community nursery model a possible means of reducing child poverty whilst also adding more value by creating local social entrepreneurs.

Nearly every problem has been solved by someone, somewhere.  The challenge of the 21st century is to find out what works and scale it up.”

President Bill Clinton

The event itself appeared to be well-received, and I hope it leads to us doing more research with the RSA.  I had been very nervous about being interviewed by Matthew Taylor, who often flexes his formidable intellect on the Moral Maze.  In a telephone call prior to the event Matthew reassured me that he is paid to be cantankerous on the radio programme, so far less likely to be the butt of his intellectual sophistication. Just in case, I went to bed reading Bertrand Russell. (Not quite TOWIE!)

On the very morning of the event, I was reminded how life is full of serendipitous moments, as Karen Buck (now Shadow Minister with responsibilities for Apprentices) came to meet our fantastic LEYF apprentices. Explaining that I had to leave to go to the RSA, she told me that she and Matthew Taylor were old friends.  I immediately relaxed.

We had invited Karen Buck to celebrate Social Enterprise Day with our apprentices and to hear their views about the LEYF Step into Learning induction programme, which we think is essential to a successful apprenticeship.  They were very pleased she was visiting; to such a degree that Wahid had a tie and Pedro a suit – and boy did they look smart!

Like any good politician, Karen asked questions that drew ideas and answers from them till they warmed up enough to gain in confidence. They talked about their experiences of work and learning, and the confidence that grew from both. It was best summed up in the Sun newspaper article last week.  Interviewing one of our apprentices, Alex Appleby based in Eastbury Children’s Centre Nursery in Dagenham, it headlined with “It’s a Neet idea”, a much better way of describing the many young people for whom school is a fairly unsuccessful experience.

The reason why we invest so much in our apprentices is quite simple: we consider youth unemployment the second entry point into poverty, and so having an apprenticeship programme is a critical aspect of the LEYF model (even though it is often a loss maker). For a young person, being out of education, employment or training can have major ramifications, including long-term reductions in wages and increased chances of unemployment later in life – not to mention social or psychological problems as a result of sustained unemployment.

The systems in place to support younger apprentices, especially those who have limited educational success, are woefully funded. It would not take too much more money; perhaps a more creative use of the unemployment benefit – currently being wasted keeping people out of work – might be worth considering. The number of young Neets is growing, so we need to do something positive and concrete. In London Neet rates are very high, with levels greater than 20% persisting in Barnet, Camden, Enfield, Hackney, Haringey, Islington and Westminster.

I believe we have a duty both as adults and employers. It’s great to see a growth in the number of apprentices, but to gain even more success we need to tweak the system. According to our own apprentices, we need better advertising using media that engages young people, together with face to face support and advice. Elsewhere, Mine Conkbayir who runs our programme wants greater incentives and reassurance for employers to ‘take a chance’ with an apprentice. This in effect means funding for pre apprenticeship modules (we call ours Step into Learning) with Key Skills woven directly into a well organized and logical programme.  Mine is also keen on much greater links with schools, so 16 year olds can step into an apprenticeship as soon as they graduate. We are nearly there: just a few more steps and we could have the best apprenticeships in Europe – and finally move away from the folly of believing everyone needs a degree to do their job – a folly which sees London with the highest level of unemployed graduates in the country (unemployed and laden with debt; those poor wretches).

To close Global Entrepreneurship Week in style, we took a stall on Saturday morning at the London Councils Summit 2011 in the Guildhall; a beautiful setting in the quiet of the City of London. (Bit tricky though, with the usual levels of engineering work going on across the tube network. I can only hope this will be improved before the Olympics.)

The reason we took a table at this event was to meet as many local councillors as possible and persuade them to have a conversation with us about the benefit of having LEYF work with them. I was also keen to say hello to local councillors from the five boroughs where we already have a presence.  Sadly these were in short supply – except for one councilor from Barking and Dagenham who appeared most bemused by me for some reason!

The main speech given by Ed Davey MP Minister for Employment was a bit lack lustre. Still, at least it did provoke a fair amount of energy from the floor about apprentices, when I was both heartened and disappointed to hear over and over about youth unemployment in London and the issues of giving apprentices some support at the early stages of their programme.  Ed Davey suggested alarm clocks and train tickets, all of which we do at LEYF – and pay for!  Soft skills were also a common theme and their importance born out by Vic Grimes of the National Apprenticeship Service. Frankly, I could have put Mine on the stage and she would have given them plenty of practical ideas to support apprentices!

