Livity co-founder Michelle Clothier was recently invited to speak at the RSA’s ‘Women and the Big Society 2011: Blast from the past or new vision?’event.
Here she shares her experiences and her words….
I was invited to speak at the Women and the Big Society 2011: Blast from the past or new vision? Both in my role as a Nexter and as a Fellow of the RSA . Mostly though, I was there to share my experience as a female business owner and leader.
This RSA Fellowship Women Speakers’ Network event, in association with the Big Society Network, set out to discuss the role that women will or already play (and have been playing for many years) in The Big Society… a movement promising to build a better and happier UK through civic enterprise.
Here’s what I shared in my 3 minute slot…
“My business Livity has just celebrated our 10th Birthday.
For a decade, we have been proving the concept that you can run a profitable business model that has social objectives and purpose at its very core.
We are proving to some of the biggest brands in the world that you can align business objectives with social objectives – that benefit, in our particular model, young people, and achieve a win/win.
We are now 37 people strong at Livity, with a majority make up of 27 brilliant women – It’s important to say that the 10 men we employ are equally brilliant! – but only 27% of our workforce compared to the 73% women.
We insist on recruiting the very best people to work with us – I’m not interested in whether they are male or female – although I do think that culturally it’s important to achieve a healthy and diverse balance – and that is a business benefit that many businesses simply have not grasped any further than box ticking.
I do feel that women gravitate towards our business, because it combines creativity and innovation with social purpose and benefit. And I witness first-hand the pride and purpose our teams seem to have working in their various roles at Livity (in a recent employee satisfaction survey we scored 95% for “proud to work at Livity” ) and I do think that, it is because, as human beings we increasingly crave purpose other than that of simply earning and making money to exist. So, yes, maybe women are slightly further ahead on the evolution scale on this one.
That said, increasing numbers of men are attracted to our business model, mostly reflected at the moment by our clients, from the likes of Google, Coca Cola and Sony PlayStation.
I’m in agreement that women are perhaps more naturally inclined towards Big Society, – whether it be in a voluntary and community based role, or like my employees through their careers, and I absolutely champion that, but where I become really excited and where I believe the vision and ambition has to be set, is for business to take a greater role and responsibility through it’s models, methods, finance, reach and relevance in order to truly tackle some of the bigger problems that society is now and will in the future experience. And I truly believe more and more canny business leaders will see the value that such an approach will bring to their core business and brand – starting with the sense of purpose and pride they can give their employees with such an approach.
Finally, I’m keen to know if the panel and the audience believe that business and brands have a role to play in the notion of ‘Big Society’?
And if they do participate meaningfully, whether over time, this might help and address the lack the diversity and inequalities that many sectors are still challenged by – by attracting and benefiting from the masses of untapped and undervalued female talent?”
A healthy discussion ensued, business cards, tweets, new contacts shared and common interests were found.
It was a thought-provoking evening and a really good partnership between RSA and The Big Society Network. Here’s to more discussion and more importantly here’s to more ‘getting on with it’.
by Leila Khalifa, Senior Account Manager at Livity
‘I don’t know that I went because of a charitable impulse. I just thought that I should be useful to somebody.’
This was Muhammad Yunus’ response yesterday, when asked how it was that in 1976 he found himself venturing into a small Bangladeshi village called Jobra, close to the university campus where he taught economics. It’s a typical Yunus response: practical, humble, honest. It’s also remarkable, since out of this trip some 35 years ago, the concept of microcredit was born. It arrived quietly, and took some years to become an officially recognised financial innovation; but today microcredit is a worldwide phenomenon which has changed irrevocably the landscape of development economics and poverty alleviation.
Professor Yunus was at NESTA yesterday morning, speaking about how his model of social business was born in the ‘70s, in the form of what eventually became the now famous Grameen Bank – a social development institution which was awarded, along with its founder, the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006.
