Tag Archives: SROI

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.

How do you measure SROI at a social enterprise garden party?

On Friday, 1st July, over 200 LEYF staff – now spread across Barking & Dagenham, Camden, Tower Hamlets and Westminster – came together in the beautiful garden of our Carlton Hill community nursery to celebrate our achievements in building a better future for London’s children, by providing excellent childcare to 1500 children each year.  It was a heartening experience and, with some clever planning and budgeting, staff were provided with great food and drink to go with a very happy and positive atmosphere.

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Rewarding staff and celebrating success within a reasonable budget is not to be sneezed at.  Like all sensible organisations, we are always looking for more effective ways to extend what we do more quickly and efficiently; too many children remain in poverty in London and we know that good childcare can actually make both an immediate and a long-term difference to their lives and the lives of their children.

Our own research into the social return on investing in LEYF actually shows a minimum value of £13,392 over the working lifetime of every child coming to a LEYF nursery from a high income family, a figure more than doubling to £29,401 for those children who come to us from more disadvantaged backgrounds (both figures over and above the accepted impact for early intervention reported across the sector).  Even more interestingly, the vast majority of this impact in each cases comes from LEYF’s role in addressing the weaknesses of the Home Environment (83%).  As a leader with the power to roll this out beyond our current 22 nurseries, I have no choice but to shape the organisation to this end.

As Frank Martin and Marcus Thompson say in their book Social Enterprise (2010),

No matter how talented the entrepreneur, businesses only grow when they have the right top team and the spread of passion and vision of the founder throughout the workforce.”

Back at Carlton Hill, and in the true spirit of Jane Austen, I took a turn around the garden with a number of staff.  Whilst they may have been on the look out for Mr Darcy, I was keener to take the temperature of the organisation from as many perspectives as possible – and was delighted by the entrepreneurial and responsive attitudes of so many staff; all wanting to reassure me how they were on top of key business issues such as occupancy, debt and fee collection, whilst still very much focused on providing a quality service to children and parents.  But my heart really soared after a conversation with three LEYF apprentices – Sade, Kelly-Anne and Rebecca.

Many of our apprentices could be described as NEETS (not in education, employment or training) and as such have come to us with a history of poor experience in schools and at home.  The result can be young people coming to us demonstrating a range of attitudes – from a combination of defensive, surly and wary to those delighted to be given a chance to prove their worth.  However, what our CRLD team (Mine, Gill and Gary) soon find is that using the LEYF enrichment programme to prepare the apprentices for life at LEYF and beyond, the majority want to, can and indeed do very well.

The three apprentices I spoke with were definitely on the road to success: they were lively, positive and informed.  They talked to me with confidence about childcare quality, brain development, Early Year’s pioneers and occupancy.  More inspiring still, they had ideas about new ways of doing things to make our service even better.  It was clear they liked children and wanted to ensure they would improve the lives of every child they met everyday.  As such, they were the epitome of the culture and attitude we continue to enjoy at LEYF and was inevidence all around me that evening.  I left the event feeling absolutely determined to extend the service we offer, not only to more children but to more 16 to 18 year olds who also need the right intervention to crack the second line of disadvantage.

So here is the shout out for Sade, Kelly-Anne and Rebecca, who not only represent our current cohort of LEYF apprentices, but have the real potential to be future entrepreneurial leaders in the sector.  In our experience, apprentices need to be nurtured and praised, and not only across LEYF.  So let’s add them to our list of things to celebrate.

Here at LEYF, they want to be known as BEETS: Bright, Engaged, Educated Trainees, and so they should.  Go guys, and make us proud.

No half measures when it comes to social impact

There is much talk at the moment about the importance of measurement, including a reference to it in many of the speeches I listened to during the TUC march through London against public spending cuts on Saturday (itself a very uplifting and peaceful process which took me back to the marches of the 80s).  The fact is there has always been talk of how we measure the difference we can make, only over the years it was sunk in a pond full of targets.

So, I am pleased to now hear ‘why we need to know if we make a difference’; the only trouble this time around is that much of what is being said is poppycock, and expressed by people who have been on a course – or worse still, now think they are the experts!  A little knowledge is a dangerous thing, especially since in the wrong hands measurement will be misused and become either a financial measurement of success or a target in a commission. In fact measurement used wisely is neither of those things.

We have already seen how confusion over the concept of measuring impact has led many children centres to collect data that has often been neither appropriate, relevant nor actually helped tell the story of the real difference their centre was genuinely making.  In such cases, those concerned simply failed to understand the distinction between input, outputs, outcomes and impact.