Elsewhere, councillors raised the issue of graduates unable to get jobs. Given that many of them lack experience, maybe the re-introduction of a programme like Future Jobs Fund would be a good way of paying employers to give graduates six months in a work environment. This in turn may lead to a job, but if not would give them real experience to boost their confidence and skills base and so make them more employable. That said, there will still need to be jobs out there; at least this could be a bridge while they fix the Eurozone and squeeze a bit of extra cash out of the bankers.

Musing over a cocktail in the city

I have just come back from presenting to the judges of the National Business Awards on the 27th floor of the Gherkin.  It was quite daunting, so afterwards I indulged in two happy hour cocktails with our Head of Finance, Neil Fenton; and calming our nerves among the bankers of the city of London, we mused on the concept of the social enterprise business model.

Presenting to skilled, experienced business people and investors means taking a long hard look at the model.  In our case, the LEYF model combines childcare, training, apprenticeships and community engagement in a way that allows as many parents as possible from all backgrounds to access our nurseries. Profits are pursued, but directly built into improving the impact and sustainability of the business, so innovating to create more and better ways to do what we do.  The judges for the National Business Awards asked us a lot about this and we explained about the importance of social capital, justice and trust.

We were particularly pleased to be finalists in the ‘Transformational Change’ category; and even though we may not win, we certainly gave it our best shot.  Describing our performance as lively and one which kept them engaged, Neil and I were referred to as ‘rigour and imagination’ (maybe more Dangermouse and Penfold). I suspect they were surprised to discover social enterprises were so business focused and interested in making a profit. In any case, we will discover if we are to emerge triumphant at a fancy dinner on November 8th. I am not sure I will need to prepare a Kate Winslet speech (perhaps better adopt the Gwyneth Paltrow model). In the meantime, we continue to seek the investment funds needed to scale up the business in our move towards 40 nurseries.  With more than 4 in 10 children still living in poverty across the capital, the kind of service we provide is needed now more than ever.

Afterwards, while sipping a Mai Tai (nicely fruity), I pondered on a remark in yesterday’s Evening Standard (September 19).  Sam Leith was commenting on gesture politics and referred to Will Hutton’s recent book Them and Us which…

…argues persuasively, fairness –  and, crucially, the perception of fairness – makes the weather in a society. Capital is important, but what theorists call “social capital” – the glue that binds us – matters too.”

He is right: social capital does matter; especially unfairness such as London boroughs being able to wipe off debts of up to £135 million pounds from dodged council bills, overpaid benefits and unpaid parking fines. Westminster City Council lost £19million from unpaid parking fees and other traffic violations from foreign cars with diplomatic plates. Would your average Joe Bloggs get away with this? I don’t think so! What about our peers of the realm such as Lord Taylor and Lord Hanningfield – convicted of large scale frauds and fiddling expenses, but still able to retain their peerages on the grounds that life peerages are not technically an ‘honour under the Crown’, and therefore cannot be withdrawn once granted. As Eleanor Roosevelt says:

Justice cannot be for one side alone, but must be for both.”

So, while I am not suggesting that social enterprises can alone solve levels of injustice and re-establish trust, I feel that we should at least try and show that enterprise, ethics and an expectation of fairness is possible; and some business models build these into their very fabric. All the more important then that we feature in the National Business Awards and other major business events. We need to be centre stage, and able to explain how and why we add value and contribute to social capital.

Incidentally, if anyone needs a CEO and Head of Finance to deliver ‘Rigour and Imagination’ at a conference, our rates are very reasonable.

PS if the above were not exciting enough, it was also announced earlier today that we are one of  only 25 Award Winners in the Big Venture Challenge, which is great news!  Read more about our pitch and watch this space for how we plan to use the initial £25K investment and other non-financial support.

Childhood futures in Dublin’s fair city

This week I went to visit Dara Hogan at Fledglings Nurseries, part of An Cosán, a community organisation and charity in Tallaght, Co Dublin.  I was accompanied by Heather Fernandez, our lead Research Associate on social franchising, scaling and replication, with Middlesex University.