It was a moving conversation with a man who has dedicated nearly forty years of his life to ending poverty in his home country. Since the early 1980s, Grameen Bank has handed out microloans to 7 million borrowers, and 80 percent of poor Bangladeshi families have been reached with microcredit. Out of Grameen Bank a number of other, distinct companies were born into the Grameen family – from Grameen Fisheries, which improves rural livelihoods for many Bangladeshi villages by maintaining local ponds and seafood, to Grameen Kalyan, which is providing affordable health care for members of Grameen Bank in a nation where previously only the rich could access a decent medical service.
Grameen has had a rough ride recently – on May 12, Yunus resigned as Managing Director of Grameen Bank following a series of government-led attacks aimed at ousting him – but there can be no denying that the model of social business which Yunus helped to create has taken on the traditional capitalist system in a way which is today mobilising rapidly.
At Livity, we spend a great deal of time talking about what it means be a social business. We get it, because it’s in our DNA. But amidst the day-to-day madness of creating marketing campaigns or delivering groundbreaking legacy projects, it’s easy to forget that we’re part of a growing movement of businesses which recognise what Yunus often reminds us of: people aren’t one-dimensional. Human nature has many sides, which means that most of us care about more than profit alone. And when you’re not in business purely to make as much money as you can, you can do more.
You can start with the smallest of ideas, and see if it will grow with one person, two people, or a hundred. You can build. You can start over. Social entrepreneurs can try, fail, learn, move on in a way that profit maximising businesses and governments simply cannot do.
It’s a real privilege to spend time in the company of a man who affirms so fully the spirit in which social entrepreneurs and their organisations operate. And while it’s impossible not to feel somewhat bowled over at the sheer scale of what Grameen has achieved over the past few decades, Yunus never fails to remind people that it began from something tiny – a small idea in a little village in Bangladesh, born out of a desire to solve a problem.
There are a hundred soundbites from Yunus’ talk that I’d like to share. But this final thought is probably best summed up by something he said towards the end of his session, as he reflected on leadership and the advice he would give to those who seek it. ’Don’t give up,’ he said. ‘Develop a miracle seed. Multiply that seed… and you’ll have a plantation.’
A Conversation with Professor Muhammad Yunus is available to watch online
Support Muhammad Yunus via Friends of Grameen
by Kate Brundle, Associate Director at Livity. Kate is sharing her experience taking part in the Wavelength programme through a series of blog posts.
As part of the Wavelength programme I was lucky enough to visit the Eden Project. The Eden Project is a shining beacon in the world of social enterprise and is a living breathing example of thinking big and not taking no for an answer. It is aphysical demonstration of what is possible if you have a big audacious dream.
Eden was the concept of a flamboyant entrepreneur, Tim Smit, who afteryears of being in the music industry producing for the likes of Barry Manilow he decided to tackle something entirely different.
He wanted to do to this by creating the eighth wonder of the world. Bonkers you might think. And bonkers might reappear in your mind when you meet Tim Smit. However Tim was incredibly welcoming and inspiring to us business types and took time to explain how he sees things in business and what has worked.
So here I’ll just give you a short list of Tim Smit-isms that maybe useful and will probably make you smile:
- Young people: Ask young people because they don’t know it’s can’t be done
- Kitchen Table Thinking: Be the person at work that you are at the kitchen table
- Life: Be a person who can say ‘I’m glad I did rather than I wish I had”
- Management: Lose your fear of being disliked
- Strategy: I’m a business man who is like a kitten who is distracted by the fluff, but I find good fluff
- Recruitment: I hire people who have been there but will take a step back down to build it back up
- Pressure: You can tell the quality of the stereo when you turn up the volume
- Belief: Tell the story that inspired you not the story you think will inspire others
- Last man standing: If you hang around long enough someone will eventually give you the money to go away
- Tinkerbell: Get four other people to believe and magic will happen
Tim Smit is up against Livity Co-Founders Sam Conniff and Michelle Clothier in the Ernst and Young Social Entrepreneur of the Year
2011. We wish him (and all other finalists luck). We believe for social enterprise to really work we need to profile all successful social
entrepreneurs to inspire more of us to think about our big audacious dreams and make them happen.
by Kate Brundle, Group Account Director at Livity
Last week I was at the stunning Sheepdrove Organic Farm at Wavelength Connect event, which is dedicated to connecting visionary businesses. Whilst I was there it was International Women’s Day (8th March) and I was lucky enough to be spending the day with some of the most incredible business people in the world. Two of which were inspiring women.
