Talking Heads – putting social entrepreneurs at the heart of what we do
UnLtd’s Director of Reasearch and Impact, Hannah Stranger-Jones, and Stephen Bediako, an UnLtd Trustee and founder of The Social Innovation Partnership, discuss how UnLtd can learn from and respond to the last 12 months.
This is an article taken from our 2017 Impact Report.
Hannah: There’s been a lot going on outside of UnLtd in the last 12 months. What’s changed for social entrepreneurs and what can UnLtd do to better support enterprising people doing good?
Stephen: There’s an opportunity for UnLtd to think about what it means to activate social entrepreneurs in our society. Historically, it’s been about providing skills, support, access to networks, but could it become about social entrepreneurs coming up alongside UnLtd to deliver the change society needs?
Hannah: I like that challenge. We’re testing out having a social entrepreneur in residence. Someone embedded in UnLtd, who can challenge our perceptions and processes, but that’s just a start.
We’ve started working on Leaders with Lived Experience, a project that’s looking at how we can support those with experience of a social issue to be involved with solutions. Having Sade (our social entrepreneur in residence) involved in that is at the heart of what’s making the project feel so promising.
Stephen: For UnLtd, one of the challenges I’ve seen historically is how do you curate an alumni network. What does it look like to engage with the thousands of social entrepreneurs you’ve supported?
Hannah: Good question. Something we’ve heard from our social entrepreneurs is that they feel that they fall off a cliff at the end of one of our awards. We’re creating a digital platform for social entrepreneurs to support each other and share learning – that could become a platform for a movement of social entrepreneurs driving change independent of UnLtd.
Stephen: It’s great to hear that the organisation has that level of self-accountability. What does that mean in practice? What have you learnt?
Hannah: We’ve shifted our focus to caring more about learning and impact. Now we ask; what are we doing well and how can we do more of it? But also, where can we improve?
One thing that we’re exploring at the moment is the diversity of the social entrepreneurs we support. We noticed that our outreach to social entrepreneurs at the startup stage is brilliant, we support all sorts of people from different backgrounds. But that drops a bit for our scaling programmes. We trying to understand what’s going on there and how we tackle it.
More generally we want to ask ourselves, does our support to meet the needs of social entrepreneurs? We hope new projects like the UnLtd Impact Fund will do just that.
Stephen: With the UnLtd Impact Fund, it’s interesting to see that you’ll be working with social entrepreneurs for a longer period, especially in a sector that is so used to cookie-cutter style, 6 or 12 month programmes. Why do that?
Hannah: It’s about exploring what we can do that’s really in the service of social entrepreneurs, and moving away from a place where social entrepreneurs have had to fit into the systems and structures of funders.
Stephen: I like that phrase ‘in service’. It’s fascinating, if you look at something like the social investment market, it does feel like it’s in service of investors.
Hannah: It’s a big culture shift, but it feels essential. In the 12 months ahead, we won’t have all the solutions, but we will be working deeply with social entrepreneurs to better understand how we can bring them into the design of the support and opportunities we offer in a meaningful way.