March 2, 2010

blog moved to

Filed under: food, life..., projects, psyche..., social economy 101, social finance — benmetz @ 2:06 pm

I’ve moved my blog over to my own hosting.  You can find me at  Everything should be working as before.  If not then please let me know.

If you RSS this blog you’ll have to update your feed to this link.

Thanks to Amanda at Red Button Design for keeping me on the straight and narrow during this process.


February 9, 2010

Videoblogging from Katoomba

Filed under: projects — benmetz @ 9:02 pm

So I’m videoblogging from the Katoomba conference in Palo Alto.  Thanks to David Wilcox of Social Reporter for getting me up to speed with the techniques and lending me a camera.  If you are interested in following the conference from these videoblogs then you can check them out here.

February 8, 2010

Marine Conservation and Katoomba

Filed under: projects, social finance — benmetz @ 1:13 am

So I find myself back in San Francisco on my way down to Palo Alto for the first Katoomba conference focused on marine based Payments for Ecosystem Services (PES).  The Katoomba Group, run by the organisation Forest Trends, is an international network promoting and improving capacity related to markets and payments for PES.  Katoomba is a forum for the exchange of ideas and information about ecosystem service transactions and markets, as well as site for collaboration between practitioners on PES programmes.

PES is a fascinating topic.  On the one hand it can be viewed as a fantastic market driven mechanism designed to realise financing for communities on the front line in the fight to preserve and improve their environments.  On the other hand it can be viewed as the systematic commodification and monetisation of something that cannot be quantified so, our environment!  I’m currently agnostic in this debate but my guess is that, over the next few days, I’ll be forming a range of opinions…  We shall see!

I’m attending Katoomba thanks to Forest Trends providing bed and board and a supporter of Blue Ventures contributing a bunch of his air miles.  The objective of this trip, other than to eat my way across the Bay area, is to identify and open dialogue with organisations working at the enterprise end of PES.  If I can find and start pulling together best practice in community based marine entrepreneurship that delivers significant ecosystem benefits, such as the mariculture initiatives of Blue Ventures I blogged about a while back then the jet lag and increased carbon footprint will be worth it.

January 26, 2010

Oxford Jam – spreading social enterprise more evenly…

Filed under: projects — benmetz @ 12:42 am

I seem to have kicked off an event with life of its own.  Oxjam10 was an idea that came out of a dinner I convened last year at the Skoll World Forum for Social Entrepreneurship.  85 people came together in an evening side event to meet, eat, inspire and be inspired.  It was lightly facilitated which gave maximum time for networking and learning from each other.  I was approached by numerous attendees who said the dinner was the best part of attending Skoll.  A few folk suggested upping the ante for 2010 – and this is what seems to be happening…

So here it is:

Oxjam10 will create a space for the nurturing of social economy and social finance projects the world over.  Running in parallel to the Skoll World Forum in Oxford in April 2010, OxJam10 is a human scale response to the opportunities for learning and development presented by the Forum. Time and time again, over the history of the Forum, attendees report the most valuable parts of the event are in the halls at Said Business School and the bars around the event. Oxjam10 extends and allows participants to shape this space before arrival. And it opens this space up to people previously unable to attend Skoll.

It’s being crowdfunded and content is being crowd sourced.  Indications are there is a lot of interest and some fantastic and inspiring individuals are lined up, in various guises, to be involved.

To find out more and to get involved check out the Oxjam10 blog.

To contribute to funding the event (it’s free entry on the day) go to our justgiving page here.

December 28, 2009

The social economy in the UK – for the Czech Republic…

Filed under: projects, social economy 101 — benmetz @ 7:15 pm

As Christmas fades from view and calorie intake returns to a more manageable level my thoughts turn to a short piece of work I’ve recently agreed to undertake – a study mapping the infrastructure of the social economy in the UK.  The work has been commissioned by Nova Ekonomika to assist their European funded work stimulating socially entrepreneurial activity in the Czech Republic.  So, over the next few weeks I will be researching and compiling a short report to provide them with:

  • An overview of the historical development of the UK government’s approach to the social economy,
  • A map of the main spheres of action in the social enterprise and entrepreneurship support sector in the UK, and
  • An analysis of successes and failures across government interventions to support the social economy.

