The social entrepreneur — thinking aloud… #1

This just in from Sarah Crawley at iSE — the first in a series of posts reflecting on the lessons she is learning as she helps her own and other social enterprises navigate these unprecedented times…

Read on. You may find something you can take heart from.

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As a passionate supporter of social enterprise and social entrepreneurs I’ve been giving some thought to what’s happening to our businesses, the decisions that need to be made and the stages we are going through in this current situation.

My reflection is that our personal situations regarding making sure we, our families and friends have access to food, money, entertainment, shelter, personal contact and exercise are similarly reflected in our approach to our businesses as we aim to stabilise them.

Just as at ‘home’ we are trying to understand how to ‘be’ in this new world, at work we are implementing home-working, mothballing offices, making decisions concerning what work is possible at ‘home’ and bringing in new systems and processes.

What’s important at this time is to realise you aren’t on your own and that all social business leaders are struggling with the same issues. Stabilising the situation is in our DNA and building on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs for our businesses we need:

  • Technology to support home working and space to work in.
  • Security of future work coming in.
  • Good communication and support for the psychological needs of our teams.
  • The knowledge that we will be able to continue our businesses and create social value and finally reach a place where we can get innovative, problem-solve and accept the situation we are in.


Many of the organisations we at iSE have been speaking to are very much in this space. ISE has been learning how to use the technology both between ourselves and externally.

Each day we have a team meeting on Zoom to check in personally around mood and also concerning our priorities for the day. We have a virtual cup of coffee – my personal guilty pleasure. We have been looking at what can be delivered virtually, what needs to be mothballed until the autumn and our financial situation.

I think iSE has moved through ‘Stabilise’ and into ‘Sustain’. What I mean by this is that by securing the business so that we can deliver we are now able to make decisions on actual delivery, plan and have clarity on income-generation and work plans.

We are focusing on what we do really well, simplifying what we do and looking after the income streams. The final stage of our development of social businesses will be an understanding of how our businesses will be operating post-lockdown which will inevitably be very different.

Who will be our customers in the future? What will they want? How will products and services be manufactured and delivered? Will people have the money to buy it? We will all need to plan for this — reimagining our businesses for the new operating environment. I’m calling this stage ‘Build’ and it involves rethinking your future in what will inevitably be a new world. It’s an opportunity to think big and create even more social value, which will inevitably be even more important in the new landscape that will emerge.

At the moment I’m desperately trying to understand what our new future will be but I can’t see it yet and it feels too early to understand.

So stabilise, sustain and build – what stage are you at? Feel free to comment and pass on any thoughts on this.

Wishing you all safe and well,

Sarah Crawley CEO iSE

Send mail to Sarah

iSE website

Sarah has been a social entrepreneur for over 20 years, working to support and grow the social enterprise sector in Birmingham, the West Midlands and nationally


Birmingham UK. Freelance research, evaluation and policy consultant specialising in social enterprise and the third sector. I maintain the BSSEC blog and website
  1. Jan Golding Reply

    Great blog Sarah, thank you! Roots HR Stabilised very quickly because we have always worked in a very agile way. Demand for our services has been at its highest ever but we have always been set up to respond to peaks and troughs – so we are definitely in Sustain, with an eye on what Build is going to look like for us in the months to come, as life hopefully enters a “new normal” for our clients.

    Good luck through these crazy, unprecedented times to you and to our friends in I-SE and in the SE sector in Birmingham.

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