The term franchising freaks many people out because they associate it with aggressive, profit-focused commercial growth like McDonalds. Instead, I like the opportunity it presents as a business model with the potential to help replicate good, socially enterprising nurseries across the UK.  In doing so, many more children would benefit, more quickly and effectively, and greater strides could be taken toward eradicating child poverty; hence our research.

It is also the shared view of Dara Hogan who I met on a Scaling Up programme run by the School of Social Entrepreneurs in January this year.  He has set up five nurseries in this deprived part of Dublin, on the basis that good quality Early Years can help mitigate some of the worst aspects of social deprivation and potential educational failure.   Like me, he thinks franchising may be a good model to speed up the dissemination of good nurseries and touch the lives of many more children, and so he is in the process of growing the nursery group.

The Irish are renowned for their friendliness and hospitality and this was very evident during our visit.  We were taxied around Dublin by Denis, who gave us a guide to each locality and pointed out a range of areas of interest from a political and social perspective.  He could compete with London’s best Black Cab drivers with his knowledge of heritage sites in central Dublin.

Our programme of visits was wide and varied, but each person gave generously of their time and engaged in a way that made us feel we had something to offer them – although at times I could see their puzzlement, as we tried to understand the different ways we design and support similar services.

The social problems of Dublin and London are not dissimilar; drugs and alcohol abuse, unemployment, poverty and emotional deprivation are the issues of the day, and the people we visited are looking for solutions that work just as we are, solutions that can be scaled up and measured to show a benefit, both now and in the future.

Our two day visit began in Tallaght with a visit was to Breda at Barnardos. She runs a Government funded childcare and family support programme in a building down a littered windswept alley.  Her passion and enthusiasm was palpable, and she could link to the work being done in the UK through her daughter – an educational psychologist in Southwark who had been challenging her to dump the notion of school readiness in favour of ready schools.  It initiated an interesting philosophical debate. She was keen on giving a voice to the practitioner, whilst also finding a way to support free childcare for more two year olds.  I was pleased to be able to say that we were going to develop this in the UK as a result of a successful pilot.  She introduced me to Maria Aarts and Marte Meo and was as shocked that I had not heard of her as I was when she told me that Irish Barnardos were not in anyway connected to the UK charity.

Our second visit was to a very modern, architect designed building which housed the Childhood Development Initiative.  We were welcomed with a pot of tea by Grainne Smith and her colleagues Marguerite and Tara.  They are part of a commissioning and evaluation team developing childcare initiatives, funded by government and matched charity funds. We had a lively conversation about evaluations and randomised control trials of organisations and services with a heavy emphasis on evaluating process.  I was particularly intrigued to hear this, as it’s something I am keen to develop as part of our multi-generational project.

After a lunch which included homemade scones, we spoke to Jean Courtney who confirmed the importance of business skills among childcare providers in all sectors, but especially in areas where the continued success of nurseries and family support services is particularly needed by children.

Our last visit took us into the centre of Dublin, where we had a tremendously animated conversation with Beth Fagan who runs the Parent Child Home Programme  at the National College of Ireland.  She was passionate about helping parents apply learning in their homes, so we know it changes their beliefs, behaviour and attitude, and pointed us in the direction of much new reading.  It also led to a proposal for her colleague Aoife, who heads up the CPD programme, that we try and apply the same thinking when it comes to making sure we better embed and measure action learning in childcare settings – so we know the training and support we offer practitioners is actually embedded and applied consistently to ultimately change behaviour (a philosophy already very much embedded in the LEYF approach to learning and development).

Dara rounded off the long and fascinating visit with a dinner prepared by his good wife Mary.  It made me realise why hospitality needs to be a core value of any organisation looking to reach out and make a difference to those who feel alienated and isolated.

Our second day was spent at An Cosán, the umbrella charity which incubated the Fledglings idea.  Its main service is to provide training at all levels for local people, with a real emphasis on opportunities and learning for local women – so they were very hot on community leadership and ways of empowering women to develop their confidence and abilities.  Once again, the day was punctuated by hospitality and kindness – and more scones!  We learned a lot more about the importance of talking and extending ideas, as I had some passionate exchanges with their lively CEO Liz Waters.  It was a another great lesson in the importance of taking time out of the ordinary day to engage with other people; to stretch your thinking and learn something new.

