I'm starting again...
So I've set up another organisation - well, not yet an organisation, a network to begin with, doing what I love best, bringing inspirational people together, spending time hearing their stories, supporting each other, and sharing their inspiration.
What is the Social Founder Network?
- The Social Founder Network connects, supports and promotes founders in the charity and social enterprise sectors.
- We provide a mix of practical and personal support, connections, stories, information and inspiration - for current and future social founders.
- We share stories across the media and other stakeholders, to inform and inspire wider audiences.
What do we all have in common in this new network? It's the founder thing - combined with the social thing - no, not social media, though that runs through everything like the proverbial stick of rock, but social impact. Identifying a social need, trying to go some way to helping meet that need, to create social impact, social value.
How many times do you hear negative stories about charity founders? - "there are too many charities being set up...", "the founder isn't the right person to run the organisation...", "Founder Syndrome" and worse...?
A quick scroll through 'charity founders' in Google shows 80% negative stories and only 20% positive.
How tough is that if you are a charity founder, or thinking of becoming one?
And how many times do you hear positive stories about charity founders? Their innovation, impact, drive and legacy?
Few people know about the (often long-dead) founders of our most loved and trusted charity brands, let alone the new social entrepreneurs creating innovative social businesses across all continents and countries.
Who are your favourite social founders?
Do you even know who the founders of your favourite charities are, or were?
I mostly didn't know, and in many cases still don't. I am just starting to find out - brilliant founder stories of charities old and new, large and small. Social enterprises, community groups, co-operatives - all set up by passionate founders to make a social difference, locally or globally.
Do tell me about your favourite founder stories - we can't have too many!
I'm a founder - twice over now, of Media Trust and Community Channel (now relaunched as Together), and a founder trustee of the Small Charities Coalition. I know only too well the challenges and joys of being a founder. I've lived and breathed the difficulties, my many imperfections, my doubts and dilemmas, but I know that I have made a difference, created a legacy, and in turn supported many other organisations, communities and individuals, including founders, through my work.
As I (eventually!) planned to step-down from Media Trust in 2017, I started to think more and more about the specific issues around being a founder in the charity and social enterprise sector.
Did Camila inspire the Social Founder Network?
My timing coincided with the justifiable criticism of Camila Batmanghelidj at Kids Company. I've known Camila since she first set up Kids Company, I'd worked with her on some projects, watched her brilliantly argue the case for joined up care for our most vulnerable young people. But in the end, the negative story of her founder journey far outweighed, at least in our minds, conversation and in media coverage, the positive legacy and impact she undoubtedly has had. How sad is this! An extreme case indeed, but tapping into, and sadly reinforcing, a wider critical view of charity founders, that is often at odds with the reality.
How to better support charity founders?
How could this change I wondered? How could social founders become better founders, be better supported, have better impact - be celebrated, and in turn inspire others?
How could we support social founders to lead, manage and delegate better, or even to make the decision to step-down, address succession planning successfully, and move on.
My involvement as a founder board member of INSEAD's Social Entrepreneurship Program continues to connect me with inspirational social entrepreneurs from across the world, but many are not necessarily the actual founders.
In my day-to-day work in London, my network of other social founders was small. I was part of other supportive networks, but each with a different emphasis - for chief executives, chairs, women CEOs, leadership, social entrepreneurs - really helpful, but nowhere the F word:
I hardly ever heard positive stories about social founders, and I had no easy way of connecting with them in my busy life.
I started asking around - who else was a charity founder, an award-winning founder, a struggling founder, a secret founder (yes, they exist!), an ex-founder? Who else might be interested in a network for social founders? Was I right in wanting that specific focus?
Wow! Immediate and amazing response from all quarters. "Yes, yes, yes!" "Yes please!" "Now, please..." And great ideas: "Look at the small veterans charities," said Paul Farmer; or "The founders who name their charities after themselves", said another; "Do include the founders of the new refugee, migrant and asylum-seeker charities burgeoning across the UK," said a Media Trust colleague, and the ideas and connections come pouring in.
So here we are, and after a powerful event kindly hosted by EY London last year, I've finally written my first blog and launched the website.
I have some wonderful interviews with social founders from across the UK, India and Sri Lanka to share with you and can't wait to do more stories. EY want to host another event for us in London, and we're planning one in Glasgow too, followed by Delhi, Mumbai and Colombo.
Our Social Founder launch event at EY
Over 50 social founders from across the UK attended our first event. It was for social founders only - I turned down many requests from CEOs, COOs, trustees, funders, journalists, who wanted to come along. They too all have their reasons to engage with the founder debate, but this first event was for founders only - the space we needed.
We had four inspirational speakers, all social founders at various stages of their journey: Saeeda Ahmed, Founder of Education Partnerships UK, Gordon D'Silva OBE, founder of the Hoxton Apprentice and Training for Life, James Partridge OBE, Founder of Changing Faces, and Victoria Thornton OBE HonFRIBA, founder of Open House. Then in groups we discussed and shared our key challenges, issues, and future activity for the network.
What key issues are important to Social Founders?
The joys of being a social founder came across so strongly, and there was a hunger for peer support, for the network - to share the joys and challenges with others who understood them.
Big challenges came out around getting the right mix of social impact and financial sustainability, people issues, boards and succession planning, the brand of the founder v the organisation, founders and funder relationships, how and when to leave (close to my own heart) and so much more that you'll hear about.
"How to stay radical?" said one.
"How to remain authentic, but also flexible with changing times and more people coming on board to co-own the vision?" said another.
Resilience, and the need for it, came through across the room:
"Keeping your resolve when you have a bad day," and
"Loneliness: it's a tough job especially when things go wrong."
But the joys were paramount -
"Creating something from nothing that has value for others",
"The excitement of creating sustainable business models that provide social impact", and "Spending your life doing something you're passionate about!" And much more.
Overall a real sense of positivity, privilege, and purpose in being a social founder, with an eagerness to share stories and experiences both with other social founders and with the wider world.
With a website and blog finally launched, I'm looking forward to growing the network and sharing stories.
To be a member (it's free!) you need to be or have been a social founder. But anyone can sign up below to my email updates and blog, can contact me directly with suggestions and stories, or requests for stories and connections.
I'd love to hear your ideas - Tell me who YOUR favourite social founders are, and why.
And thank you so much - stay in touch!
Caroline Diehl MBE
Caroline was Founder CEO of Media Trust for 23 years until 2017, and is now Founder Chair of Together TV (The Community Channel), the UK television channel she set up in 2000. She was a founder trustee of the Small Charities Coalition, and helped set up INSEAD's Social Entrepreneurship Program, where she is an Entrepreneur in Residence. She is a proud mother of two sons, speaks lots of languages, and ran the London Marathon in 2016.