In 2008, following conversations at Pool Innovation Centre and later after meetings in Truro, resonating in my mind was that social enterprise held solutions to a wide range of inequities. En-route to co-establishing Fotonow as a CIC in 2009, the ideas of Bob Northey, a social enterprise development worker in Cornwall, chimed well with my perceived values and social enterprise felt a good shape to grow through.
Now, 15 years later, and with an unbroken exploration of social enterprise through many experiences, as a Director for Plymouth Social Enterprise Network and Jabulani CIC, that conviction for the potential of social enterprise to be an agent of profound social transformation remains. In 2009, Plymouth felt like a wild west of social enterprise, but I’ve watched how its culture has steadily permeated and defines our City.
In 2024, PSEN’s Anti-Racism Plan, seeks to define these values in the potential of transformative action: placing equity, and intentional anti-racist behaviour into the core structure of the enterprise, in support of evolving the values that underpin the network in the membership. To be a fit for purpose Social Enterprise City for the next ten years and beyond, this strategy is a vital foundation for the direction we travel.
Through social enterprise we nurture a culture for our children, and as a father to multiracial English girls, I hope they’ll see an improving Plymouth in which they say to themselves that this is a city I want to grow my business in; a city in which I clearly see myself; a city where young multi-ethnic people are confidently doing enterprise on their terms; a city that supports and vibrates with the multi-ethnic children of rural and urban England.
Social Enterprise in Plymouth must be a conscious part of the solution to the inequity experienced by people of colour. This anti-racism plan provides a compass to clearly consider anti-racist activity within our network. It presents a method to sustain us in being true to our values through making deliberate actions to be an ally against racism. Saying we’re not racist is not enough. Our actions are louder than our words.
What do an artisan papermaker, outdoor activities instructor, poet, change agent, workspace designer and social researcher have in common? We all run our own businesses. We are all motivated by social justice. We are all members of NeuDICE CIC. And we are all gloriously neurodivergent.
Neurodiversity is the natural human condition: no two people make sense of the world the same way. Humanity is diverse. But, somehow, some ways of experiencing and making sense of the world became seen as normal and healthy while others are seen as divergent or more usually weird or broken. (If neurodiversity/neurodivergence is a new concept to you, NeuDICE Plymouth can be found at The Plot most days and you can book a half hour slot to learn more – or book our half-day training for your business).
NeuDICE is working for a world that values and relishes human neurodiversity. We have to work for this because the world needs all of our skills and talents, all of our ways of making sense of the world, all of our ways of understanding the social issues of the day that social enterprises exist to address. The world does not just need neurodivergent people. Equally, the world cannot survive with only neurotypical people, the people for whom society and business are currently organised.
In the meantime, while we work towards a wonderful neuroinclusive world, we are creating a community for the business outsiders. Our community is a safe space for those who have believed they are broken because society tells them they are. We are community open to people who are often called weirdos behind their backs and treated as outsiders. [as an aside, when friends of our co-founder Anne have watched the Barbie Movie, they have all laughed when they saw Weird Barbie (who is called that to her face and behind her back) and thought “That’s so Anne”. And Anne is happy with that. Like Weird Barbie, she and we can feel isolated and excluded but can also be the heroes a society needs precisely because we can see and be and do what others cannot]. We are the innovators, the visionaries, the changemakers. We are these simply by existing in public life and within the business world.
And yet, we are outsiders. We can find it hard to get established. It takes longer. We need to find new ways because we cannot access the established ways into the business and social business worlds. As outsiders, we needed the support and allyship of insiders to get started. We’d like to thank PSEN, POP, Nudge and UnLtd for their support and for opening doors for us to grow and thrive in Plymouth.
Here’s to being stronger together in all our glorious human diversity.
As we step into 2024, the landscape ahead seems both familiar and challenging. The echoes of 2023 linger, with new geopolitical tensions and General Elections looming in the UK and the USA. Amidst this global backdrop, Plymouth – the Social Enterprise City, stands as a beacon of success, riding high on a triumphant Ten-Year Anniversary.