Social franchising and the LEYF Experience

For those wonderfully supportive people who follow this blog, you may have noticed a gap in production; this is because I have been staying in the Shropshire Hills for a week.  It’s a place where I have no phone or internet network and, like many young people, I have a real sense of disconnect as I come to terms with being unable to commune with anyone except my husband and the Shropshire Hills.

The challenge of any blogger is choosing what to blog about; there is just so much irritating rubbish and nonsense that it’s hard to know what to opt for. And those who know me well will soon enough attest as to how I can rant about almost anything – lousy childcare, poor use of tax payers’ money, overblown tributes to poor services, Children’s Centres with nothing except some anecdotal stories as evidence, litter and the sense that no one cares if we ruin our own environment, apprentices and the failure to give them an education of real value, organisations that think they can be a social enterprise just by saying they offer a social value… But enough already, before this list itself turns into a rant!

The trouble with being away with only your thoughts and a mountain of books to read is that you have time to think – and in my case the woes of the world soon begin to weave a misty dissatisfaction into the crevices of my mind.  However, on a more positive note, as I am so often starved of quality thinking time in my daily job as Chief Exec of LEYF, being able to wallow in ideas and thinking like this is a great opportunity.

So, with all this glorious time on my hands, what are the questions I ponder most?  First of all, it’s if we at LEYF can really build a better future for London’s children: to what extent and how exactly does what we do everyday in our soon-to-be 22 community, workplace and Children’s Centre nurseries truly make a difference?  Can we then bottle this into a social franchise model that will genuinely work for others, offering a real alternative that is not just the ‘next big thing’ for social enterprise to do – and can we avoid the cynicism that followed the previous trend that saw so many organisations convert to CICs as a good way to brand as a social enterprise, a pattern now being pursued by some public sector organisations?

Having spent over a year examining social franchising as a means of growing our organization – with the simple aim of giving as many children as possible the ‘LEYF experience’ – we realised that replication through franchising is a very challenging and demanding strategy for growth. This is confirmed in the books about commercial franchises, such as McDonalds and Starbucks (two quite different approaches, each equally successful); such is the varied nature of my reading list!

However, LEYF has never been an organisation to let a bit of doom and gloom stand in the way  of progress, let alone social good; and personally I have always been a glass half full girl, taking an optimistic and positive attitude to most things.

So, rather than give up at the first or second hurdle, we started to look into new ways of understanding the full range of options in front of us.  Surprisingly, a bank then came to the rescue, in the form of six staff from RBS who are now helping us draft a robust business plan.  This has also strengthened our relationship with the bank; a position which may prove beneficial later on as we unpack the much-loved government ideas of payments by results, along with social impact bonds. At the same time, our relationship with our prime supporter, Middlesex University, remains strong and interest from policy makers heartening.

As we start to now roll out the franchise plan itself, we remain pragmatic (this has not become one of my rants quite yet); there is history in the sector which suggests franchising has a habit of collapse, whilst sustainability and quality issues naturally abound.  As with all new ideas (or new configurations on existing ideas), there are resistors, antagonists and a level of contention and competition; and where would we be without the harbingers of doom?

In fact, aside from confronting all the gloomy predictions, ensuring we cross every ‘t’ and dot every ‘i’ will be the only way forward if we are to have a strictly controlled franchise, both in line with our own industry legislation and covering every possible issue surrounding intellectual property.  On an even more practical level, and so perhaps most critically, we have to make sure the manual is absolutely perfect and the fee correct: we have noticed many failed franchises never set a correct fee and so have quickly become a drain rather than an asset.

So, we are interested in your thoughts about social franchising as a means of social replication.  Is it of interest to you?  Does it hit your rant list?  Would you do it?  Would you recommend it?  Would you want to be a LEYF franchisee? Would you come to a franchise tea party – does it have a Mad Hatter appeal?

As always, I love to hear your thoughts… so feel free to rant, blog, comment or simply share.

Children’s Centres: A Way Forward

This has been an interesting week or so for the sector…

Firstly, Graham Allen MP (who spoke with such conviction about Early Intervention at our annual Margaret Horn Lecture in November) finally launched his much anticipated report at the Gherkin.

