Category Archives for "Worldviews"

How to Overcome Low Capacity

Last Tuesday in a post about the strengths of community organisations, I wrote under the heading “Alternatives”:

“But a project that brings people together to a common cause and through which they learn about how to run a project and how to relate to others can lead to new ideas. When one door closes, maybe other doors open.  Failure can inform the growth and development of the next project.

Lifestyle experiments to bring about social and economic change will almost always fail at some point. But we now have the means to record and share our experiments and perhaps by learning from others’ failures we can improve our future projects.

Setbacks can be the grounds for new initiatives that benefit from experience and not lead to dispirited activists who lack the energy to try anything new.”

The Compassionate Company

In this video Pavi Mehta tells the story of a compassionate company, the largest provider of eye-care in the world. Towards the start she explains the ground-rules under which the company grew.  They have no external funding and give away 60% of income.  They work exclusively for people who can’t pay, provide world-class quality, accept no donations and no fund-raising.

This approach will not work for everyone but the point is, under those extraordinary constraints something brilliant has grown. So, lacking capacity is not always a curse, maybe it is an opportunity you cannot see, just yet.

The Strengths of Third Sector Organisations

Over several weeks, I have identified some weaknesses in common third sector worldviews. Whilst I generalise, these are real issues we must understand.  In this post, I shall show why it is important to support the strengths of third sector organisations.

Solidarity

At its best a group of concerned citizens can act quickly to support a cause, eg a disadvantaged group. Is the statutory sector better equipped to tackle the problem? Maybe but politicians can take time to name the problem, plan and respond.

There are many issues where the state is unlikely to respond. Climate change is an example. Many vested interests groups lobby politicians.  Concerned citizens, who campaign and experiment, may be the first response before an issue becomes established policy.

For many issues, the self-help group is a good starting point; finding others who share their problem and can share their solutions or experiences. There is no question these have been effective in bringing about real change.

But the problem is the organisational structures available to these groups, especially if they generate significant income, employ staff or occupy premises.

The basic structures of registered charity and company status are hardly fit for purpose and whilst there are a few new options designed for social enterprises, they are still a poor fit to the needs of these groups.  The reason is they were designed for businesses and so don’t meet the needs of groups made up of mostly volunteers who are occasionally involved.

Mutuality

Much the same can be said about the legal structures for mutuals. Industrial and Provident legislation dates back to the nineteenth century and is even more complex than conventional incorporation.

However, values are important and mutuals match the values of the third sector more closely than the values of charitable status or company status. The problem is few organisations practice mutuality and so many of its features are forgotten.

There was a time when small groups would naturally form a mutual or friendly society. These self-help groups practiced a range of experiments leading to the social and economic institutions we use today, eg building societies and insurance companies. People need to work together for mutual benefit. Their investments need to be protected and their structures simple.

I have argued in this blog mutuality is the key to developing new ideas. Once understood, mutuality inspires people to see new possibilities through collaboration. Collaboration can be between organisations too, they don’t have to be mutuals.

Alternatives

Which leads me to the main strength of the third sector, which is the opportunity to experiment with alternative lifestyles and approaches. It is one of my basic observations in community development that “Most things don’t work”.

But the few things that do work can have implications far beyond their first reach. The only way I know to find innovative approaches that work is to try them. These social experiments will mostly fail but it’s worth it for the ones that work out.

But what do we mean by fail? Receiving large grants that lead to mission creep, some success and then loss of the work when the grants run out is a dispiriting failure.  Perhaps creative inspiration will come out of the few groups that refuse grant aid and find ways to work in the economy.  At first sight this may seem impossible but commitment applied to a cause can lead to unexpected developments.

But a project that brings people together to a common cause and through which they learn about how to run a project and how to relate to others can lead to new ideas. When one door closes, maybe other doors open.  Failure can inform the growth and development of the next project.

Lifestyle experiments to bring about social and economic change will almost always fail at some point. But we now have the means to record and share our experiments and perhaps by learning from others’ failures we can improve our future projects.

