What’s next for our Enterprise Development Programme

This week our Enterprise Development partnership is announcing its re-launch following a successful pilot year, with two new sectors (Equality and Mental Health) being added to the existing cohort of Homelessness and Youth Work.  The full launch of the programme each of the four sectors will happen over the next few weeks and months.

Choosing Equality and Mental Health as our next two sectors to work in was the result of an intensive period of research and discussions over the summer. We considered nine potential sectors overall, and we wanted to share some of the processes we went through in coming to that decision.

When we started the Enterprise Development Programme (EDP) a year ago, we ran a pilot in just two sectors (Homelessness and Youth Work).  It was not presumed at that point that we would necessarily continue with a sectoral approach.  Once a model had been established in a narrow field we knew we wanted to roll it out, but we were open to doing that in different ways, and possibly just opening it up generically.

However the experience of the pilot year showed us the benefits of working in particular sectors, and this in turn helped us to identify the criteria needed to select further sectors to add.  The primary benefits we encountered were as follows:

    1. Achieving Reach

Working with sector partners has not only enabled us to disseminate the opportunity and generate suitable levels of demand against our resources, it has enabled us to reach types of charities and social enterprises that we don’t think we would have reached otherwise.  We received applications from right across England, including from smaller and newer organisations.  For Youth Work in particular it was suggested that a programme such as this would normally pass that sector by, as it would not be seen as relevant, or organisations would feel that they couldn’t compete in an open programme.  The fact that it was targeted at an underrepresented sector (in terms of enterprise development) meant that organisations were encouraged to apply who otherwise wouldn’t.  This demonstrates the importance of reach in a programme like this, and this was a key element in our choice of new sectors and, crucially, the specific national partners who will lead this work.

2. Understanding Revenue Models

If EDP had been a generic programme, the disparate activity would have meant that we may have learnt little about different enterprise activities and how they combine to create common revenue models.  As it was we delved deeper into two sectors, and with the help of our sector partners came to understand more about the challenges and opportunities in the sector.  This benefitted the sector partners themselves – they feel they have strengthened their knowledge and are better able to support their constituents, and Homeless Link distilled what they’d learnt into a high-energy #enterprisemovement conference with over 100 delegates to mark the close of the pilot year of the programme.  But also our grant and learning partners (Social Investment Business, and School for Social Entrepreneurs) have both said that they understand these two sectors far more now.  We felt that this achievement of depth of knowledge rather than breadth was important, and when we came to look at potential new sectors we scrutinised closely whether common trading and revenue models were likely to emerge.

3. Establishing definitions

In order to achieve the above two elements, a third needed to be in place.  To reach the right organisations and learn about the commonalities and differences between models, we needed to ensure that we were clear about the types of organisation we wanted to support.  It wasn’t always as easy as we’d have liked to turn into eligibility criteria that we could communicate externally, and we did inevitably have some people trying to twist their organisations to fit (and some unhappy about our definitions).  But having set definitions and using the sector partners to more deeply understand who fits those definitions was crucial to creating a common cohort.  Strong consideration was given therefore to the clarity of definition we could achieve in the new sectors that we were deliberating over.

We found that it was harder than we would have imagined to find sectors which met our requirements.  Some sectors lack clearly identifiable trading opportunities or are too narrowly applied (a heavy reliance on public service delivery for example).  Others are likely to have too few suitable participants and/or may have difficulties establishing clear eligibility definitions that can create a cohort with sufficient commonality.  But the biggest single issue we encountered was whether a single sector organisation actually existed who could deliver the programme, learn with us and embed that learning, and most crucially, reach organisations right across the country in their sector, including traditionally underrepresented groups.

It perhaps says something about the resourcing challenges that voluntary sector infrastructure has faced for many years now (not just since 2011) that the two sectors we finally chose were the only ones which we felt met all the tests.  That is not to say that we are not delighted about our final choices.  We are excited to be working in Equality and Mental Health and are already greatly encouraged by the way in which our chosen partners (Equally Ours and Association of Mental Health Providers) are going about their planning work. 

But also we will continue to explore the future involvement in the other sectors that we considered but felt weren’t ready just yet.  With those sectors, and others too, we’re keen to have ongoing conversations and offer support to be able to meet the starting conditions that the programme needs.  Whilst this year we conducted a time-limited exercise to make a decision, in future we see this as more of a rolling process, liaising with different sectors, discussing with existing partners on the EDP and making earlier, advance decisions about bringing new sectors into the programme, to ensure that they are ready to hit the ground running: we plan to bring in two more sectors each summer for at least the next couple of years.

So watch this space, where we plan to publish what we learn about sectors and their enterprise models, and get in touch with us if you have ideas about our EDP sector approach.