Viewpoint: Skollarship, or how to forget your scruples

Despite all the talk of new roles and mega-contracts, are traditional charities really part of a sunset industry, with flatlining income, poor investment and few prospects, stuck in the past, their endless scruples unfit for modern times?

It's not hard to see the enthusiasm compass of government swinging away from cack-handed charities towards those new hybrids of principle and profit. This is despite their chequered history and confused focus: what's the priority - the social or the enterprise?

Ed Miliband recently confessed that, after a bad day at the Office of the Third Sector, there's nothing more he likes to do than curl up with a social enterprise. Luckily for him, one educational institution is so keen to create a new generation of caring go-getters that it even has a few free places on its courses in how to turn need and want into profit. It's Oxford University's Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship, which is backed by the Skoll Foundation of eBay founder Jeff Skoll and located within the Said Business School. This institution is also part-financed by Syrian-Saudi billionaire Wafic Said, philanthropic tax-exiled former donor to the Tory Party.

To be considered for a place, "candidates will demonstrate evidence of the personal qualities strongly correlated with social entrepreneurship", including the usual bizspeak about single-mindedness and persistence and seeking opportunities and resources.

To really succeed, you'll need to find those virtues that demonstrate the key differences between the new social entrepreneurs and enterprises loved by government on the one hand, and fuddy-duddy charities of the past on the other. These are:

• "A willingness to face failure and start again." (My translation:
"Leave funders and beneficiaries in the lurch and move on.")

• "A bias towards action rather than reflection." ("Don't think, consider or care for consequences.")

• "A willingness to take personal and sometimes financial risks." ("Let me squander your money.")

• "A habit of developing a network and subtly or unsubtly exploiting its members." ("Line 'em up and lead 'em up the garden path.")

On such proof, you might think social entrepreneurs are mercenaries selling questionable goods for whatever they can get. That, of course, would be wrong. Better to ask: "What shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his own soul?"

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