Business as unusual for the voluntary sector

July 18, 1997

Lord Young aims to combine high-mindedness with hard-headedness in his school for social entrepreneurs, Chris Johnston reports

In the past, groups such as the Red Cross and Meals on Wheels were the epitome of voluntary organisations. But all that has changed as government relieves itself of an increasing number of social welfare responsibilities, causing the sector to grow rapidly in both size and stature.

The sector has expanded by a fifth between 1991 and 1995 and has an annual income of Pounds 12 billion. Paid staff total some 400,000 and there are another three million volunteers.

Unlike the plethora of courses available for those working in or wanting to enter the business world, education for the voluntary sector has been largely overlooked.

Michael Young's latest project, the School for Social Entrepreneurs, aims to rectify this problem by acting as a business school for the voluntary sector.

Its mission is to turn those working in voluntary organisations into great innovators, and to ensure that they combine "high-mindedness with hard-headedness".

If Lord Young of Dartington's track record is any measure, the school cannot help but flourish. The 81-year-old has spent much of his career establishing charities, voluntary bodies and educational institutions, including the Consumers' Association in 1957, the Social Science Research Council (now the ESRC) in 1965, the Open University in 1968 and the translation service Language Line in 1990. He is also director of the Institute for Community Studies.

While a few universities offer courses for voluntary workers, Lord Young said the school will be the only one to focus specifically on the voluntary sector's needs.

The potential pool of students is huge - for example, the Royal National Institute for the Blind alone has 2,500 staff. However, the school will begin with an intake of just 25 students in January.

During the one-year course, students will undergo an intensive induction period, complete a ten-month "guided apprenticeship" with one of the school's 30-plus partner organisations such as Age Concern, Amnesty International or the National Council of Voluntary Organisations, and take the Open University business school's voluntary sector management course. Internet newsgroups will be used to facilitate peer and mentor teaching.

Graduates will become fellows of the SSE and receive a certificate for completing the OU course. The first intake will decide in January if they want credentials from the school as well.

Lord Young said students will be required to write a case study examining the successes and failures of the organisation with which they complete their apprenticeship. He hoped the body of knowledge produced will help organisations improve the sometimes difficult relationship between paid and unpaid staff - an important topic which had received little attention in the past.

More importantly, Lord Young wants to create a new philosophy for the sector. He believes the usual description - "not for profit and not state" - to be negative.

"(Producing) a positive pro-active set of values that covers a large proportion of bodies would ... probably be the most valuable thing we can do," he said.

He believed such a statement also would aid cooperation between organisations, which may not always realise what they have in common with other groups.

Applications will be accepted until August 15, followed by interviews in September. No fees will be charged for the first few years and the school will offer bursaries for some students.

Lord Young said the school aimed to raise Pounds 500,000 from corporate donations and from the National Lottery Charity Board. The Hongkong and Shanghai Bank has already given Pounds 100,000 and a charitable trust a further Pounds 50,000. David Stockley, formerly chief executive of EMI International, has been recruited as director and several academics, along with business people, will serve on its advisory board.

The School for Social Entrepreneurs may never rival the OU in terms of graduate numbers, but in the long term Lord Young's latest bright idea is likely to have as significant an impact in the voluntary sector as the OU has had on the community at large.

Asked to choose which of his many brainchildren he is most proud of, he opts for the distinctly low-profile Baby Naming Society, set up to give non-church members an alternative ceremony to a christening. It is an appropriate choice for a man who has long been a grandfather, but 16 months ago became a father for the fifth time.

Application forms for the School for Social Entrepreneurs can be found at: http://homepages .which.nety/michael.young


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