Sara Burns, Director and Co-Founder of Triangle, and one of the authors of the Outcomes Stars™ explores what it means to Triangle to be a social enterprise.
By Sara Burns, Director and Co-Founder of Triangle, June 2019.
When we incorporated “social enterprise” into our name in 2009, it seemed entirely natural and obvious to me, yet I gave it little thought and there were few guidelines at the time. Fast forward 10 years and I find myself passionate about the concept and practice of social enterprise, as well as better informed and in a sector that is becoming more defined.
In our case, the expression of our social mission and our enterprise (business activity) are one and the same thing. There are many types of social enterprise, including those who raise money through a neutral business activity in order to fund a separate social mission. As Triangle, we develop Outcomes Stars and other tools and help organisations use them because we believe in their transformative potential. We witness time and again in many sectors how the right tool can support people to really listen, have good conversations, plan and deliver support, gather meaningful information and learn about what works. Like so many people, we are operating in a world where services and funding are severely squeezed, and our aim is to keep listening and learning, so we can continue to innovate and make a contribution.
So why am I passionate about social enterprise?
There are a number of reasons.
We make choices and decisions based on what is helpful at a sector level, not what will bring in the most money. This has been the case since we started. It provides a refreshing clarity and simplicity; even though the choices are not always immediately obvious, we are able to focus on the question of what will be most helpful. Somehow the big decisions and changes of direction over the years have always been made easily and harmoniously, and I believe that is because of this clarity of purpose.
Receiving an income from the expression of our social mission in the world, rather than relying on grants or other funding, gives us relative freedom and independence. Ultimately, the majority of our income from training and licenses can be tracked back to the UK government, we collaborate widely in developing Stars and other tools and respond as best we can to different needs and agendas. Yet, at the end of the day, we are the authors and can make decisions based on our learning and experience of what works. And we can plan ahead without the limiting factor of short term funding and the inevitable uncertainties that brings.
Similarly, because we have an income and are committed to reinvesting at least half of the surplus each year, we have some freedom to be generous and experiment. We offer training and licenses at (often below) cost to enable small organisations to use the Outcome Stars if it’s right for them. We provide implementation support according to need, not based on what people pay. We take risks and invest in new developments before there is a market for them.
All this contributes to a working life that is more fun and meaningful. Money is powerful and I enjoy the potential it affords to be successful in making a contribution – to use the very particular expertise we have built up over the years for good.
My anecdotal impression is that some people who enter the social enterprise sector, while passionate about their social mission, feel ambivalence or even resistance to the enterprise/business aspect, to money and charging. Ultimately, this can result in lack of sustainability and good ideas not getting off the ground. When everything feels too tight financially, that can be stressful and less enjoyable. Being confident about embracing the enterprise aspect and charging realistically for services and products can open some space. Space is important for people to be able to move freely, take risks, be creative and innovate. That is the culture we seek to develop and maintain within Triangle, so that everybody working with us feels able to contribute ideas and enjoy the sense of purpose, clarity and independence, so that we can be as helpful as possible in the challenged world of health and social care.
Interested in finding out more about Triangle’s mission and values?
For more information on Triangle, please take a look at our Values. For more information on the Outcomes Stars and our licensing and training options please contact us: email Triangle at email@example.com, or call on +44(0)202 7272 8765.
Sara Burns: Sara is co-creator of the Outcomes Stars. She leads on and is continually inspired by developing new versions for new sectors, as well as overseeing all the other ways Triangle can be helpful and support people to use the Star well.
For more information on Triangle and the team behind the Outcomes Stars, please take a look at our About Triangle pages. For more information on the Outcomes Stars and the values that underpin each version, or explore the history of the Star at About the Star or please contact us with any questions: email Triangle at firstname.lastname@example.org.