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Day one was a day of scene setting and big picture discussion about the role for Social Enterprise in a post ‘GFC’ (Global Financial Crisis) world.

Throughout today (day 2) I have been exploring investment models and share ownership ideas connected to Community Interest Companies (CIC’s). As often seems the case – its has been those fringe conversations to the main conference that are most valuable. Particularly great has been the opportunity to sit down with other members of the 20 strong Scottish delegation and reflect and explore the issues and questions raised during the conference. I write this having just had a really interesting conversation with Wendy Reid from Development Trusts Association of Scotland about CIC’s and raising share capital.

Last night I had a long conversation with David Cook from The Wasps Artists’ Studios and Rachel Arnold from Impact Arts about how we can all diversify sources of funding for what we do and maintain the integrity and quality of community and artistic outcomes from our activity.

Let me say now though that there will always be activity that both needs and deserves grant support – I am not advocating replacing the highly valuable investment in the form of grants made to the arts. The trick I think is not to use up restricted grant funds on activity that could be funded through other means or through a mix of sources, whether that be earned income from subsidiary trading activity, from selling services in the form of one of contracts, through service level agreements or through share capital, donations, sponsorship or loans.

Already some clear ideas are forming for me regards new structures for Shetland Arts to accommodate Mareel activity and the projected growth of the organisation.  Ideas that I am not going to announce here but discuss in detail with my Trustees when I get back. In the meantime I am going to test them on the highly experienced group I am with and reflect further on the various study visits I will be enjoying in coming days.

As a general observation on the conference so far, it’s worth noting that the context of the GFC has come up many times. As have issues relating to climate change or as one speaker put it our “age of living in a changed climate”. No ambiguity there. The climate is one issue that is having a profound impact right now on Australian life, through the failure of crops due to the exceptional dry weather and loss of life as a result of forest fires.

But if there is one key message from today’s seminars, it's that we are living in a new age. It’s a transforming time, which is believed to be part of a transforming century. As we come to the end of this GFC and the media is using terms like “getting back to normal” many expressed the sense of doom if we try and do just that. Going back to ‘normal’ and the financial models that existed pre GFC may work for those in significant positions of power, with vested interests in previous models and structures, but it doesn’t learn from the events that got us to where we are today. It also doesn’t recognise the current, real and growing environmental crisis that we find ourselves in. Financial models of success are all currently built on growth of GDP. But as one commentator has put it “we are at the end of growth”; the world cannot support further growth in the ways it has done to date. One delegate suggested that just as the past twenty years was dominated and defined by the IT industry the next will be defined by the green industry.

Its interesting for me having attended a few creative industry events in the past two years to hear the same messages re the arrival a new era. An era in which a new paradigm is required. One that focuses on social values and people, the environment and creativity opposed to purely economic returns. As President Clinton put it not long after he left office “I made a fundamental error, I failed to invest in people”. The same messages across sectors and across the world are singing out loud and clear.

An interesting speaker from New Zealand (Dr Manuka Henare) talked about how the challenge for his rural communities “was not just to survive but to be significant”. He talked about how he saw his role in life to be a “place maker”. For me, that is at the heart of my involvement in arts. I think that we all want to feel a sense of personal and community significance and the arts in their various forms contribute massively to who we are, our sense of place and community.

I have been musing over the interesting paradox that as we move towards more and more of a global economy and as we become a ‘global village’, how there has been a massive increase in very localised financial institutions and micro finance schemes. Globalisation encourages and supports localism it would seem. It seems counter intuitive. This is very exciting I think for small rural communities with high levels of global recognition like Shetland– it means that we get to compete at a truly international level.

Last night I attended the conference gala dinner. The highlight being a performance by Debora Cheeton an international opera singer and one of just three aboriginal opera singers. She told a compelling and moving story about her life interspersed with a range of songs. The very matter of fact why she described herself as one of the “taken generation” – taken from her aboriginal family at birth and placed with a white family was shocking, moving, disturbing and so so recent in terms of history. There will have been people in the audience whose parents will have been those doing the taking. Its amazing to think that it wasn’t until the late sixties that the aboriginal people of Australia existed in law, as people – until that point they were categorised as ‘wild life’!

So far I have attended the following seminars: Look before you leap – preparing your enterprise for growth; Building the right muscles – selecting the right legal and governance structure and a master class on mergers and acquisitions.

Tomorrow I’m off on a site visit to an arts and media based social enterprise in Melbourne city. I looking forward to getting outside – there is only so long that I can stay in one building. More news to follow.

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