‘Developing a peer to peer Network of Networks’ of Women supporting Social Entrepreneurs in Greater Manchester has been fun, rewarding and has started to address some gaps in the provision of support tailored to meet the needs of female social entrepreneurs in Greater Manchester. All the attention on this theme has come a bit leftfield for me, perhaps I take it for granted or as a given that this is straightforward, given UnLtd’s values and ability to reach out to women through our awards programmes 48% of our awards have gone to women over the last 12 years and on the HE Support programme over 50% of awards were to women.
Contrary to belief – I haven’t been slaving away on this and am not doing this ‘In addition’ to my day job – well not much…. And supporting the development of this is actually saving me time, resources and helping me deliver a range of outcomes across UnLtd programmes as well as develop the networks of partners.
Plus it helped me bust my own myth and cynical side that said ‘What on earth can you do with real impact with a £500 SPARK award?’
First of all I ironed out my personal & work goals for doing this. I wanted to……
- Find ways to connect my network and save time, energy and emails
- Provide more support for female social entrepreneurs as could see a number of them struggling to get going or move things forward
- Find ways to use some of the tools and techniques I and others have learned to support more SEs and share learning
- Find ways to celebrate and showcase some of the fantastic award winners and female social entrepreneurs out there
- Help the small SPARK team shift some awards and create meaningful impact
I mapped out my top 10 female socially entrepreneurial ‘Super connectors’ ( which quickly turned into 30). These were a combination of longstanding award winners, new award winners (L1, L2, Try/Do/Build it and SPARK) our 3 HEFCE Partners and a Star People partner, a couple of UnLtd Mentors along with a random selection of old stalwarts and strategic agencies in the sector.
Over a period of 12 – 18 months we:
1) Held a couple of pre-meets which galvanised a group, identified shared goals, gaps and opportunities – this alone created 2 useful outcomes:
- a new contract opportunity which a member took with both hands to deliver the Ogunte Make a Wave programme
- initiated 4 separate Spark Awards (G4N, OSEN, the Greater Manchester Mappathon and the peer to peer network we have developed WSSE)
2) Encouraged and supported group members to apply for SPARK awards and members attended each other’s activities where relevant.
3) Kicked off the Women Supporting Social Entrepreneurs (WSSE) peer to peer network and met 3 times to build the group which now stands at around 50 engaged and contributing and used our meetings to consider ideas to challenges and barriers whilst address gaps and opportunities. See a downloadable presentation we compiled fairly early on in case this can be of use.
4) Have shaped our ideas into a programme of activities – attached below in case they can be of use.
Yet to come this year….
- The development of a network of 30 – 50 women supporting social entrepreneurs in the Greater Manchester area who want to mentor or would benefit from a mentor
- Continuation of the original peer mentoring group – 15 to 20 people meeting bi monthly
- Launch event for 50 women to attend on 5th March as part of International Women’s Week:http://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/breakthrough-women-celebrating-developing-women-social-entrepreneurs-tickets-15468177736
- Training and development of 30- 50 women in mentoring skills and practice through April/ May 2014
- Development of a team of mentor champions, a pool of mentors plus operational processes to support this.
- An action training and fundraising event in July– ‘Mentorathon’ to engage 20 – 30 mentors and 10 – 15 mentees
- Brokerage of a further 20 – 30 1 to 1 mentor relationships
- An evaluation of the programme to inform the future
My cynical side said….. Myths busted
£500 is not worth effort -what can we get moving? I have proved myself and others wrong on this much has been achieved with very little money. Plus the £500 we started with has turned into £2000 of SPARK awards in the area which through the network and so far the group has raised an additional £2000 in cash to contribute towards venue hire launch event and mentor training through contacts within the network.
Do we really need this in Manchester? There is much support for social entrepreneurs within the Greater Manchester area, however the number of people getting involved and the feedback we have received shows there is a need for both a peer network for infrastructure and more diverse mentors readily available so capacity can meet demand.
If I act as a catalyst in this will I have loads to do – can I manage it? Whilst I have helped to drive this, working with award winners our highly talented, highly networked and creative ‘Can – do’ people means that our joined effort gets things moving. I haven’t had to attend all meetings, I haven’t written any funding bids and haven’t felt this is a stretch. It has been more of a help in keeping connected, offering support to award winners and partners whilst building the ecosystem.
Myths still to bust …..
How will people from grass roots communities engage – will they have the confidence to come forward/not be put off? Our network is highly diverse and reaching into all communities, however we need to check in with the language we use, style of activities we run and keep listening to feedback on how to make this accessible and holistic. Some of the SPARK awards that have been applied for from the group have been to reach out to underdeveloped communities.
How can we compete/distinguish ourselves alongside other mentoring initiatives? That is what we will learn over the next year, however by taking a bottom up approach, bringing new and diverse people in, keeping overheads to a minimum and supporting prestart – to scale up we hope to create sustainable impact.
It’s Sexist! Maybe – however there is a market demand and un-met needs, so we’ll offer a service that widens people’s connections and opportunities to all people and all sectors in order to help their social change initiatives and ventures to thrive.
Can we really sustain this? So far so good – the pilot has turned into a manageable programme being delivered over the next 12 months with a co-ordinating team of 3-4 people. We don’t know where this will go after that, however we know we have people who can make things happen wanting to see this succeed.
Fancy setting up something similar in your area?
Then get your networks together and apply for a SPARK award to develop your peer to peer activity and stimulate ideas and connections as well as address gaps in need for social entrepreneurs! www.unltd.org.uk/SPARK .
The Lancaster University Enterprise Team can link you to the UnLtd network who can help galvanise an ecosystem near you.