Setbacks can be the grounds for new initiatives that benefit from experience and do not lead to dispirited activists, who lack the energy to try anything new.

Third Sector Ideologies

I’ve reviewed several common tropes in third sector thinking; its anti-capitalism, inclusion agenda and dependence on grants. One underlying theme is an emphasis on ideology.

There are many attractive ideologies in the third sector and they drive the agendas of highly effective organisations. Pragmatism might be a good way to get things done but perhaps a few ideals will keep you going during the difficult times.

The problem is not with any particular ideology so much as a tendency to build on ideologies. Where what you believe becomes more important than what you do, problems are likely to set in.

Ideology and Business

There have been news items about businesses that won’t serve gay couples because they are Christians businesses and genuinely believe it’s wrong to do so. They are allowing a particular ideology to run their business. They may represent themselves as victims of discrimination against Christians even though it is they who are discriminating.  Whilst I don’t doubt they are sincere in their beliefs they are profoundly wrong about Christianity and business. There are many Christians who have no problem with gay couples.  Business is about building positive relationships and so using it to exercise power sits awkwardly with business objectives.  Whilst a business may be well advised to have a clear image of their target market, it is not an exclusive image.  A Christian business might target Christians as its main customers but this should never exclude them from trading with others.  How else do you find new markets?

The market is essentially inclusive and so an ideologically driven business will be on a hiding to nothing. Ultimately, you have a market and you meet its needs. That’s what businesses are for.  You can specialise in a particular market without discriminating but businesses must be open to all if they wish to grow.  The same applies to third sector organisations.

Third Sector and Ideology

Sublimated power is the core issue where ideologies are at play. The world has to be made to be as your ideology suggests it should be. Participation in a third sector organisation allows people to find a space to exercise power without testing their ideas in the real world.  We’ve all seen the good idea tied to the whim of a single charismatic person, unable to allow their organisation to make its own way.  Exercising this kind of power is no good for the individual or their organisation.

The need to collaborate in business means ideological considerations become something of a luxury. This can of course lead to other issues. It does not mean businesses can do anything they like; a lack of any ethical scruples can be destructive. One way to do this is through regulation, where governments decide the bottom line. That way regulation is something people can vote for. It may be onerous for some businesses but at least they can make their case.

On the Funding of Community Services

I’m reviewing Third Sector worldviews and have already covered anti-capitalism and the inclusion agenda.

Today I want to consider funding. How do you fund services for clients who cannot afford to pay for them?

State Provision

The most efficient funding is through the state. Basic social services should be provided directly by the state. Privatisation is absurd. How can organisations paying a dividend to shareholders possibly be more efficient? They do it by cutting wages and this disables local economies; as wages decline, spending power declines and localities suffer.

National and local governments plan and deploy resources according to need. This is a big advantage. There is no evidence this is less efficient than private sector organisations. The big advantage over privatised services is that government services are accountable to voters. By passing responsibility for services to private interests, they hand sovereignty over and allow voters say in delivery.

Third Sector Provision

However, no matter how effective state-run services are there will always be gaps in provision. This is where the third sector finds its role. They can champion the needs of disadvantaged groups not recognised by the state. There will always be neglected groups or new services to try.

How do we fund these services? The most common approach is through grants and until the recession and austerity, grants were big business. They still are although perhaps on a smaller scale.

Whilst there is evidence revenue funding for specific welfare projects can be effective, I do not believe grants are in any way effective at regeneration. I have seen many millions of pounds contributed to regeneration projects over the years, Burngreave New Deal is one example. Once the funding runs out the neighbourhood shows little or no improvement. Why is this?

