Our team is growing…

This isn’t your usual non-executive director announcement. On the surface, it may seem that way. We’ve appointed a white, heterosexual, cisgender and able-bodied male. So far, so business-as-standard, right? Except, Harry Bailey and I don’t necessarily see it that way. 

Harry Bailey

In many ways, Harry’s appointment wasn’t a conscious choice on my part. (Hold that gasp). We met over 18 months ago on a side project both of us were involved in shaping and delivering. The Inclusion Coalition, somewhat ironically, was taking a sharp look at the needs and gaps around the tech industry’s willingness and ability to engage diverse people in its workforce. 

Harry used his voice to connect dots between the underlying issues we were exploring and brought other, more marginalised people and perspectives to the fore of the work we were doing. It took a few months to realise he was transitioning out of his role as director of product evolution at Human, a progressive software company he had co-founded and helped successfully scale. 

As a social enterprise which engineers social change – building communities, designing solutions and growing our income to grow our impact – his experience and network bring tremendous amounts of value to the movement’s we’re building out of Noisy Cricket. Yet, while we’re both conscious his background has been gifted in part because of his privilege in society, it’s not his business chops that recommended him to Noisy Cricket. 

Instead, what spoke to me was his willingness to not speak, if that makes sense. As much as Harry is able to see the golden nugget of truth in any situation, and speak up for people who might not yet have a place at the table, mostly, he is just as happy to sit back and listen, learn and add value only when it’s needed.

Journey

If you come from a corporate background, like me, masculine behaviours like competition, assertiveness and decisiveness have a tendency to overwhelm proceedings. Our vision at Noisy Cricket is bringing diverse people together to co-create change, and when you’re dealing with vulnerable people, being able to listen and let other people own their voice and power is make or break.

I saw this in action in the year Harry volunteered on our flagship Noisy Cricket venture, HI Future. We have brought people who have experienced homelessness together with businesses, and it’s sensitive, challenging work. His ability to listen when its need and challenge me and the rest of the team in a constructive way is essential.  

All this was contributed long before I was able to pay anyone for taking on an official role within the project. So, it took eighteen months, witnessing how Harry worked, to realise he was a perfect fit for Noisy Cricket, precisely because of his refusal to take advantage of his white, heterosexual, cisgender and able-bodied male identity.

HI Future.jpg

So, it’s a strange thing to announce. We’re not ignorant of the message his appointment sends, but neither do we want to shy away from it. The experience he has been afforded is useful, but it’s the values of active listening, courageously caring and being ambitiously hopeful that makes him a great fit for Noisy Cricket, and how we both live and breathe that day-to-day. 

And, that includes this conversation. We want to create open, nuanced and broad-sighted discussions about change. 

Just as our work in building the HI Future community – where people who have previously rough slept work alongside business leaders and public sector officials to determine how we change recruitment practises and deeply held stigmas – creates space for everyone to hold power and have a voice, we must mirror that internally. 

High Five EDIT

What’s brilliant about Harry’s appointment is that his willingness to face into that very imbalance is what makes him perfect for the role. And, it’s his gift in understanding teams, mentoring people and establishing open, inclusive and progressive cultures that will help Noisy Cricket do the great work it does, but at scale. 

He’s likely to be the last white male we’ll employ for a while, but there’ll be many, many more people like him who come to work with Noisy Cricket. 

Why become a social enterprise?

Huzzah! Noisy Cricket is now a social enterprise. Life didn’t start out this way though, back in late 2016, when I set up a business to build people-powered movements and bring diverse people together to co-create social change.

We started out as a limited company because at the time, I couldn’t see how a social impact consultancy fit within the world of social enterprise. We empowered changemakers and facilitated change, so direct impact wasn’t within our reach.

Yet, as with any business and life in general, things change. Almost two and a half years later, our model has evolved. Whilst we still help cross-sector organisations and changemakers from all walks of life strategize and collaborate to drive progress, it wasn’t enough.

Why? Because what Noisy Cricket is asking of us in creating social change is a tall order. Addressing root causes over symptoms. Working collectively in opposition to our traditional sector silo-mentality. Purposeful and future-focused action over issue politics and getting lost in the now.

Very few client briefs came through asking us to cross-sector and social divides, though we’ve had some tremendous fortune with the progressive people we’ve had (and still have) the pleasure to work with.

Researching and mapping issues, designing transformative programmes and building proactive communities will always be at our core, and we’re continuing to scale our work in issues as challenging and diverse as tech ethics, health inequality and diversity and inclusion.

Yet being exposed to the major gaps in addressing issues, seeing how powerful change can be when different people face into each other’s humanity and do so with a common purpose gave us an idea. What if we created the movements from scratch?

So, as well as mentoring those looking to change the world and working inside organisations to drive external impact, we started to innovate, building social impact ventures that utilised Noisy Cricket’s theory of change, and using our humanity-centred design approach, shift how its created too.

Over the course of the last year, it’s become apparent we’re more of an engine than a traditional agency or consultancy. We work with, not for, and ask questions instead of tell. It’s not always an easy pitch, but when it comes to social change, remaining open and agile is all.

So too are the people at the centre of our work. Those people impacted by inequality, who often find themselves voiceless, and struggle to find their power within systems that serve others, and in cultures that denigrate their value. Co-production is at our heart.

