Online Panel: Ecosystem & Network Development
22 September 2016 - Impact Hub

Online Panel: Ecosystem & Network Development

This has been supported by UnLtd and HEFCE as part of the SEE Change Network.
On Tuesday, September 20th, I had the pleasure of speaking on the online panel on “Ecosystem & Network Development”. I’ve never been on an online panel before, and the experience of communicating live / virtually to colleagues in the SEE Change network was worth it on its own. I suppose in its most basic form it is a live comment thread, but adopting technology in news ways – especially if it means being able to capture conversations and enable access to new audiences, is fantastic.
The aim of the discussion was to connect and share learning from a range of social innovation practices and to look at how the talents and energy of communities of universities (staff, students and the wider community) can be supported to innovate and address social issues. The discussion also linked the ‘Networks & Ecosystems” theme in the build-up to the final conference on Friday 30 September at the University of Northampton.
The online panel comprised of:
Debbie So – Head of Partnerships, Impact Hub 
Jon Johnson – Sheffield Social Enterprise Network and owner of Strip the Willow social enterprise
Peter Twilley – Senior Lecturer and Partnership Manager, Staffordshire University
Rachel Brown – Enterprise Programme Manager, Queen Mary University of London
And we we shared our thoughts on the following:

  • Why is building an ecosystem of support for SE important to your University/organisation?
  • What are the benefits and how have you been able to measure the impact (or not)
  • Tell us about how you’ve developed your networks/ecosystems
  • What problems have you faced and how have you overcome them?
  • What advice would you give to anyone starting to build a network?
You can view the whole conversation here, but a few key points that stuck out:

“It’s important for us because we value social enterprise but recognise that we can’t provide all the services that our students and graduates will ever need in this arena. We have a small team of two members of staff working on enterprise, and a growing number of students interested in this area, so we want to be able to signpost them to support systems outside of the university in addition to supporting them ourselves to give them the best chance of future success with their ventures.” – Rachel Brown, Queen Mary University

We are trying to find time and resources to do a mapping exercise of the SE landscape in Sheffield so we know where our members and potential members are. Then we aim to give them a collective voice, assist with info exchange etc as above and help them to grow their businesses in whichever direction they see fit. The successful commercial ones will then put back in to help others grow and will also spread the word through their CSR that SE is an ethical, feasible and pleasurable way to do business which focusses on people (staff and customers) rather than the demands of shareholders. – John Johnson, Sheffield Social Enterprise Network

The biggest problem has been and still is securing funding to make the work that we are doing to support new and emerging social enterprises sustainable. We have established that there is a need and we have established that the network that we have built and the support that we have put in place is effective. However by the nature of what we are doing is difficult to move to a point where the programme that we provide is financially sustainable. – Peter Twilley, Staffordshire University

“Disruptive technologies emerge, consumer demands change… your organisation’s only truly sustainable competitive advantage is its culture. It’s the one advantage no one can steal or copy, because culture is the sum total of your organisation’s individual behaviour, values, attitudes, beliefs, and assumptions. At Impact Hub our values are trust, courage and collaboration, and they have always been the key to building a strong network.” – Debbie So, Impact Hub

You can take part in continuing the conversation on Friday 30 September at the working conference at the University of Northampton: “Keeping social entrepreneurship, innovation and leadership at centre stage within the HE sector”. For more information RSVP here.