Nowadays, we also hear a lot about payment by results which essentially means that a proportion of the payment, from central or local government to providers, is dependent on achieving specified results – for example, a reduction in reconvictions among young offenders.  Elsewhere, Graham Allen and his team have introduced us to the concept of creating funds to develop services using Social Impact Bonds (SIB).  SIBs are designed to secure upfront investment from non-government sources, such as charitable foundations and private individuals, and could offer a real chance to invest in early intervention services.  Investors will then receive their returns from the government once the specified, measured outcomes have been achieved; what’s more, such defined improvements to the service ultimately lead to savings from the public purse.

At LEYF we have spent the last year finding a way of measuring our social return on investment. Social return on investment (SROI) is an approach that aims to capture the social and environmental benefits of a service. The process involves talking with stakeholders to identify what social value means to them; finding appropriate indicators of change taking place and comparing the financial value of the social change created to the financial cost of producing these changes. An SROI ratio is a comparison between the value being generated by the impact of an intervention, and the investment required to achieve that impact.

In our case, we essentially wanted to know what everyone was getting from choosing to use, work or train in a LEYF nursery; it was a laborious but interesting process. The data gathered was used to track the progress of the children, staff members and our apprentices, measuring the outcomes, whether we made a difference and by what amount, before finally benchmarking this against meaningful proxies such as a national average for similar services.  It has involved talking to many, many people – including seeking their opinion on the very measures to adopt.  What we learned from this was that achieving meaningful measurement is far from simple if you want to produce helpful and relevant results.

Over the past few months, I have been talking with and presenting to local authority commissioners about how they might most effectively invest their limited funds in supporting childcare. They struck me as people who genuinely want to get a good service for their clients but are stymied by lack of funds, European rules, lack of direction from their ‘betters’ and uncertainties as to which service will provide the best option. Measurement seems to be the final straw for them, as they try and find solutions to many of the most intractable social ills.

However, there is a wealth of information available and lots of ideas of different ways to commission for better outcomes. We know about the best length of a contract (minimum 5 years), the importance of forming relationships with commissioners, keeping monitoring sharp, focused and helpful, sorting TUPE, dealing with the legal team and the many other issues commissioners and providers have to iron out.  Surely then, this must be the perfect time to pull all these ideas into a coherent whole and move forward?

What’s needed now is a consortia or network based on the principle of Early Intervention; it would bring together providers, commissioners and investors to explore how we might firstly devise a financial vehicle to invest and fund new initiatives and secondly develop a set of plans, ideas and tools to help us measure the results.  Without such a three-way conversation, such a co-ordinated and collaborative approach, we will continue to talk about this complicated, abstract concept in our own little silos with little progress, much confusion and some awful policy decisions the only outcomes.  In the meantime, we will be inundated with toolkits, which will be neatly placed on a shelf and forgotten about.

Right now, what we really need is to be as connected to others as possible.  If nothing else, for starters this would bring the conversation about measurement, outcomes, social investment, payment by results and social return out of the darkness and into the light. Perhaps it is something our new strategic partners at the DfE can develop?

As always, please send me your comments below and continue this conversation with friends and colleagues via email and your favourite social networks.  Where the future of this debate is concerned, I look forward to your personal inputs..!

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Ready to grasp the nettle of our ‘hands-free’ future?

What would Lord Shaftsbury, Mary Carpenter or Dr Barnardo make of the ongoing political battle of what to cut and what to save?  What would they make of the government’s sudden hands-off approach, as the local authority squeals how their hands are tied and the rest of the sector stands by frustrated, trying to work out their own place or possible options in this brave/scary (delete as appropriate) new world?

Many charity and voluntary sector organisations are being criticised for keeping far too quiet whilst they try to save themselves.  Forget that approach, have some spirit and pluck; we might as well go down fighting under government opprobrium and local authority cuts.

At LEYF, we are nothing if not hands on.  And like most social entrepreneurs (fundamentally optimistic), we are disturbed to see how rapidly the original intention and real potential to develop and extend this big society seems to be evaporating before our very eyes.  Whilst the designated carer or white knight (aka third sector) of this new world paradoxically faces cuts in the region of 40%, we find ourselves no less immune – needing to magic one million pounds worth of ‘efficiencies’ out of the mutual-inspired hat. And with a good chunk of this due to a drastic reduction in places for children in need, I can only say ‘poor souls’… whilst echoes of the Victorian hymn ‘Suffer Little Children‘ reverberate around the back streets of Westminster and other similarly challenged London boroughs.

However, our philanthropic forefathers (and mothers, naturally) were not ones to roll over in a fiscal crisis, and neither must we. Our task now is to lead and balance criticism of the cuts with a practical and pragmatic set of solutions that can be woven into a clear and coherent philosophy.