It was a room full of bankers and Early Year’s people – and I was most amused to realise that I knew quite a few of the bankers. We have been working with bankers for some time, in the hope of developing a social investment plan to extend our training programmes for young apprentices. However, the event did remind me of a wedding – the groom’s family in one corner and the bride’s in the other, with no one sure how to bridge the gap and mumblings as to whether this partnership would last (a comment also made by Graham Allen himself who recognised the challenge of developing social impact bonds).

The deputy Prime Minister, looking quite boyish, confirmed the commitment of the coalition Government to Early Years and social mobility, whilst assuring us of the need for investment in a fairer society. My only real concern here is the use of the phrase ‘school readiness’. While I know that every child has to be ready and able to succeed at school, I do hope that we also want to give children a happy childhood, because that is what so many of them are really missing.

Elsewhere this week, ACEVO invited Sarah Teather, Minister for Children and Families, to breakfast.  Here she presided over the launch of a very special taskforce – including yours truly, amongst several other experts from across the sector.  Our task it transpired is to support the Minister in converting the government’s objectives into a coherent vision for Early Years.  Sarah Tether appears keen on the principle of co-production, a concept very familiar to us in social enterprise.  However, like most modern jargon, it’s a clumsy expression that obscures good intentions, namely to work alongside people and get their views as part of a process of contribution and mutuality.  It’s a great approach for people like me who enjoy talking and networking with colleagues.

On my return to my own lovely team, I was able to reassure them that charities such as the Children’s Society, Action for Children and Spurgeons all struggle as we do – with complex contracts and barriers to commissioning.  In the spirit of the Big Society, it seems that sharing, connecting and linking together is the future, one of which I particularly approve.

On this very subject, last week we put our own head above the parapet and urged everyone else to do the same – with the hope of ensuring that if Children’s Centres were to close, the right ones would be chosen for the right reasons, and those that were needed would remain. The response has been heartening, particularly from parents and those professionals who really believe in finding the means of supporting children from poor and vulnerable families. Sadly, there are still too many people working in the world of children and families who have remained ominously silent.

Nonetheless, it would appear that our long-held belief that Children’s Centres should be intergenerational is finally gaining support. We are now working with Gulbekian and the lovely Beth Johnson Foundation to start testing our model.  We hope that once we begin to articulate a specific and successful approach, more people will believe as we do, that this is the way forward for us all.  This certainly fits with the notion of Big Society, and so has the backing of many senior Government ministers and Lords of the Realm.

We must remember that an intergenerational approach is more about attitude than the simple idea of having a building where older and younger people have services; to be truly intergenerational means to engage and form relationships across the generations, which in itself is not just about the very old and the very young but every generation in-between.

With this in mind, I invite you all to devour, discuss and share our ‘Ten Steps to a Sustainable, Intergenerational Children Centre’, part of our broader review of recent research relating to the current situation, ‘Children’s Centres: A Way Forward’.  As always, I welcome comments, challenges – and more ideas!

Instead of shimmering with the particular energy of disaffection (Alexander Pope), let’s take last week’s call to arms and convert this critical debate into positive action.

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The Social Enterprise Tea Party

This week I overheard a member of staff commenting on my blog.  She had just begun to read it and was surprised at just how much it told her about what I do; about my efforts to ensure what we do at LEYF influences the world of childcare and so helps to build a better future for children everywhere.

Later in the week we had a staff forum where they made a similar observation, so I thought I would use this week’s blog to sum up our plans for franchising our model; to give some idea of what it might be like if we could successfully scale up and replicate what we do here at LEYF elsewhere. It fits into a particularly busy week of submitting tenders for nurseries, training services and strategic alliances – another means of getting a place at the table. Not surprisingly, I feel like Alice trying to get an invite to the Mad Hatters Tea Party, so we can have a turn to say our piece.

Tea Party at LEYF's Ford Road Children Centre Nursery

On the subject of teaan occasion which should, in my humble opinion, be a compulsory 4 o’clock occurrence – it featured quite a few times this week, including a spontaneous invite to share tea at the House of Lords following my outburst at the APPG on Sure Start.

On this occasion, I was provoked by the number of people whinging and complaining about government changes rather than trying to find a solution. It’s all very well saying how everything was wonderful in the past – a fact both inaccurate and irritating, which then just limits any kind of solution-focused approach and so raises my blood pressure!  For my part, I presented the option of a social enterprise Children’s Centre in my usual, outspoken way.  This naturally resulted in a range of responses – including eyes rolling, amusement, attention, clapping and the aforementioned invitation. I avoided any caustic comments by using the time to network with the great and good.

