Cambridge Taking on the World

This is an article I wrote for the Cambridge Chamber of Commerce. I want to share it because the core theme applies to so many communities.

Businesses can, and must, be a key part of thriving, sustainable communities.

 

“I’ve noticed something about business in Cambridge recently and it excites me. We all know that the town is growing and growing fast but despite this, we are more than ever a business community.

Our Chamber is to the fore of this activity, not only regularly getting good attendances at its events but also for associated groups such as Optimum and 1st XV. The I-Site has become more prominent, BNI groups are going well and elite sport is providing so many new opportunities to leverage off similar organisations.

We talk to each other about our businesses, we openly share information and happily lend a hand when needed.

Sometimes it’s easy to look around and wonder what’s happened to our little town. So many new faces and so many new businesses. Busy streets and even traffic lights, we’ve come a long way from the days when the state highway went through the main street and we had sale yards down Carters Flat. Often growth can lead to that big city feel where everyone looks after themselves and other businesses are simply classified as the competition. I believe we’ve done the opposite and actually strengthened our community. This is why I’m excited.

At CSC Buying Group our passion for supporting thriving communities has become our purpose, with “Building Richer Communities” our new mission statement. In an increasingly diverse digital world, we see this as more necessary now than ever before. Like any community, businesses need to support each other and play a part in sustaining that community.

Buying local, employing locals and advocating for our local businesses should continue to be at the core of what we do. The question we should be asking now is how can we take this further?

For me, it’s about ensuring that we continually expand the size of the pie, not competing for a larger piece of what is already there. We need to strive to earn business from outside of Cambridge, even exporting for the ultimate ‘outside’ money.

There’s some great examples of this in Cambridge, some are very well known while others are quietly achieving well out of the limelight. We now need to grow the numbers doing this.

Obviously business growth also leads to employment meaning our town becomes far more economically sustainable, and let’s not forget the social benefits of full employment.

Singly we may be small but uniting and working together, we can get the scale to compete with the big city slickers – in their back yards. We all need to challenge ourselves and seek ways we can make this happen. Let’s talk unashamedly about Cambridge businesses taking on the world!

Finally, as we start to enjoy the benefits of growth, let us never forget what makes us unique … the village that is a growing community.”

The Chamber News is always a great read. Tania and the team do an amazing job with it. Read more

 

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Your passion is your pitch

I believe that the standard “elevator pitch” works best when you’re selling widgets or when your business is so well known, that the pitch is just brand recognition.

 

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Your “passion pitch” doesn’t tell your whole story, it shares you enthusiasm and encourages people to want to know more. Tell people why your business excites you, draw them in so they want to engage more.

Authentic passion and enthusiasm for your WHY is what will grab attention and see people wanting conversations with you.

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When big business backs social enterprise

This is a great example of what can be done when we remember that businesses aren’t inherently bad.

Generally they actually want to do good, and that includes supporting projects that are of public good as Lillian Grace so ably demonstrates in the Stuff article.

 http://www.stuff.co.nz/business/opinion-analysis/92891606/lillian-grace-when-big-business-backs-social-enterprise-and-the-country-wins

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Be better than that…

Yesterday I wrote a blog about disability services but thinking about it again, the thrust really does apply to all business.

Traditional benchmarking quality against your competition limits your outcomes. We should always aim to give the customer the best possible experience, not just a better experience than they can get elsewhere.

We keep saying that the customer experience is paramount, but do we really live it every day?

Being better than the rest isn’t good enough – we need to be the best we can possibly be!

Don’t keep looking behind you at the chasing pack, look ahead at the rainbow over the horizon.

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Champions

I had an great chat with Ben Scott from the Hamilton City Council yesterday. One of the points he made was that we need a Social Enterprise champions in our local area. Someone who is out there raising the profile of what it really means to be a social enterprise.

I couldn’t agree more. I think every community needs champions.

People who wake up each day, driven to advocate for social enterprise, eager to talk about it to everyone they meet, support those doing it, advising and recommending it.

We all need to become champions within our communities.

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Our thinking is what holds us back

A good friend shared this Ted Talk by Dan Pollata with me.

It is from the perspective of a fund raiser but the message is true of our NFP thinking in general.

Charity, doing it on a shoe string etc shouldn’t be seen as badges of honour because they hold us back from making significant changes to the things that matter.

As my friend said “I think we do need to explode certain outdated and unhelpful paradigms that hold the NFP sector back“.