International women’s day revealed some facts that came as a surprise to me. For example that two thirds of the worlds work is done by women yet only 10% of the total income and only 1% of property is owned by women. (Amusingly brought to life with the help of Daniel Craig, if you have a couple of spare minutes.)
At Wavelength we heard from Julie Hanna who is an entrepreneur who, having already set up and sold five (yes, five, what have I been doing with my life?) successful consumer internet and business software companies decided it was time to harness the power of technology to create benefit in the world. Kiva was created which is a microfinance facilitator. Kiva believe that providing safe, affordable access to capital to those in need helps people create better lives for themselves and their family. By the mere fact of the statement I started with, many of these people are women.
Event speaker Dame Helena Kennedy was one of four panelists at the event and she totally blew me away. One of the things that really struck home to me as I sat and listened to Helena was how far women’s rights have come in quite recent history (in my lifetime). She was the responsible for leading the way in changes to policy in the legal profession particularly their absence as judges on the Bench. As Dame Helena left the stage to return to London to vote in the House it made me firstly feel incredibly grateful for all the women (and men) who have lead the way for me to be able to achieve everything I have but secondly it made me feel a great sense of responsibility to be the best that I can be to lay the path for women who follow me.
The thing that I loved about these women is how they have used their skills and passion. It is not just that they are smart, funny, confident people but that they are real women. And they are real women who don’t hate or resent men. They don’t see changing the way the world works for women and the distribution of wealth and power as a struggle against men but instead as a struggle alongside our male colleagues, friends and family.
Written by Caroline Roake, Head of People at Livity
There were lots of interesting and opposing views expressed in response to a recent Guardian article about the rising NEET (not in employment, education or training) figures among young people.
Firstly, the article highlights how confusing the figures are – from pointing out that the DfE’s NEET stats always increase from the summer to the early autumn (should you really class someone as NEET who is between courses?), and you can always find a positive stat to outweigh (at least partially) any negative sounding one, e.g. steady increases in 16 to 18 year olds in education or training.
Having said that, everyone knows unemployment is a huge and scary issue at the moment, regardless of age, but among young people it seems more dire as they are ‘the future’.
One Guardian reader comments that the focus should be on improving career guidance services rather than pumping money into youth work efforts to combat the problem (i.e. prevention rather than cure) – we certainly see very few teenagers who feel well supported by the free careers guidance they are offered, and many who aren’t aware of the options available to them, so this seems like a good place to start. With money now going directly to schools instead of being controlled by local authorities, maybe this could happen?
Perhaps if there were improvements in this area more young people would see the benefit of pursuing a (relatively) stable, vocational career, rather than one where there is so much competition that it’s often only those who can afford to work for free until they get a foot in the door can succeed, which is common in many companies in the creative industries.
Stories such as this one about a 23 year old grad who pursued work experience in her area of interest (journalism) but then tried to get employment in something most would think requires relatively little training (retail), highlight this issue of employers wanting more experience than is fair to expect from this demographic.
Employers should not keep young people in the catch 22 situation of only considering those with experience or a degree. We know first-hand that there is amazing untapped energy and talent to be found in young people, including those who haven’t been to uni!
Apprenticeships can be a way to bridge this gap – offering employers a more cost-effective and supported pair of hands, and offering young people a way to learn on the job in roles that may not otherwise available to them, and gain a qualification that in many cases will increase their confidence and motivation. The issue is ensuring the qualification is nationally recognised, and that this becomes a sustainable means of employment for the young person rather than a one-off.
Encouraging entrepreneurialism is another way that some young people with a genuine flair for it can get out of (or not become a part of in the first place) the lack of jobs available right now.
On a positive note, there are always encouraging stories even in these difficult times (many that come straight from Livity!), and we should work together to change attitudes and find solutions, rather than dwelling on figures and which government to blame.