Disadvantages of Grants

  • Grants encourage a bureaucratic and not an entrepreneurial spirit. The focus is on reporting to the providers of funding and not on responding to the needs of clients.
  • Grants are time limited. They build a resource of expertise and then lose it when the money runs out.
  • Many organisations applying for funding do so without awareness of a wider strategy for their neighbourhood. So, for example, a service for a disadvantaged ethnic minority might make a good case but might ignore similar services offered to other ethnic groups in the same neighbourhood.
  • This encourages divisions not only between ethnic groups but in my experience within them. To receive a grant tends to concentrate power in the hands of a few people who then become the focus for power struggles within the community.
  • Accountability is a major problem especially where there are minority groups involved. If a particular ethnic group receives funding where is their accountability? If it is with the local authority, they are likely to be accountable to members of other ethnic groups. Too often they are not scrutinised because the scrutineers have scruples.
  • Time and again I’ve seen the games played where a project’s management plays both sides off in favour of the middle. So, they tell their client group they are accountable to the local authority and tell the local authority to back off because they are accountable to their client group. This is a perfect recipe for the unaccountable community leader.

Business Perspectives

This game playing turns off entrepreneurs. They don’t perceive the third sector as a group of altruistic people but rather as a series of individual fiefdoms. Third sector leaders are too often involved in their work for the power and so do not need to prove they are actually able to get the job done.

Businesses are not immune to similar power games. The difference is that entrepreneurs refuse to play. They will simply walk away because they know how destructive they can be. There are always people out there who value collaboration. The priority is to find them and work with them. Sadly, they are rarely found in the third sector.

Social Enterprise

The question then is how do we support projects for clients who cannot afford the service? Social enterprise is one response to that question and positions itself as much in the private sector as the third sector. This raises some new issues.

Grants are a constant temptation and many social enterprises are able to get grants because they are social enterprises. In other words they are old-school community projects re-branded. The social enterprises that do manage to generate significant income through trade are often regarded with suspicion. What happens when the founder, who could have set up their own business, asks for a share of the profits? They encounter private sector entrepreneurs who have access to their own business funds but as a social enterprise find they are constrained by their founding ideals.

No approach is perfect and I’m not at this stage proposing solutions. The main thing is to be aware of the pitfalls and to seek innovative approaches that might just navigate new paths in this difficult area.

How the Inclusion Agenda Became Self-Defeating

Last Tuesday I covered anti-capitalism for the first of my discussions of third sector worldviews and today I turn to inclusion.

I can appreciate many people will be sharpening their quills because they will read what I am saying in this post as an attack on inclusion. I am not opposed to inclusion, indeed a marketplace is by definition inclusive. How could it be otherwise? My problem is with how inclusion has developed over the years.

A friend of mine, a community development worker, many years ago found a chapter heading in Ian Fleming’s “Diamonds are Forever”, it reads “Nothing Propinques like Propinquity”.

I remember we were puzzled by his constant repetition of this phrase and eventually persuaded him to spell out his meaning.

If your concern is about poverty, then the thing the poor have in common is their poverty. Granted more women than men are poor, more black people than white are poor, more disabled people than able-bodied are poor (and you can keep going) but the point is ultimately if someone is poor they are poor whatever their sex, race, etc.

The only way to tackle poverty is by addressing its roots and yes those roots may include discrimination but discrimination is one means of dividing the poor from one another, undermining solidarity and mutuality.

Inclusion never addresses class. We never discuss how we’re going to include the ruling classes in our communities. Why? They concentrate power in fewer hands and they will do anything to hold onto their power.  We know inequalities in wealth are the cause of disadvantage.  Racism is one of many ways the ruling class uses to divide and disempower communities. The focus needs to be on the roots of poverty in the economic system and not on the many ways in which it is possible to stoke the fires of prejudice.

There have been many attempts over the years to name disadvantaged groups and empower them by helping them set up a group that represents their interests. This plays into the hands of corporations and politicians because it drives wedges between disadvantaged groups.  Strong democratic community organisations are the best resistance to divide and rule.  The challenge is how to make these effective.

I recognise the good some of these specialist groups can do for their people. But the issues around for example accountability are profound. If you set up an ethnic economic development project, to who should it be accountable?