I’m excited by the potential of being able to help shape such activity in the Czech Republic.  And I’m comforted by the fact that the subject matter is well known to me – from what I’ve done so far it feels more like meeting old friends than the archeological dig that such a piece of work might be.

Plus – we’ve agreed the entire work will be published on a Creative Commons license – and so will be free for all to use.

I’d welcome contributions and offers to review any of this work as it develops.  If this is of interest to you then please do get in touch.

December 2, 2009

Sea Cucumber Ranching and all things fish…

Filed under: life..., projects — benmetz @ 6:14 pm

So I’m back from Mexico and getting back up to speed with “normal” life, which seems to comprise short days, cycling around a damp, dark London and drinking fine real ale!  And with this my focus is turning to marine entrepreneurship (what else?!) and how to get support and new financing to fantastic marine conservation organisations such as Blue Ventures.

To this end I’m diving in, literally, and helping them raise finance and develop a number of their existing mariculture initiatives.  And I’m planning to head out there for much of the rest of the winter, coming back with a head, and a belly, full of fish and fishy ideas to finance and support marine conservation activities in developing countries…

The following gives an overview of what it is I’m hoping I can develop – essentially to create a new asset class: marine entrepreneurship!  Thanks and kudos to Al Harris, founder of Blue Ventures, who allowed me to blatantly plagiarise and adapt some of the words below.

Marine conservation – what’s the problem?

Over-exploitation, combined with the effects of climate change and sedimentation from deforestation, is degrading coastal ecosystems throughout the tropics. Reefs are no longer able to deliver the same ecosystem benefits per capita, forcing fishers into more and more intensive, destructive extraction in an effort to maintain the flow of benefits.

This increased fishing pressure degrades the ecosystem and a self-reinforcing negative feedback is created that pushes communities deeper into poverty. This further erodes the human and natural resources prerequisite to rational resource use. Throughout southwest Madagascar where Blue Ventures works, and indeed many other coastal regions of the world, indigenous coastal communities are caught in this downward spiral of destructive behaviour.

Until now the preservation of marine ecosystems has focussed on the prohibition of activity through the creation of ‘fortress conversation’ strategies.  These solutions imposed from on high on indigenous communities often involve the complete, or near complete, cessation of marine activity essential to the cultural identity, subsistence activity and income generation of many thousands of coastal communities.  These communities face an impossible choice: – comply with these dictats and lose their main source of subsistence livelihood, income and cultural identify or disregard them and continue to fish for individual gain while the marine ecosystem, often their sole resource, collapses.

So, what’s the solution?

Ashoka Fellow Al Harris established Blue Ventures to provide an alternative.  Started in 2004, to date Blue Ventures has used eco-tourists to gather marine data which is then “animated” into the local community so they understand the complexity and challenges of managing a marine environment, where previously they had no understanding.  In more than 75 villages so far this increased awareness of their immediate environment has caused the community to develop, design manage and then police Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) which protect the environment at the same time as protecting and improving their subsistence and income generating activity.  Globally these are the very first community led MPA’s in existence.

The challenge now facing Blue Ventures is to develop a way that allows this approach to replicate across the estimated 250,000 coastal communities globally that are facing similar challenges to the communities in Madagascar.  Clearly, deriving project finance from eco-tourism will not provide the income required to develop this solution to the scale of the problem globally.  Working with Al we arrived at an initial estimation of the five-year Net Present Value of his current work (across 25 villages) at around €10 million. Should the economic case be proven for this community led approach to managing marine ecosystems a new paradigm in coastal management will have been borne, one that has the potential to dramatically improve the lives of hundreds of thousands of communities and contribute to the preservation and enhancement of ecosystems across the world.

