In October 2017 I was lucky enough to be invited to join as an external advisor on the Spark Social Enterprise Safari held in Belgium.
My background is someone who has worked as a business coach and consultant in the social enterprise space for 10+ years and runs their own social enterprise that enables CEOs to grow their enterprises by addressing their confusion and frustration around – how to create clarity of leadership, strategy and an enterprising culture.
I wanted to share a few observations and challenges from the trip – particularly from the enterprises we visited on a great bicycle tour of Ostend (no one told me it would be 30km!) – relevant to organisations being able to innovate and create social impact whether in the UK, Belgium or Holland.
1. Innovation can take a long time (investment and not a cost). Whilst the SPARK programme is a great start in terms of enabling organisations to develop a method of scaling innovations, it is just the START. The good people we met at www.burenhulp.be, who provide a wide range of inclusive services for the elderly, were very honest in how long it has taken them to develop their service innovation and on some of the mistakes they have made along the way. This reminded me of a great book I’ve read on positive learning from failure, marginal gains, creativity and innovation – Matthew Syed’s ‘Black Box Thinking’ – which is worth a read for any entrepreneur.
2. The power of telling a story. I was struck with the power of a video we were shown of The Ostend Street Orkestra. The video was inspirational for the viewer understanding – the who, what, when, why, how and where of the marginalised people that the orchestra works with and supports. My takeaways from this visit were:
i) Video has recently tipped over to 51% of the total content of the world-wide web. It is a very powerful medium to get your message across and is starting to replace the old-fashioned case study or report.
ii) If you can’t tell a good story about what you do then you will not fulfil your vision/ambition. It is vital to show funders, prove impact, put together a great crowdfunding campaign, get customers and engage a wide range of stakeholders etc. rganisations are now focusing on this element and getting smart so don’t get left behind.
3. Innovative use of technology. One of my favourite visits was to De Oesterbank www.oesterbank.be where they have transformed their supply chain business to compete alongside commercial organisations whilst being able to employ significant numbers of disabled people in meaningful/paid work.
A large warehouse may not be a crowd pleaser in terms of location, but it was very clever how they have deconstructed their operational processes into bitesize chunks and used technology to make the workplace accessible. For me it was good example of how you use technology/innovation to enable hard-to-reach groups to take part in every day work and not just focus solely on technology for the end consumer. And compete against pure commercial organisations.
My final thoughts on developing sustainable innovations, no matter which country you are from:
- Innovation does not happen without the input of the end user or customer. Understand the needs/problems and only then work on shaping the solution (service and value) that you are providing.
- Crowdfunding is a great way to test the market demand for your proposed product/service and raise much needed investment into your enterprise. Get the story right.
- But what comes first is clarity on your purpose, vision and values – the bedrock of all successful enterprises.
Any thoughts, questions, feedback to share on the above please do get in touch: Craig Carey, Director of Business, Bubble Chamber CIC firstname.lastname@example.org
(Photographs by Lynn Delbeeke)