But what does this mean; what can and in fact must we actually do..?  First of all, we need to decide what we want.  If early intervention is the mantra, what should it look like?  If Graham Allen wants bankers to invest by developing social impact bonds, what does this impact need to look like to convince them?  If we are to become truly persuasive and achieve our goals, we need to rethink the short-sighted nature of our current response – which at best is all about Children’s Centres (as if they were in every case the embodiment of perfection) and at worst saving individual settings without a sense of responsibility for the bigger picture.

And let us remember the crucial role of professional childcare at the heart of the debate, especially for those children from poor and disadvantaged families.  Let us certainly not forget all we have learned from the huge range of research carried out over the past 10 years – such as the fact that attending high quality preschool has a positive impact on the development of every child, and is even more essential when making a difference to the outcomes of the most dispossessed amongst them.

Our social business model at LEYF gives a great many parents access to such quality daycare for their children, providing both with the range of opportunities they need to step up and make a difference to their own life chances.  Let’s see more of this: we need to help parents believe in self-efficacy, with more consistent and effective dialogue between parents and professionals to help give them greater confidence in supporting their own children; we need to create a more family centred approach to safe guarding; instead of closing libraries and stopping funds for reading recovery (another gross irony in 2011, the National Year of Communication), we need to fund services that will encourage parents to read to their children, since this is undeniably another critical factor in the educational success of young children.

Elsewhere, let’s examine improvements to commissioning; apply the Total Place model and use carrot and stick to induce cross borough collaboration.  And if you’re lost in translation, start by reading pages 8 and 69 of the Graham Allen Report ‘Early Intervention: The Next Steps‘; it will help us mull over the many options.  Remember the wise words of Winston Churchill, and let’s make sure that ‘out of intense complexities intense simplicities emerge’.

Whatever your individual circumstance or priorities right now, we must find a way of weaving a simple but effective message, stating how together we can mitigate any further risks to the futures of those children we care for.  As Eleanor Roosevelt once said, ‘It is today we must create the world of the future.’  So whatever we do, let’s do it with a real purpose and enthusiasm; and as always, with the child at the heart.

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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Sing a song of sixpence

The year is once again fast drawing to a close. Each one seems to go by faster and faster; and this one especially was twelve months at quick march time. Still, there does appear to be a modicum of calm about this Christmas and the full horrors of commercialisation does not feel quite so overpowering somehow, I am relieved to say.

Our nurseries start their Christmas preparations in December (and not a day before), and so the festivities are now very much in full swing. Dress rehearsals for festive plays are round every corner, and Father Christmas is very busy popping up all over the place.

Some nurseries have also visited local homes for the elderly to sing Christmas songs with them. I hope that from now on this will be a core feature of our Christmas plan at LEYF, since those who have done so say the shared delight across the generations was lovely to behold and very uplifting. Surely, that is what the spirit of Christmas is all about; a reaching out to others, a time to think about how we weave a better and more connected society. Ubuntu time.

This year we have also started working with War Child, a small international charity set up to support children devastated by war. Three LEYF staff used their annual leave to volunteer in Uganda (the safest of the War Child countries) where they helped to develop a play based teaching plan. Shocked by the real trauma suffered, but inspired by the warmth, resilience and capability of the children, we have promised to do more.

As a very small start, this Christmas we have asked staff and parents to donate the cost of one present to War Child. I hope it works. For more on this and to make a small donation yourself, I implore you to read more by clicking here.

The year ends with the promise of more economic challenges, public sector cuts and rising unemployment, accompanied by tax rises and inflation. It’s not a joyful proposition. Still, despite all of this, opportunities do exist and we continue to explore better ways of supporting more children.

One way for us to do this would be as more people consider the LEYF model; this way we may finally see our intergenerational centre ideas accepted and perhaps also be able to expand our apprenticeship programmes. We are certainly working very hard to get people to listen. We are making stronger partnerships with like-minded organisations, and our project to measure our impact is progressing well, held up only by the slow completion of questionnaires (some things never change).

When I was a child I was often told I was a bold girl, it’s an Irish term for defiance. Goethe said that boldness had genius, power and magic in it. To overcome the challenges of 2011, I strongly believe that we must concoct our own version of boldness – and maybe sprinkle it with a little LEYF magic from our children, parents, staff, apprentices and supporters. It’s likely to be quite a spirited brew!

So, with thanks to everyone that has listened, read, acted and supported us over the past year – not least of all our own staff – may I wish you all a very Happy Christmas.