I prefer generic organisations providing specialist services in neighbourhoods. The users can be members and so make sure the generic service is accountable. This would embody mutuality within the organisation, each specialist service supporting the others.

That leaves the question: how to fund community activity and I shall return to this next Tuesday.

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What’s the Problem with Capitalism?

What’s the problem with capitalism?  Anti-capitalism is the first in my exploration of third sector worldviews.

Where Marx Was Wrong

Marx is perhaps the origin of anti-capitalism. His is certainly the most prominent name. Whilst there was always criticism of capitalist thinking, see Isaac Watts, “When I survey the wondrous cross” for example, opposition to capitalism coalesced around Marx. Other socialist movements were more positive about the capitalist economy, eg the co-operative movement.

Marx identified capitalism’s internal contradictions.  Much of what he wrote proved to be correct but he was wrong on two counts.

Totalitarianism

First, the experiments to build economies based on socialism became totalitarian. There are a number of reasons why this happened. When a country prevents people from trading, they must centralise the entirety of the economy. Instead of allowing government to regulate the economy, to keep businesses small and local, the state attempted to run everything. Getting the balance right between what the state runs and what the people run is not easy.  The Soviet Union did not abolish capitalism but developed something called state capitalism.

Concentrations of wealth and power is bad news when it belongs to the state just as much as when it belongs to individuals.  Tendencies in western capitalism to concentrate wealth in the hands of the 1% are just as likely to lead to totalitarianism as state capitalism.  The issue is democratic accountability and it is absent from totalitarian economic models.

Capitalism Survived!

Marx was also wrong that capitalism could not survive. He believed it would succumb to its internal contradictions.  It has survived in a mutated form. Power concentrates in the hands of huge corporations. Governments have sold off state assets to corporations and as a result government is no longer able to govern. The people understand this to some degree but few political parties offer an alternative.

Anti-Capitalism in the Third Sector

In the third sector there is sometimes an anti-capitalist worldview that sees the market as something to be resisted. This is not always expressed as revolutionary communism; more often it is a quiet moral superiority to the grubby realities of the marketplace. Their critics tar all business owners with the same corporatist brush.   This suits the corporations of course. This all-encompassing anti-capitalism doesn’t touch them but incapacitates small businesses.

Worse it means third sector organisations do not think about small businesses to rebuild the local economy. Indeed they don’t think about the local economy. So, throughout my working life community organisations have either ignored the local economy, focusing upon the needs of disadvantaged sections of the community, or else they have set up alternatives to the local economy, such as social enterprises.

Do Social Enterprises Undermine Local Business?

I suppose the idea is the people who run social enterprises do not subscribe to capitalism. Too often as a result they are not a permanent part of the economy and become dependent on grant aid.

Meanwhile, this marginalises the people who might affect lasting change in their neighbourhoods, the local business people. Their skills and values are not accepted and so they are side-lined. The organisational failures that plague so much community work are familiar to business people. They know they don’t work and so keep their distance. They’ve seen it all before and know how destructive it can be.

The frustrating thing is the most creative period in recent UK history for development of local economies was the mid-nineteenth to mid-twentieth century.  The retail co-operative movement, is part of the capitalist economy, even though it owns capital collectively. This demonstrates the creative potential of capital when democratically owned.

I’ll explore some of these issues in more detail in future posts.  Find them by following this link and scrolling down to Third Sector Worldviews.

Evaluating the Marketing Worldview: Mutuality

Last Tuesday I discussed the value of marketing to small businesses and before that evaluated underselling marketing as a means to personal wealth.

This time I want to ask how marketing can bring about transformation of society. First, a warning: there is no panacea. There is no magic bullet that will instantly change things for the better.  The neo-liberal worldview is almost universally dominant. In the UK the three main political parties have all bought into this worldview. Through privatisation they have sold off the sovereignty of Parliament and so seem unable to effect change through legislation.

The recent growth of the UK Independence Party (UKIP) is a joke. They perpetrate the same ideology, whilst recognising the helplessness of our politicians they believe it is membership of Europe that is the cause of loss of sovereignty.

