Three months ago I landed at Matter&Co, a busy agency of talented people who care passionately about social businesses. It was both a relief and a little nerve wracking. What's my role in all of this? What am I doing to help power the Matter&Co engine, and be of some small, meaningful service to businesses communicating social purpose?
I've joined Matter&Co to curate and plan events; namely Good Deals, an annual conference for anyone interested in social value, investment and innovation, whether you're a corporate, social enterprise, charity or public sector organisation. We also run Insight events and an awards ceremony for the NatWest SE100; a business support club founded in partnership by Matter&Co and NatWest, that aims to help social businesses get the insights and resources they need to thrive and grow - from investment and leadership to HR and marketing. The partnership began with the SE100 Index, which has an online listing of social ventures, ranked and scored according to their growth and social impact, with data updated on an ongoing basis.
When starting, I was blown away by the amount of support and advice in the sector through workshops, seminars and conferences. Initially I was slightly concerned that there were perhaps too many events circulating in the social business space, but I soon came to realise that not only do we absolutely need all of this activity, but that there is still room for more. Here's why...
Human beings need to interact. "Connection, the ability to feel connected, neurobiologically speaking, is how we're wired, it's why we're here", said Brene Brown in her excellent TED talk on human connection. Whether you're going to an event to share your business' story, network, put your hand up for help, or simply feel inspired by all the other great businesses operating around you, it's therapeutic, right? We feel a sense of togetherness.
In October last year, I volunteered for the Good Deals 2015 conference and one thing stuck with me from one of the workshops I attended: A lady put up her hand during the Q&A and said:
"I just want to say, that I have been running my social enterprise in a tiny village in Cumbria for 15 years. At times I have felt so alone, I don't do all that social media stuff. I've been banging on the door of my local council for years trying to get them to understand what I'm doing, and asking for help. Just being here today makes me feel so comforted to be around people who understand."
Her eyes had welled up, and many more in the audience had too, myself included. What was so touching about this comment for me was that bringing people together is so important, in this digital age we live in. Digital communication is so important for reasons we don't have space for here, but being together in one room shouldn't be overlooked. There are countless motivations for doing so, but just by being there, we are doing what humans need to do. And we might just learn something in the process, or meet somebody that could grow and strengthen our business in new ways. Imagine!
Running any kind of business has financial, managerial, and operational challenges attached to it, but weaving social purpose and how we measure that into the mix is no mean feat. In my opinion, the more opportunities there are for organisations from the public and private sector, corporate or charity, to meet and learn from each other the better. And isn't it encouraging that the social business calendar is so full of activity? It tells us that social business is the way to do business, and it's all of our responsibility to keep fuelling that activity. I hope to play a small part in that by curating engaging and relevant programmes that support current business challenges and also aspirations for the future. I speak to social enterprises who say, "We don't know where to go for financial support", or, "It would be good to meet other social enterprises in our local area to share knowledge", or, "I want to hear first hand accounts from social entrepreneurs on what they did to help their business grow". Our aim is to continually reflect and research on what the sector is asking of us as curators, and in turn offer inspiration, interaction, education and exploration at our events.
So on that note, let's fill the social business calendar, shut the laptop, and meet up once in a while! We are human after all.