So cliché but if we want to change the world, we have to first change ourselves.

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Growing The New Wave

How we can grow and develop our social sector

A white paper from The Optimistic Cynic

  

End Fragmentation

We need genuine collaboration towards shared goals.

  • Organisational interests need to take a back seat in our drive to achieve these goals.
  • We need to look for partners outside of our specific sector to broaden our skills and resource base
  • Collaborate bravely to break down barriers and change systems

 

We need to stop fighting over funding

  • Accept that there will only ever be discrete levels of funding available to our NFP sector. Duplicating our services and resources simply dilutes that amount.
  • We need to recognise the place of business (both ‘social enterprise’ and ‘for profit’) in supporting shared goals. This relies on meaningful partnerships, not simply expecting donations.
  • Working with other organisations allows services to be delivered with economy of scale.

 

Scalability and Infrastructure

  • There is a place for mergers and joint ventures. We need to look past our own brands and ‘local solutions’ if we wish to make significant differences beyond our own backyards.
  • Local service solutions are also a valid option but we need to identify opportunities to share or leverage infrastructure. Duplicated infrastructure dilutes funding and diverts our focus from achieving our shared goals.

 

Listen, engage and disrupt

Forget just listening to those similar to ourselves

  • Get out and about, listen to those who we look to support, and those doing the work. We don’t learn the real issues and solutions if we restrict ourselves to hearing what managers, policy makers and politicians have to say.
  • Experts can tell you what they think is happening. Those on the ground can tell you what it’s actually like.

 

Group think holds us back

  • When a sector has consensus about the issues and the way forward, it’s likely that they have limited their conversations to between themselves.
  • We must be brave enough to argue and challenge existing consensus. We need outliers, people who are heading in different directions. At the very least, this will test whether the majority are on the right path.

 

Challenge ourselves

  • We need to disrupt our thinking and to do this we must challenge and argue. Ask the questions and don’t be afraid of the answers.
  • We need people to point out where we are wrong so that we can improve. We also need to provide that opportunity to others

 

Balance our priorities

Strategic Focus

  • We need to have clear long term goals with a planned strategy for how we will get there. Our vision should be bold and challenging, a story to bind us to a united future.

 

Responsive and flexible

  • We need to balance this long term strategy with the ability to be flexible to meet urgent and changing immediate need. Organisational bureaucracy cannot prevent us reacting quickly when need dictates.
  • We need to accept that our environment will continually change quickly and in ways that we will not expect. Embrace this challenge.

 

It’s all about the impact

Charity restricts us

  • The term “charity” is tarred with connotations of benevolent benefactors bestowing their grace and knowledge upon others, saving them from their burdens. This is not the story we want to tell and is a barrier to achieving buy-in from those we wish to support and those who wish to support us.
  • Reliance on social service funding restricts our innovation and flexibility. Our organisations become focussed on processes and risk minimisation, not risk taking and achieving our true objectives.
  • Doing good should never be assumed to be the sole realm of those with charity recorded in their constitution.

 

Focus on impact

  • We need to be brave enough to rip up our rule books. Organisations develop rules and systems that they operate by. Further rules and requirements are implemented to meet the needs of funders. This stifles innovation and risk taking.
  • Transparency is vital to ensure investment is impact not organisationally focussed.
  • Celebrate successful impact more than simply rewarding effort.
  • Maximum impact comes from addressing the root cause of an issue.

 

Make use of great resources

  • Invest in good infrastructure that supports you to develop significant impact. It’s about efficiency not blindly following the tradition of charities “making do” or buying cheap.
  • Reward those that make a difference. Staff, management and boards should be made up of people with the best possible skills and the passion to make a difference. Remuneration should reflect a high performance culture. Recruit for impact not ‘cheapness’.

 

It’s up to you

  • Never forget the why – why you are doing this!
  • Talk with passion and inspire others
  • Be brave enough to take risks
  • Stand up for what you believe in
  • Your actions should prove your words
  • Let your values guide all you do
  • Celebrate your successes

 

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Win : Win

Good businesses that are doing well, can be an important tool for our communities to also do well.

We need to help businesses to achieve – and just as importantly, we need to help them to develop their passion for doing good.

This is one of the reasons why I set up The Optimistic Cynic. I want to help businesses to explore how they can contribute to the communities that are important to them, while also being a truly successful business.

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