So, as we increasingly find ourselves directly creating impact – and our model evolving to engineer change both in the process and in the insights, products, communities and campaigns we design – we began to ask questions of our structure.

Whilst social was core to how we operated, how might that look in a more official capacity? With everything from a social business with purpose at its core, a community interest company, where trade and change combine and a charity with pure impact at its heart, where to set our stall?

We decided on social enterprise – the middle ground – with a leaning towards profitability. With purpose, profitability and people central to our conversion, we’re now a community interest company that’s limited by share.

What this means is that 65% of our profits will be invested, either back into Noisy Cricket to further championing changemakers, facilitating change or innovating in social impact, or organisations and issues we champion. Should we ever shut up shop, our profits will go to an asset-locked body.

35% will be made available to shareholders, however, and when you’re dealing in social impact, that can feel uncomfortable, but here’s why. With so much social good being created and delivered either very cheaply or for free, we devalue social impact and the people giving and receiving it.

So, Noisy Cricket’s model inherently asks a challenging question, in how much we value social impact, both socially, culturally and economically. As organisations wake up to the needs, expectations and demands of a wholly conscientious new generation, it’s going to get interesting.

So too is the conversation around what we pay our designers, researchers, facilitators and campaigners. For so long, we’ve expected those in social and caring sectors to work for little and give a lot, and how we reward talent and purpose requires examination. Valuing people is important.

In addition to questioning value, we have to examine how we’re creating. As the world wakes up to the need to live and work with both purpose AND profit, we need to scale from bootstrapped business to a sustainable enterprise, and it’s going to take some ingenuity.

Income from trading, sponsorship for our projects and grant funding will all play its part in the short to medium term, but long-term, we have big ambitions, and to scale we’ll need investment. For that, return on investment may be part of the picture, and as an enterprise, we’ll need to remain open.

Most important, always, is our purpose, and that’s why becoming a CIC is essential. In embedding our “how” in our articles of association, and committing to constantly assessing our impact, no matter how Nosy Cricket grows, how we do what we do will always be central to our work.

So, here’s to redefining social value, stretching the limits of social enterprise and doing so with diverse people with purpose at its core. For those wanting to build movements around the issues you care about, come join your voice with ours.

Are you sure you’re having an impact?

Social impact – and the measurement of it – is pretty challenging. Don’t get me wrong, it’s important. Knowing you’re making a difference when it comes to the issues of the likes of poverty, equality and fulfilment is essential. Yet, unlike capital, it’s hard to quantify.

Dealing with products, customers and awareness is a simple matter of whether your numbers add up to more than what you put in to start with. Turnover, profits, return on investment (ROI)? All relatively simple. Measuring how giving people agency, shifting a system to be more inclusive or impacting cultures through changing mindsets… much harder!

As a result, in the third and public sectors, where the focus is less on profit and more on people or a bigger purpose, we tend to get caught up on the delivery of solutions. The number of services or programmes undertaken, and the people processed through. Views of an awareness-raising video on a social issue or using an app to obtain peer support. Numbers, numbers, numbers.

Yet, those numbers don’t necessarily add up to anything. If “we measure what we value” as an adage is true, what value is watching a video creating? What difference does attendance at a training course make to someone’s life? Very rarely does social impact measurement deal in the how its meeting people’s needs or changing behaviours to pursue a more conscientious course of action.

So, the focus on solutions, and the “deliverable outcomes” they’re designed to deliver often limit us. Not just because we have no idea if they’re making a difference, but in fixating on a quantifiable end goal, we’re controlling and constricting what good looks like from the outset. Resultantly, it closes down curiosity, and the ability to learn and flex in an arena where change is constant.

Instead, charities, social enterprises and public departments make change a contained and finite process, when in reality, people’s lives, society and the economy is constantly in flux, and in some instances, can actively prevent progress from taking place. Just when we as changemakers thought we were sticking it to the system, eh?

Its an infuriating realisation, especially for those wanting to make a difference in the world. Add to that the fact that despite we’re actively removing the work away from concepts like ROI, we’re still working within funder prescribed conditions, which ultimately come down to what you’ve been budgeted to deliver.

Deliver for “free” too. As it’s charitable, or pro-social, the expectation from the wider market and society is that it’s delivered cheaply or on goodwill, and in the process of making change happen, are actively devaluing the work we do. Not only have we failed to change the systems many people move into these sectors to avoid, but we’re shadowing it too, and not in a disruptive way.

It’s these issues that as an organisation we’re reflecting on, as we design for social change, and build movements with diverse people. What we value is people-valuing one another, and coming together to enable to live safe, connected and meaningful lives, regardless of their identity or life experience. How the hell do you measure that?

The answer is, we don’t know, but we’re asking questions. Questions like, how do you redefine worth when it’s only ever been calculated in dollar signs? How might we remain open to innovation with the constraints that capital brings? How are we creating value where people are prioritised alongside profit?

Difficult, but we’re trying. Encouraging businesses to see social impact as more than fundraising and volunteering, and proactively engaging in co-creating social change like we have with our homelessness employment initiative, HI Future. Remaining open to innovation by committing ourselves to an agile process, where change is constant and active listening is embedded in Noisy Cricket’s MO.

As for creating value, we’re looking at alternative ways to measure it, and going beyond simply quantifying human movement and looking to capture the meaningful experiences that create change in communities, industries, lives and society. We’re starting with the questions though, and if you’re interested in helping us understand them, give us a shout!

Lauren