So, given that many of our own staff are beginning to read the blog, below is what I believe a LEYF franchise may mean in ten years time:

  • Social enterprise nurseries are now considered the first and natural choice for all parents; they are recognised as having a critical role to play not only in providing the best childcare but also in supporting and connecting families in the local community;
  • The design of a specifically social enterprise curriculum ensures social capital for all children;
  • Social enterprise nurseries are founded on a principle of supporting and taking care of a child’s wider abilities, leading to a growing sense of social responsibility and a readiness to act; in so doing establishing a greater degree solidarity and tolerance;
  • A quality mark exists to help parents clearly identify a social enterprise nursery in a crowded market; the mark is also a form of quality assurance, making sure the values of social enterprise are embedded and implemented to the full;
  • Social enterprise childcare has become the leading example of best practice across the sector and so a symbol of quality for all children; no longer locked within such a limiting concept as so often bestowed on PVIs of being simply ‘good enough for the poor and disadvantaged’;
  • Social enterprise childcare is now a recognised sector in itself, a real influence on corporate direction, part of corporate management programmes and considered critical to corporate social responsibility;
  • The social enterprise childcare sector has become a leading driver for change in public services;
  • Clear means of measuring and assessing the associated benefits of a social enterprise approach to childcare have been established and are now widely recognised within ‘value-added’ qualities or transitions, such as improved well-being, employability and active citizenship;
  • A strong social enterprise childcare network now exists with the weight and purpose to shape and change both Early Years policy and community regeneration, along with development and contractual procurement on a local, regional, national and international scale;
  • Links between social enterprise childcare services and the reduction of child poverty are clear, with a direct and measurable contribution to reducing the 3.9 million children living in poverty, with all the attendant health costs as they become adults;
  • An intergenerational approach to everything is explicitly embedded in the social enterprise childcare model, recognising that sometimes the younger generation is best placed to deal with issues challenging their community such as drugs, disadvantage, poverty and race.

Does the above sound like a dream to you – or a nightmare?  Let me know what you think or how you see the future of social enterprise or childcare.  Simply rate or comment on this post below and share with colleagues via Twitter, Facebook or email using the usual, handy links!

Ideas to make your head spin in Bethnal Green

I have had the most interesting week. Despite the weather and incompetent overground trains trying to keep me at home, the 209 bus and Piccadilly line ensured the commute from west London, although longer, was possible.  So hear hear for them.

Two activities spurred me on: a useful visit from a local politician with whom I could talk local community action, then two days at the School for Social Entrepreneurs exploring the intricacies of social franchise.

At LEYF we have been developing a means of franchising our social enterprise childcare model for the past year. Working with an academic partnership we have begun to codify the model and the processes. It’s no small challenge, since codifying a philosophy in a way that tells a clear story and has the right processes in place is much more complex than it first seems. The opportunities provided by the SSE to hear from commercial franchisors as well as the benefit of Geoff Mulgan from the Young Foundation proved sufficiently challenging to make my head spin.

In this climate, organisations can take two paths: one to keep small and lean, the other to grow, scale up or replicate the model.  Franchising is a good way to do the latter; and despite the doom and gloom, a well organised, canny social enterprise operator should be honing all their entrepreneurial skills to make the most of any opportunity. Indeed, we may never get these chances again.

For those of us in the world of childcare, now more than ever before, we have a real duty to do something.  Children from poorer backgrounds will be the losers in the current re-shifting of priorities, one of many clear points made in the recent Frank Field Report.

To this end, the franchise option seems to play out in three ways: the product, in our case community and Children Centre nurseries; the service we provide, and the way we do things.

At LEYF I hope to use this opportunity to hammer home what we have been saying for a long while, namely that intergenerational children’s centres are the way forward, nurseries need to be community based and socially enterprising approaches have a part to play in the nursery market place.

My week finished on an uplifting note: a cup of tea with a friend who is trying to stay positive in Tower Hamlets, followed by a fundraising carol concert for the wonderful charity Rainbow Trust, which supports children who have life threatening illnesses. The voices of the young choristers in Urban Voices rang out and uplifted us with their enthusiasm and optimism.  On a cold Friday night it was simply the icing on the cake.