Senscot Bulletin: 25.09.09

Dear members and friends,

This is not a normal Senscot bulletin – but a special edition to mark our 10th birthday – to place on record an outline of the Senscot story – to date. The celebratory gathering for members yesterday included a memorable address from social entrepreneur, Edgar Cahn.
 In 1999, I was without work – aged 59 – my prospects and morale sinking.  A report called ‘‘The Rise of the Social Entrepreneur’’ caught my interest; simultaneously friends at the Big Issue in Glasgow asked me to look at developing a network to connect individuals across Scotland doing exciting things in their communities – social entrepreneurs.  I’m not sure about fate – but the way things happen – serendipity – can point the way to go.  There was no money, but I sensed that this was an idea that would fly; thankfully 10 years later, we’re still flying.  So aged 60, I got the chance of a new career – and Scotland’s sedate third sector got Senscot – a brash new kid on the block to shake things up a bit.  Senscot’s mission is to offer a rallying point to individuals – often isolated – who are trying to change things – right wrongs – make thinks fairer; if some vested interests are upset along the way – that’s life.  It is our privilege to help Scotland’s ‘changemakers’ shape the future.
 These bulletin intros remain popular – but just how they connect with our work – is not obvious.  Perhaps they offer a balance to all the shop talk.  They are personal stories – but the ones which work best could be about anyone.  Maybe they remind us that ‘‘for a’that and a’that’’ – we are none of us much different.

Senscot is a limited company with charitable status – we have 108 members – 8 directors and 7 staff – here we all are . Our annual turnover is around £350k – most of which is restricted funding from Scottish Govt. and the Lottery.  We have minimal reserves . Our work falls into three main areas; the weekly bulletin for which I have lead responsibility; our face to face work – developing partnerships and networks – which Colin leads; and the development of new services which Aidan leads – alongside overall management.  There follows a brief outline of each of these 3 areas – but first a word about some Senscot’s traditions.

Senscot has a tradition of not growing too big.  We have frequently helped establish new services – but as stand alone organisations (see below).  We believe our influence is enhanced by not building empires, or blowing trumpets – we pride ourselves on trying to be helpful – rather than competitive.  Our public relations are low-key – based on attraction rather than promotion.  Senscot traditionally is an open source organisation – we make information and advice freely available.  More than anything, we value our independence – the freedom to call it as we see it.  This often requires a fine balance of judgement in our relationship with power structures.

For most people contact with Senscot is virtual – that is through email or website.  We sort through masses of stuff about social enterprise or communities – mostly Scottish – and offer a weekly selection, condensed into two pages.  Our approach is a bit different – engaged and forthright. The formula works – over the 10 years subscribers have reached 4000 – each month an average of 50 people still sign up.  Our website carries a 10 year archive – search engines now bring hits from all over the UK.
 Senscot bought early into the concept of social enterprise – our network was lifted by the subsequent boom which we helped to nurture; our weekly bulletin is the main connector of this growing community.  It is clear however, that among our 4000 contacts, there is a wider constituency – perhaps looking for a counter culture, to the dead hand of municipalism which numbs our communities – a voice for front line activists – with the confidence to challenge officialdom.
 The bulletin says that if you have an idea to improve your community – which against the odds you’re trying to deliver – then you’re not alone – you’re part of a wide community of like minded optimists – the Senscot network.

Developing Services: Aidan writes… In 2000, as Senscot got underway, there was no distinct social enterprise sector and our efforts to establish one met with powerful resistance in Scotland. In imagining a national support infrastructure, we took the view that mature established social enterprises would be ok – that our focus should be on grassroots activity – under the radar – supporting the emergence of the next generation of social entrepreneurs.
In 2001, Senscot became one of the founding partners of UnLtd – a UK wide foundation specifically to support social entrepreneurs. Scotland UnLtd awards are now established as one of the most creative aspects of our social enterprise landscape.  In 2003, we were instrumental, with others, in bringing the Development Trusts Association to Scotland, as an autonomous sister body.  DTAS, with 140 members trusts is now an influential leader of Scotland’s emerging community sector. In 2004, we created the successful Senscot Exchange to deliver practical support and advice to start-up social enterprises. In 2006/7, the Exchange was merged with Scotland UnLtd to create Firstport – doubly equipped to foster new enterprise in our communities.  Along with others, Senscot conceived and established the Social Enterprise Academy in 2004 – to provide bespoke learning for the emerging sector. 
Each of these agencies flourishes as a stand alone organisation- but taken together they represent a significant part of Scotland’s support infrastructure for social enterprise.  Senscot is proud to have played a part in putting in place a range of bespoke services as good as anywhere in the UK. 

Developing Networks: Colin writes…  From the outset, Senscot realised that sending folk emails was never going to be enough – that for things to happen, people need to meet and talk.  Senscot’s early meetings attracted different people for different reasons – but there was no real focus.  When I came here in 2003, the emphasis shifted to facilitating meetings for frontline social entrepreneurs to meet regularly to support and learn from each other.  Our involvement is deliberately light touch – responsive rather than proactive, to respect the independence of the Networks.  Individual LSENs wax and wane depending on local circumstances – particularly leadership issues, as well as the usual local politics.  Thematic SENs also have cycles of popularity – at present Health and Sport are hot. The model has proved popular and, at present, there are 16 LSENs; 12 local and 4 thematic with over 200 active members . This year we have begun to measure the growing impact that LSENs have on their local economies. Senscot has always seen our involvement with the Networks as temporary – until they form their own Networks 1st Federation. This growth augurs well for their transition to independence which is a current priority.    

And what now?  Social Enterprise – “trading for people and planet” is now the way the third sector is moving.  Scottish Government was slow to the cause, but is now more enthusiastic; confidence is building among the frontline troops; when the general public catches on there’ll be no holding this movement.  The support infrastructure now in place will need to reorganise for survival into the next `spending round` – at level that is sustainable.  There is a case for convergence and streamlining – stronger links with frontline social enterprises – perhaps a federation of the regional and thematic networks.  For Senscot itself, it may be time to de-camp from this campaign – move to the next frontier – wherever that may be.  From our network, we constantly get indications of where the `changemakers` are facing next – and that’s where we’ll be –connecting – supporting – campaigning.  

That’s all for this decade. Good luck with your adventures

Best wishes,
The directors and staff of Senscot

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