3rd Canadian Conference on Social Enterprise – Policy Forum – Liam Black – Powerful, Uplifting and Promising

I had the great pleasure of speaking with Mr. Black for about twenty minutes prior to his speech about “enterprise” as the operative word in social enterprise. It strongly reinforced many things that had been on my mind for a while.

“Liam Black is co-creator of Wavelength Companies Ltd, which collides the best of the world’s private sector with pioneering social entrepreneurs.

Until recently, he was the CEO of Fifteen. Created by Jamie Oliver in 2002 that he grew into a successful and profitable global brand: Fifteen Amsterdam was opened in 2004,Cornwall and Melbourne launched in 2006, and there are plans for more.

Liam has held several high profile social enterprise leadership positions including at Liverpool’s FRC Group, widely seen as one of the UK’s pioneering social businesses, where he was CEO from 1997 to 2004. During his time in the city, Liam led in the founding of businesses such as Bulky Bob’s and Create, which have provided livelihoods for hundreds of formerly unemployed people. FRC and Liam received many awards for the growth and diversification of the business and its commitment to a values-based culture.”

Mr. Black stated that he loves building business and he is very passionate about doing it where opportunities exist to do good – and he has been doing so for the past 13 years.

His mother says that he is in the “work of inspiring genius.”

Mr. Black outlined a clear case for social enterprise that made sense on multiple levels and requires deeper discussion here in Canada. He expressed plainly that social enterprise should never be about the “pity purchase” and instead should represent best value.

He briefly spoke about the various social enterprises that he has been involved in and in no way was self aggrandizing or preachy. Instead, he was outlining a case for social enterprise that was based on “enterprise.”

At Fifteen, while the ultimate social mission was to transform lives, Mr. Black explained it was absolutely necessary to ensure that the diners had a great meal, in a great environment and that subsequently the diners themselves were able to feel good about the value added in transforming lives. In so doing, for these troubled youth, Jamie Oliver and he were able to create an inclusive culture that allowed these youth to live in the present tense as a chef. Further, that for these youth, that was all that mattered – hope and purpose.

However, Mr. Black suggested, that there were many that would ultimately want to see them fail at that mission. As a result they were hounded and continually ambushed by journalists trying to discredit the important work they were engaged in.

Yet he explained, that by providing that inclusive atmosphere, by demonstrating daily to the troubled youth and the diners that they could change the world, they actually were doing it on micro and macro levels.

Switching gears Mr. Black spoke about Wavelength (http://www.thesamewavelength.com) and some of their work which started in earnest when they asked the question: “What happens when great companies and inspiring social entrepreneurs collide?  Waves will be made.”

Poignantly Mr. Black identified some of the challenges that face social entrepreneurs. First he said that social entrepreneurs have a moral obligation to engage in “social reporting” and further that they have to do it well. This is also of critical importance in Canada at present.

Further he warned that social enterprise needed to be “very careful of government – kiss but no tongue.”

He ended with a brilliantly evocative slide:

“And finally it’s all horribly simple: Eliminate poverty and save the planet, we have fifty years if we are lucky. What’re we waiting for?”

The next post is a summation of the Policy Forum and a few key points that require further insight.

Be Inspired Today!

The New Currency SDM “Change…At the Speed of Thought”


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