Our accomplishments resonate nationally, impressing Social Enterprise UK and capturing the interest of SIB Group. Hanna Latif, SIB’s Partnership Manager, witnessed our festival launch event, paving the way for their funding and investment partners to experience the vibrant social enterprise scene in Plymouth this coming February. The heart of PSEN lies in its engaged members, ready to build on this momentum.
At the festival, the message was clear: “We are PSEN, but YOU are Plymouth’s Social Enterprise Network.” Unpacking this, PSEN is more than an entity; it’s a community driven by individual members, the lifeblood of the network. Our members are networked into groups and communities that connect up our city and reach far beyond it. Amerie, Matt, Gareth, and the Board constitute the machine, with PSEN’s existence dependent on the synergy between the machine and its members.
However, a health check of the machine reveals financial challenges. While reserves exist, key team members face contract deadlines. Monthly running costs outpace income from membership fees, prompting a critical review. The team is diligently working on two solutions.
Firstly, the exploration of a revamped membership model and fee structure aims to ensure sustainability. The unchanged fee and offer for seven years prompt a need for innovation. Could deeper partnerships and sponsorship from organisations in Plymouth and beyond be the answer? These questions highlight the intricate balance between power, association, and equity, requiring careful consideration.
Secondly, developing financially rewarding links to funders and financers. The SIB opportunity adds an exciting dimension. If members succeed in securing finance through SIB, PSEN benefits. Proactive support and mentoring increase success rates, prompting PSEN to consider applying to SIB itself.
The transparency in sharing the financial snapshot emphasises that PSEN is the community’s network. The challenges we face are not hidden; they’re part of our collective journey. This year, as we navigate a challenging landscape, collaboration becomes paramount. The call is not just to members but to collaborators and partners.
To this end, the final calls to action are powerful:
Work together. Whether it is prioritising your procurement from a fellow member of this network, forming a partnership to win a contract, remember that you are not alone, and that we are stronger together.
Strengthen our collective social media voice – when we or you post, we can all post and amplify our collective message. The power of our network lies in its unity.
Remember to send PSEN your news – from social impact success to events. Share your stories, and the whole network shares in your achievements.
Looking ahead, start thinking about the Social Enterprise City Festival 2024 NOW. ‘What is already in your calendar? What can you start planning for now? This is our festival so let’s use it to showcase your work while enjoying the benefit of the PSEN machine’s amplification.
This is a valuable chance for members to ponder their organisation’s priorities and challenges, envision ways PSEN the network and PSEN the machine can help, and identify contributions to potential collaborations or partnerships. Together, as collaborators and partners, we can navigate the challenges that lie ahead.
Network Coordinator Amerie Rose shares her thoughts, as we transition from the reflections of our anniversary year celebrations, toward planning for Plymouth’s future as a globally leading Social Enterprise City.
I just took a peak at what Ecosia threw back at me when I posed the search question, ‘2033 Future Proof’.
There were some good solid landing places. The UK will have phased out 2G and 3G; AUDI will have halved its factory costs through conserving resources and phasing out production of its combustion models; and the UK government’s Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) will be eagerly anticipating the end of a ten year Investment Zone spend and the maturation of the inaugural Green Gilt.
I then fell down a rabbit hole. I stumbled across an AI generated predictions site which told me of a world where the Internet of Things (IoT) and wearable tech will ‘painlessly and frequently test your unique DNA every time you try to access their services’.
Fortunately, I was pulled back out by Mr Wolf who was quietly and insistently in my aural background reminding me that, ‘…the world is creaking under the strain of this in-ordinarily complicated mass of humanity…’ and that it would be a good time to remember, ‘…what you came here for, what you came to be a part of.’
More than any other time in my working life, in Plymouth I feel a part of something far larger than my own daily world. Through my unique lens, I see a place where the ‘complicated mass of humanity’ is slowly but surely organising itself around a coherent and interconnected vision of a future that people not only want to be a part of but are proactively co-creating. I sit in the centre of my PSEN web and see a network of people, projects and ideas that stretches out further than my own threads could ever be cast.
