THE BLOG

Working Against the Grain

01/08/2016 11:33 | Updated 01 August 2016

Sometimes struggles make you stronger. Whether that's coming out of an early life in care, a spell in prison, or the adversity of extreme poverty. There can be a time when you're ready to change, and a time when someone is there to help you forward.

Perhaps it's also true of a charity CEO facing sudden collapse of funding and having to part with two thirds of their staff. I'm not making a moral equivalent here, just reflecting that tough times can bring out your leadership, your resourcefulness and resilience: personally about your own life, organisationally in your work.

A visit to Adviza showed all that. An organisation born out of the Connections service with substantial government funding, suddenly faced with massive cuts, and recovering through contracts, programmes, volunteers, pro bono, corporate help and more - including a new social enterprise.

Adviza's new creation, Against the Grain, provides furniture upcycling jobs for young people. A project leader with fabulous energy and deep background in the trade, and a small group of young people, now confident and creative, producing furniture which manages to be both classy and edgy. Their pride in their work shone out and was fully deserved.

Adviza have also participated in a Social Impact Bond. Like a number of other charities and social enterprises who have gone through this, they found it challenging but achieved exceptional social outcomes making them much stronger for future work. The SIB framework locked in the focus on the result, and let the charity operate flexibly. It also forced them to massively upgrade their ability to manage data and use it immediately to improve the service, week by week. 1770 young people across 40 schools have a better life as a result.

Sadly - and this happens too often - the commissioners did not repeat the project despite the results. Adviza didn't take no for an answer, and whipped up alternative funds to continue the work.

There's been much criticism about SIBs - too complex, finance driven, too expensive, sometimes inappropriate outcome measures. But I've heard charity after social enterprise say no, they work, for the delivery agent and the beneficiaries. The problem is they are too small, too short, and not repeated or scaled up. At Big Society Capital, we believe the early successes justify bigger SIBs with a proper control group - probably the only way we'll convince Treasury and get full scale, repeated contracts.

But the real story here is about Katharine Horler, the CEO at Adviza. Diversifying funding, creating new trading income streams, generating enterprises, and at the same time keeping to the integrity of what works for young people, not racing to the bottom on quality and price. That takes courage and leadership. It's CEOs like her who make our social sector great.

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