Never Mind the Bullocks, Social E in the UK

I’m just back from a great (albeit short) speaking gig over in Birmingham, England, at Voice 09, a stellar event sponsored by the UK’s Social Enterprise Coalition.

This was my second speaking gig in the UK, the previous being at the first Social Enterprise World Forum, held last year in Edinburgh. And like that previous journey, I was once again blown away by what I learned. I was equally thrilled to be in the musical city of Birmingham, home of Sabbath, Judas Priest, Dexy’s Midnight Runners, UB40, Steel Pulse and Duran Duran (for those of you who, like me, are hungry like the wolf).

And I am hungry–for new ideas, bold thinking, real leadership and the fellowship of those who are trying to pull all three together.

I tell you….if I was younger, I would SO venture outside of the US right now, to see what’s going on in so many other countries, where people are not so limited in their thinking, or so incumbered by the traditions of charity. For so many others, outside of the US, experiments like social enterprise, micro-credit and nonprofit political engagement–well, it’s not academic, or “wouldn’t it be nice” stuff….for many it’s economic (or literal) life and death.

That’s why it so funny to read op-eds from some of the old guard in the US who are bucking at the notion of social enterprise (yes, they find it that threatening). They purposely try to make it out as boutique projects of starry eyed young dreamers. They suggest that the President is being “fooled” into thinking social enterprise can address big social issues. Like tired old generals asking for more money for just one more surge, they just can’t let go of their historic, but unproductive strategies. Well, the doorways that they are opening in the UK must be paid attention to.

For example–the government over there views the economic opportunity of social enterprise as so ripe with potential that they are investing heavily in its future, with the hope that it will produce upwards of 10% of their GNP in the next decade. THAT’S vision. In fact, the Mayor of Birmingham greeted the attendees with the pledge that his city would be the most progressive social enterprise city in the UK. When was the last time you heard of a US Mayor talk to nonprofit/NGO’s with that kind of enthusiasm and vigor?!?! You will.

They also have a new Minster for the Third Sector…which is an idea I hope to have considered here in the states, although I was really taken with the fellow who challenged the group to realize how lame it is to be considered “third anything”!!! Language does matter. In fact, a few suggested that while they dug having a full time Minister dedicated to developing the broader nonprofit sector, they worried that they were still viewed as “lesser thans” in an economic environment in which they are providing not just profit, but profit plus. Watch that change.

If you are interested in learing more, then join a growing army of bold doers at the April gathering of the US version, the Social Enterprise Alliance, which will convene the annual meeting of US based social entrepreneurs down in New Orleans, Louisiana.

Internationally, more and more doers from all points north, south, east and west are pulling together funds to make it to Melbourne, and the next gathering of the World Forum. If you are serious–so are they. Really—this is the spot to be!!!

And if you want to learn more about what’s going on in the UK, then sign up for Livewire, a daily e-newsletter from the truly fine folks at Social Enterprise Magazine.

But hear me, please–Social E is not THE answer. The old wags are 1/2 right. It’s NOT about taking the models to scale (although that’s cool). It’s not about having a new federal office in DC (although that would be cooler still). Social E does one thing important—it opens the door to a bold new strategy. It points to the advent of the consumer driven economy, and the demise of the consumption driven version that is tanking all around us. It’s about making your philanthropy the way you spend your money everyday. It’s about incentivizing corporate behaviors, so that we don’t have to legislate wage or social responsibility. It’s about the “buycott.” It’s Capitalism 2.0

It’s the future.

Stay tuned for more.