Who knows where I and we will be in ten years time? Year on year, I find myself amazed and in awe of all that is happening and questioning the influence my one life can have in the face of eight billion other people who have ideas about how it should be. And so, to engage in a way that is meaningful, I tend to my bit by weaving in what I can, tying together detached parts and creating new connections. I find myself dancing between ‘following the breadcrumb trail’ and ‘working on my nets’. Let me explain both these metaphors…
Following the Breadcrumb Trail
Relevance (noun): Its importance or significance in that situation or to that person. (Collins Dictionary)
Since abandoning my known world and moving to West Devon, I have actively embraced what I call ‘The Breadcrumb Trail’. It is a belief that somewhere deep inside, I have got a clue what I am up to. I trust that, if I remain vigilant to what seems relevant, the path will continue to emerge and will continue to lead me to fortune. Sometimes it may feel as though I am lost in the woods, but sometimes that is exactly what is needed to get to where I actually need to go. When Hansel laid his path of bread, his intention was that it would guide he and Gretel home. But the bread fed the forest creatures instead. So all they had left was an invisible path, which – eventually – led them to their fortune.
It turns out that ‘Breadcrumb Navigation’ is also ‘a thing’ out there in tech. It is your compass, your anchor point, and they say we should all be using it to make our digital spaces more accessible. However, I am not sure that those who have adopted this term have ever actually read the original fairytale. Those who have may be concerned what the digital equivalent of a ‘bird’ might be, and whether all ‘Mr Wolfs’ are to be trusted.
What is clear from my foray into 2033 predictions, and my own sense of what is to come, is that to second guess humanity would mean allowing my ego to drive me off a cliff edge into insanity. The Breadcrumb Trail has done me well so far. It brought me to Plymouth, it embedded me in PSEN, and through this I have been nourished with the validation that there is, in fact, a small but relevant part I can play with and contribute to this world.
Working on my nets
Network: noun – a system of things which are connected and which operate together; verb – to meet new people who might be useful to you in your job. (Collins Dictionary)
Like all other networks, Plymouth Social Enterprise Network’s functionality rests in being a network within a network of networks.
The core team who deliver PSEN have two primary purposes: 1) to coordinate the existing network (noun) of Plymouth’s social enterprises. 2) To activate the network through providing opportunities for the network (noun) to network (verb). Through these activities, PSEN create and maintain the pathways which connect our members to each other and to the wider networks which PSEN have access to.
To maintain PSEN’s relevance through to 2033, we need to ensure that every social entrepreneur in Plymouth can see themselves reflected, resourced and represented by PSEN. As we go forwards, the core team will continue to work proactively on relationship development with the people and projects who are operating in Plymouth but who may not currently identify themselves with our core mission. We call this Building Bridges and Pathways.
To forge a new path on unchartered ground takes a lot of resources. When we don’t have that resource to hand, we can only follow the pathways that have already been created by those who have gone before. The PSEN core team tend to those pathways and clear the way for them to interact, thus enabling access to the learning and opportunities that have already been set in stone.
It follows that the more diverse our network of pathways is, the less likely we will get stuck in tried and tested ways and the more likely we will discover pathways anew. The diversity of our network reaches far across peoples, communities, sectors, ambitions and geography. As a network, PSEN are focussed on realising a more socially enterprising economy that helps to create a more equal world with zero poverty, and zero carbon emissions. We cannot do that unless we create a system whereby everyone in Plymouth can #BePartOfTheSolution. We call this Diversity by Design and we will be bringing greater resource to this work-stream over the coming year.
Where do we go from here?
When PSEN’s primary purpose is enabled, we look forward to innovating further into a third space: 3) Casting our net.
In 2024, the core PSEN team will be delivering activities which will open up new social investment opportunities and taking steps to ensure that we have a Future Workforce who are ready to take on the challenges and opportunities of the next ten years and beyond. We will be curating partnerships between our members so that they are #StrongerTogether and reaching out to communities and businesses who are looking to become part of our movement. We will be further placing Plymouth on the world map as a city to be learned from by bringing in national and international visitors for knowledge exchange and partnership development.
Over the past ten years, Plymouth has proven itself as a place where we are #DoingBusinessDifferently and making a real, positive difference to people and planet. Over the next ten years, let’s continue to coordinate and activate our network of networks and ensure that our pebbles on the path are noticed far and wide by all those who are both lost and found in the woods.
Network Coordinator and Activator
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