Rodney Schwartz: A toast to three late role models for this sector

The late Stephen Lloyd shared his qualities of determination and commitment to the cause with others who have made a difference in the world of social enterprise, writes our columnist

Rodney Schwartz
Rodney Schwartz

The recent death of my good friend and colleague, Stephen Lloyd, whom I have described as the social impact investment sector's leading legal light, means that my mind is on him and people like him. I wrote a piece to honour Stephen on our blog so I will not repeat myself. But he was so significant that it would do him a disservice to neglect him in this piece.

On writing about Stephen, I felt a depressing sense of deja vu. I have also written about the deaths of two very different but significant people in the sector: Sarah Dodds and Anita Roddick. As founder of The Body Shop, Anita needs no introduction and her influence on the sector was enormous. Her company and Ben & Jerry's were the first two big hits of businesses generating social impact. Each fundamentally changed the way we thought about consumption.

Sarah, like many of the hundreds toiling away in the social investment space, is less well known but is equally loved and admired by those who knew her. Canadian-born, she spent years working in the UK, particularly with early-stage ventures. She spent much of her career here in the UK at UnLtd, running its ventures arm, and dedicated herself tirelessly to helping many entrepreneurs achieve scale.

I feel a sense of rage at the premature passing of these three great people, but it's worth exploring some of the characteristics they had in common.

First, each had a deep faith in what they were doing and believed it could change the world for the better. Each chose their own path, but this dogged determination is something I admired in all three.

Second, all three seemed incapable of doing anything else. It was as if they had received custodial sentences and were legally required to commit to community service for society's collective benefit. They seemed to have no choice in the matter and I could not imagine them doing anything else.

Third was their inability to do things the way they were supposed to be done. They drove people around them a bit crazy with their desire, commitment, drive and work rate. Their colleagues did not always find them easy to work with, but we should recognise that when people embark on world-changing ventures, the qualities that bring success – single-minded focus, the inability to easily say or be told no – can be frustrating.

I offer these observations because I wish to remember my friends and because their passing away raises existential questions I do not attempt to address here. But these three serve as role models for many engaged in the sector and for those considering social investment careers. I think we could not ask for better.

Rodney Schwartz is chief executive of ClearlySo, which helps social entrepreneurs raise capital

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