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Investing in people and ideas

This opinion piece is about 10 years old

Claire Carpenter, managing director of The Melting Pot, believes the Big Lottery Fund in Scotland needs to invest in people and ideas to ensure social innovation can thrive in Scotland

Claire Carpenter, director of the Melting Pot
Claire Carpenter, director of the Melting Pot

In the third sector, we are constantly being asked to emulate the private sector, as if they've got all the good ideas in their world and we've got everything to learn. But actually it's a two way street.

Look at the way ethical business practices are becoming the norm across the private sector – assuming this is manifesting a radical new reality and is not just a cynical marketing ploy.

Here in the world of social innovation we have plenty more ideas for creating a better and sustainable future for us all.

How do our sparkling innovators, the ones with a track record in making a difference for the benefit of everyone, find the resources needed to investigate, explore, ruminate, and commit to the next social change programme?

However, one thing I think we can learn from from private business is to better invest in people, not just in ideas. When a private entrepreneur has established a successful business, she can pay off the mortgage, line something up for her retirement and put some resources into the next venture.

More than this, she can buy herself time for scoping out the next big thing. Even if she hasn't accumulated this much wealth, there will be pals in her networks who've recognised what she's done and who say: I'd back that person again. There will be people prepared to invest to see where she might go next.

This is not the case for social entrepreneurs.

How do our sparkling innovators, the ones with a track record in making a difference for the benefit of everyone, find the resources needed to investigate, explore, ruminate, and commit to the next social change programme?

A £10,000 fund for Investing in Ideas is welcome but it doesn't cut the mustard. And it usually goes to a consultant with a short term relationship to the project.

The wonderful Enterprise Ready Fund needs you to be ready to go – it doesn't allow the entrepreneurial team the time and money to develop their idea unless it's a new role for a new person sourced through an open process. Sometimes this is what's needed, but nurturing social innovation really requires investment in that key individual.

The Development Trust Association Scotlandhas already identified this issue and been bold in their approach to new investment. They understand that research and development takes time, time that enterprising leaders don't have – unless they're resourced. In the third sector, we are in a day to day struggle to make ends meet, to keep the business alive, without making a profit at the expense of customers with few resources of their own. So, where is the investment to enable you to take time and innovate, while ensuring your existing social business continues to thrive?

The Big Lottery Fund is currently considering and consulting on how it will invest in the third sector over the next ten years. My challenge to it is to see beyond the idea, and see the people making waves in our sector: identify and invest in them. These are the social innovators who will transform our lives and communities in the 21st century; these are the people we want private sector business to emulate and be inspired by. We need research and development to be part of our standard business model. What is there to lose? The biggest risk is not that we make mistakes but that we lose our best entrepreneurial people because they leave our sector or get stuck.

Be bold in your investments Big Lottery Fund. Understand that developing a successful social enterprise is far harder than setting up a successful private business. Our challenges are more intractable, our context more complex, our services difficult to deliver and our organisations tricky to govern. Support the leading edge of the sector, that's the people who are working tirelessly on the next generation of ideas to create social change.

Claire Carpenter is founder and managing director of The Melting Pot

The Melting Pot is Scotland's Centre for Social Innovation. As part of its work, it supports 10 people to develop their ideas and non-profit organisation through a year-long Social Innovation Incubation Award (SIIA) programme. Applications for the SIIA programme are open till the end of June 2014.



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Mamie Donald
about 10 years ago
Well done, Claire. I thoroughly agree with all that you say. It's hard finding time for research and development while attempting to keep a Social Enterprise afloat. The people with the ideas need a lot more support. A good article and well expressed- thank you.
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