We need a new politics that is pro small business, pro local economy, pro regulation and pro taxation. We need to re-democratise the economy.

Co-operation

This happened in nineteenth century UK through the co-operative movement. It was much wider than the retail co-ops and working people experimented with a range of Friendly Societies that lasted well into the twentieth century.

People understood mutuality and they understood what many people who are in business understand. To be successful in business you must collaborate. The idea that competition is somehow the means to wealth is one of the lies perpetuated by the neo-liberals. It is a lie taken for granted to the extent that almost all of society believes it.

When entrepreneurs set up in business they discover it is a lie. You can choose to compete for a small piece of the pie or you can collaborate to grow the pie. But make no mistake: pies do not grow in a neo-liberal economy. In 2008 the neo-liberal debt based economy collapsed.  We’ve paid for their mistakes ever since.

“Who ate all the pies? Who ate all the pies? The Corporations, the Corporations, they ate all the pies. (And then they ate a pie.)”

Marketing can counter this prevailing ideology.  Online marketing offers everyone an opportunity to get their message across using methods that a few years ago were available only to a small élite. If we can learn to collaborate, it may be possible to experience the mutual benefits our great-grandparents experienced.

You would think the third sector would embrace this approach and to a degree it does. However, the third sector has also embraced the neo-liberal worldview. The consequences are that much of what is happening is self-defeating and so over the next few weeks I shall look at third sector worldviews.

Evaluating the Marketing Worldview: Democratising the Economy

Last Tuesday I argued the emphasis on using marketing to raise money undersells marketing. Today I’ll show how marketing can be used for society’s transformation through democratising the economy.

I’ve shown how the biggest change we have witnessed is approaches to marketing that were once inaccessible to all but a few for reasons of expense, are now available to all. These tools have a wider application than it may first appear.

Selling Bread and Courses

You may think online marketing is for information products only. So, you may be an educational charity, video your courses and make them available online. However, if I am a local baker I can’t put my bread online although I can still use the Internet to promote my business. If I can get my customers’ email addresses I could have a simple site with a blog and use it to tell my customers about my bread, share recipes, or ask for feedback about the types of bread they would like to see. I could do a product launch about a new recipe loaf. It would be small-scale for people who can get to my shop but it might work.

A baker could use content marketing and their story. How did they become a baker? They almost certainly have a story to tell. Working out their story and how to tell it may take a while but it is worth it and can be very effective.

These are approaches small businesses might have dreamed of just a few years ago. Today the main constraint is they don’t know what is possible. Once you know what you can do it is a smaller step to find out how to do it.

Collaboration

These changes open up potential for small businesses to work together, build their local economy and link between local economies to build wider networks where cash flows between people and not into offshore accounts.

As new tools have become more accessible, the powerful have turned to new tools to entrench their power. They use the internet to bolster their power and that is at our expense.

Taxes

Small businesses should be happy to pay taxes. It is their contribution to a society that helps them to do business. When powerful corporations opt out by going off-shore they show their true nature. They have no need to market what they are doing because they are not dependent on customers as they derive their income from investments and debt.

Regulation

We are told regulation disadvantages businesses. Actually it levels the playing field by ensuring businesses stay small, it increases the interactions between businesses and this is what builds local economies. Legislation must support the marketplace and not dismantle it. We have the tools to make it work, we need a state that allows it to happen.

We need to ask of the people who claim to support small businesses if they support corporations. Massive financial institutions and companies that receive government contracts are proving to be a brake on the economy. It is not true that private business is good at everything. We need a state that supports genuine small businesses and closes down the back-door deals with big corporations.

Concentration of wealth in the hands of the state is at least subject to democratic control. Support for the so-called private sector is actually support for the establishment, politicians and directors of industry. The same people rotate between state and the giant corporations and do not support the local economy.

