John Hitchin, Renaisi’s CEO writes week notes to capture and reflect on the realities of running a social enterprise.

A week of talking

Last week I mentioned having a week of back to back meetings. This week has been much more about presenting and training others – projecting ideas out rather than getting in the weeds of talking ideas with others.

This included two days of training that we ran with Right to Succeed for a massively exciting and ambitious place-based programme in North Birkenhead, Cradle to Career. My colleague Lizzie and I were introducing ideas and concepts, particularly around the use of Collective Impact principles in other countries and places, the development of the Right to Succeed theory of change, and the role of implementation. It was great to be part of such an enthusiastic group of people about such an ambitious project.

I presented some ideas at a conference on London regeneration, where I explored the reasons why Renaisi stopped positioning itself as a regeneration consultancy and diversified our thinking, partly in response to austerity. I am really interested in how we are now back at some of those old, place-based regeneration questions, but in a way that is much more focussed on collaboration, leadership, knitting things together and trying to shift systems not just KPIs.

Finally, I presented to a wide range of stakeholders within Hackney about some of our work to date, looking to build relationships and buy-in for what we’re doing with the anchor collaborative.

I’m in a very different headspace from last week: much more on show, with a need to be confident and concise, rather than in meetings where doubt and discussion is possible.

Structures of learning

For a couple of different partnerships, I also talked about the structures and processes of learning. I think this is really interesting and quite different from working with a senior leadership team about the idea of learning. It’s focussed on teams and individuals and is about the questions that influence them with a clear ‘so that’ at the end of it. “We answer this learning question so that we can do…”

Very different organisations are grappling with these same challenges, and I think we’re in a similar place at Renaisi.

Understanding

Since the death of George Floyd, we have had an ongoing conversation within Renaisi about a range of interconnected issues. Some of those conversations have been directly about the experience of black colleagues in and outside of work, some have been about all BAME experiences, and other have been about justice and equity within our organisation and work in general. At times they have supported each other well, and at times they have felt in tension.

What we have tried to do is to hold them together in a document and process that we’re calling ‘Embedding Change’, which is basically a plan for becoming the organisation that we want to be.

The biggest area of work that colleagues wanted to spend time on initially was around understanding. How do we practically increase our understanding of the different roles and people that exist within Renaisi, and how to question of race, identity, equity, and other things interact with that? It is my view that this will be the foundation for many other changes we want to make.

Our ‘away’ day next week is going to be heavily focussed on understanding different roles, work and people. I also spoke with three colleagues about a new advocate role we’ve created, where team members create spaces to talk about a set of topics, and we work to share the outputs from that in a neutral way. All of this comes alongside a nice series of events that colleagues are organising for Black History Month, both organisation-wide and within teams.

One of our values is that we are curious. That has to be about each other, as well as our work.

Reading, listening and watching

I went to the Sainsbury Centre for the Visual Arts at UEA while in Norwich over the weekend. I was really taken aback by the quality of the collection. Although I did notice how white and male it was. Something I must admit I wouldn’t have thought about a few years ago.

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