Good afternoon…..I’m Mike Perry from the Plunkett Foundation and I’ve been asked to talk about rural social enterprise and community organising.
I’ve been asked to cover three topics:What is rural social enterpriseWhat is the role of community organising in the development and on-going success of rural social enterpriseAnd lastly the Plunkett approach to rural social enterprise and why community organising plays a central role in our work
So we’ll start with Rural social enterprise – what are we talking about? In short social enterprises are businesses with social and/or environment objectives as their key purpose. Rural social enterprises are social enterprises that are either located in rural areas or their primary beneficiaries are rural, even if the enterprise activity takes place in urban areas.
From a Plunkett perspective when we talk about rural social enterprises we’re talking about a specific type of enterprises which have these key attributes:Owned and controlled by large numbers of people within the community (typically 170 for community shops)Democratic control - 1 member one voteVoluntary and open membershipCommunity organising plays a significant role in both developing rural social enterprises and their on-going resilience.
Rural social enterprises tend to be ways of rural communities responding to a range of issues – Commonly a service closing (shop or pub closing)Service being reduced/withdrawn (transport services, health services etc)Concern about local employmentConcern about climate change (motivator for community energy and transition groups)Absence of now essential service/asset e.g. broadband, affordable housingCanary down the mine –daring to go places the public or private sector cannot or will not
We summarise these issues and the choices communities have to respond using this simple model. Communities can Hope someone will solve a problem for them, Despair that services are closing, assets are being lost and that something vital will not reach their community…. or Take Action. The community themselves Taking Action is often the only route that leads to positive outcomes, particularly under the current spending squeeze and challenges facing the wider economy.
These are some examples of things we get excited about:Community shopsCo-operative pubsCommunity food enterprisesWoodland social enterpriseCLTsCommunity broadbandFaith basedEtcEtc
Our founder Sir Horace Plunkett and us, the foundation he created, are best known as replicators of great ideas that contribute to what our founder called Better Living in ruraHorace Plunkett has been called a pioneer community organiser (Arnie Graf etc). This is based on his work inspiring rural communities in Ireland in the late 19th century into the 20th century, to organise themselves to form co-operatives as a way of improving their lives, predominantly farmer co-operatives and rural credit societies, credit unions. The first rural co-operative shortly after university was a co-operative retail society near his family home in Dunsany, Co Meath, Ireland. This bears a good resemblance to the modern day community shops.l areas.
His approach we describe as Horace and a horse – riding into communities, listening to their issues and helping them to inspire them how self-help through co-operative approaches can improve their lives. It is handy for pictures that Horace spend 10 years in his younger days being a cowboy in Wyoming!He and his team would then work with communities to help them to create resilient, viable enterprises by helping them to learn from each other. We do the same today at the Plunkett Foundation – helping communities through co-operation to believe in what they can achieve together. Fantastic innovations come from rural communities and always have done. Our role is to help other communities to learn from pioneering rural communities and to make it easier to set up and run rural co-operatives of different kinds.
This we now describe this approach as Inspire – Explore – Create – Thrive. Our aim is to provide end to end support from early stage inspiration through to helping ensure what is set up is viable in the long term. It’s a distinct approach to community organising which focuses on team efforts not individual efforts. We often are asked to nominate individuals that have made an outstanding contribution to their community for various awards. It’s really difficult to put one person forward ahead of others they have worked alongside.
This is the process that we help people to go through who initially call us. It can be just a person with an idea, or a representative of a small group who want to fund out more before discussing with the wider community. Our advice always is to engage widely and regularly with the wider community. Why do we do this? If this doesn’t happen then these enterprises will have a smaller membership and volunteer base where power resides in the hands of a few people which is our experience leads to more vulnerable organisations.
First you need to share great ideas far and wide (inspire). This is a major focus for Plunkett. A focus of this work is PR at a national and local level. Here is just some of the coverage we received.
You then work with the community members who come forward to help them understand the options and ways forward (explore) These community members then work with the wider community to get their input, buy in and engagement. The end aim being a democratically owned and controlled organisation with a wide membership base (create). We then look to help whatever is set up to be viable in the long term (Thrive). For example, We now have a group purchase membership scheme. We also provide events and online forums for exchanging ideas and concerns.
The role of Plunkett is to:Reach as many rural communities as possible so communities are aware of what is possibleWe try to make it quicker, simpler and ultimately easierIf we do this, we can help improve the conversation rate from enquiries to openingsAnd ultimately this leads to more rural social enterprises opening and remaining open, which is what gets us up in the morning.
At a sector level scale, the development of rural social enterprises looks like this. This is a model that works for community shops, farmer co-ops in Ireland, development trusts, etcetc Number of enterprises is on this access and time is on the other. There are three distinct phases: PioneersDevelopment – can be v shortMainstream - normal In policy, the development phase is almost always missed as when politicians see or hear about one great idea, they want everyone to do the same overnight. In reality this doesn’t happen. The development phase is essential in creating a model or models that communities can use with confidence. Many forms of rural social enterprise are still stuck in the pioneers phase. Community shops are hereCo-operative pubs are hereCommunity broadband The pace that different forms of rural social enterprises move through these phases (or not) is dependent upon access to three things InspirationEnterprise supportFinance (not just grants) Without any of these three, progress in terms of total number of enterprises will be low and slow.
In summary, this is the Plunkett approach to community organising: Economic change is the best way to secure social changeInspire communities that co-operation can help solve their problemsDeveloping social enterprises is a team activityHelp communities to learn from each otherMake it quicker, cheaper, easierEnsure social enterprises are resilient in the long term
Thank you for listening.Here are my contact details.
Rural Social Enterprise and Community Organising (Mike Perry, Plunkett Foundation) 8 jan 2014
Rural Social Enterprise
Mike Perry, Plunkett Foundation
Presentation will cover
1.What is rural social enterprise
2.Role of community organising
3.Plunkett approach to
Rural social enterprise
Social enterprise: a business that
trades for a social and/or
Rural social enterprise: a social
enterprise that is either located in or
primary beneficiaries are located in
Increase enquiries from communities
Improve conversion rate between initial
enquiries and openings
Increase number of rural social enterprises open and trading
Plunkett approach to community organising
• Economic change is the best way to secure
• Inspire communities that co-operation can help
solve their problems
• Developing social enterprises is a team activity
• Help communities to learn from each other
• Make it quicker, cheaper, easier
• Ensure social enterprises are resilient in the
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