The question is how can small business, with charities and other organisations active in the local economy, network to form a coherent opposition to the corporations and their political apologists?  I believe that in the last few years we have found the tools we need to take that opposition to a new level, involving people who have perhaps never seen their work as political.  How can we make a start?

Evaluating the Marketing Worldview: Ka-ching!

Over the last few weeks I have reviewed some major trends in online marketing. I have contrasted online marketing with traditional forms of marketing. Methods that were once available to a few are increasingly available to everyone with access to the internet.

In evaluating these approaches there is a wider context: wealth is concentrated in the hands of fewer people. Part of the solution is in the marketplace but we need to be careful about how we define it.

This leads me to my biggest issue with marketing and that is ka-ching; the sound of a cash register, presumably. Marketing is big business, especially in the United States where it is motivated by desire for personal wealth. A few marketing gurus have done very well selling training in how to market and there are it seems many small businesses that have done very well applying these methods.

Now, I don’t begrudge their success – they have worked hard to get to where they are and that’s great. They are not the 1% élite who are syphoning public wealth out of the general economy. I don’t suppose there are many successful marketers using the extreme tax avoidance the financial élite use – if there are, I withdraw my support!

Ka-ching! Undersells Marketing

My problem with ka-ching, apart from it making my skin crawl, is that it seems to me to undersell marketing. Money offers no vision of a better world. It can be used to change things for the better. Marketing is not solely about generating cash, just as local marketplaces are not solely about financial transactions.

To be fair many marketing gurus make this same point but my impression, after subscribing to several of them and perhaps some of the second rank gurus, is the over-riding theme is “get rich quick”.

But this is the point. Marketing is not a “get rich quick” method. There are tools that sometimes work if you put in the work and have something of value to sell. I think it would be more honest to sell them as get moderately better off slowly approaches but that also undersells them.

My point is we should see these tools for what they are: a means to get a message across. By all means charge for your message, I think the idea that everything should be free on the Internet is pernicious. We need to appreciate that if something is worthwhile then the person who created it deserves a contribution to their income. This is in no way similar to corrupt financial institutions and indeed I believe successful entrepreneurs offer us a glimpse of a viable alternative to the financial markets.

This is the first part of my evaluation. So that my post is not too long, I’ll deal with some more positive stuff next Tuesday.

Stories

These days stories are the cutting edge of marketing theory. In this last of a short sequence of posts looking at approaches to marketing online, I’ll discuss two approaches to using stories on your website.

The first approach is your personal story. People will respond to your message if they trust you. They may have never met you and so they need to hear your story. The chances are they have a problem and what they need to hear is a story that shows you understand their problem.

Why a story? Probably because stories are memorable. You might be a qualified divorce lawyer with many years’ experience. But perhaps the story of your own divorce is what people need to hear to appreciate that you really understand what they’re going through. If you can find the right story, it may give you a competitive edge over other equally qualified people.

I am sure you can see the potential of this approach and its dangers. Perhaps there are people out there who can concoct a story that rings true but misleads. This is why it is important to provide other content that demonstrates you do in fact understand your topic. Caveat emptor applies online whatever marketing method is in use.

The second approach might broadly be described as case studies. These are the stories that illustrate the problem and your solution, eg testimonials.  Stories are memorable and good case studies with in-depth testimonials are helpful. The usual type of thing you see where someone you’ve never heard of says something anodyne about how brilliant the product is may be better than nothing, but not much! If you can interview your customers and draw out their story and go deeper, this is likely to be much more effective.

One final point: consider using video or audio for your stories. OK it’s not always practical but it is effective. People seem to find video more convincing than text, I suppose if they can see a real talking head they find it more convincing.

So, what is the point of all this?  Through stories and other site content, you aim to be divisive.  You want to attract those who relate to your offer and deter those who do not.  You can never appeal to everyone and so your site must communicate decisively with those who are your natural supporters.  If they visit your site and don’t get it, then they will not support you.  The challenge is to find the content and the stories that do this for your business or organisation.

Have you found sites that have communicated in this way to you?