It is with this new approach to the financing of marine conservation in mind that I am diving in to the world of marine entrepreneurship and to a potential winter trip to Madagascar…!

September 23, 2009

Social Entrepreneurship 101

Filed under: projects, social economy 101 — benmetz @ 10:21 am

I almost forgot I wrote this…  Some nine months or more ago Susan Mackenzie at Philanthropy UK asked me to write an article about social entrepreneurship for the Visa European guide to giving.  They posted me a printed copy this week.  So I dug around, found what I wrote and have posted it below.  It’s very much a “101” article for budding philanthropists but I think it’s nicely formed and worth sticking up here.

Visa article for Philanthropy UK

Social entrepreneurship – what’s all this then?

Heading into the 21st century we are seeing the term ‘social entrepreneurship’ used increasingly to describe all manner of activities with some form of social or environmental benefit.

What does it mean to be a social entrepreneur?

Wikipedia defines social entrepreneurship as “the work of a social entrepreneur.  A social entrepreneur is someone who recognises a social problem and uses entrepreneurial principles to organise, create, and manage a venture to make social [or environmental] change. Whereas business entrepreneurs typically measure performance in profit and return, social entrepreneurs assess their success in terms of the impact they have on society. While social entrepreneurs often work through nonprofits and citizen groups, many work in the private and governmental sectors.”

Like business entrepreneurs, social entrepreneurs are driven, ambitious people.  But social entrepreneurs are different.  They measure their success in number of lives improved, environment conserved and wellbeing generated.

Social entrepreneurs can be found in urban and rural locations, throughout the four corners of the world and working in every field and disciple imaginable.  From Victoria Hale who is developing new and affordable medicines for neglected diseases to Willy Foote who is transforming financing structures for fair-trade and organic producers in the developing world, social entrepreneurs use business acumen to tackle some of the world’s most intractable problems.

The Social Economy

Social Entrepreneurs are different from social enterprises.  Social Enterprises are legally incorporated organisations with a social and/or environmental mission that trade to fulfil their objectives.  They are often, but not always, founded and run by social entrepreneurs but the point to make here is that they are not mutually inclusive – social entrepreneurs do not always run social enterprises and social enterprises are not always run by social entrepreneurs.

The social economy in Europe varies in form and scale between each constituent country.  In addition to charities and voluntary/volunteer organisations many countries have histories of co-operative and mutual activity. Arguably the term social entrepreneur can be used to describe the work of the key historical figure Robert Owen, founder of the modern cooperative movement.  Some countries, such as France and the UK, have created new legal structures, policy instruments and financial mechanisms to stimulate the growth of the social economy.  Across Europe the social economy seems to be emerging from the traditional campaigning and charities worlds as a response to increasing commercialisation and globalisation.

Global and local

Social entrepreneurs and social enterprises can be found working at the micro level, perhaps in a particular local community and with turnovers in just the hundreds or thousands of pounds.  Equally they can be found working on globally important issues, impacting millions of lives across multiple continents and with turnovers in the tens of millions of pounds (sterling).

For instance social entrepreneur Willy Foote, who founded Root Capital, negotiates fixed price forward contracts with global fair-trade and organic purchasers such as Starbucks and Whole Foods that then allows him to lend to producers in the developing world.  Over the last four years Root Capital has made $66.5 million of loans, across 26 countries, with a 99.5% repayment rate, impacting the lives of hundreds of thousands of rural producer families.  Willy’s plan is to get to the level of circa $50 million a year of lending at which point this new form of lending will ‘pop’ onto the radar of the major banks, opening a new market to them by proving its viability.  In this way Willy aims to provide rural producers with access to the billions of dollars investment the banks can bring rather than the millions of investment Root Capital can provide.

At the other end of the spectrum and by no means less important is Eric Samuel. Eric founded his initiative, Community Food Enterprise, in 2002, to improve the health of residents in some of the most deprived areas in East London.  Eric is recognised as leading the way in the UK in confronting food poverty and food access issues in the London Borough of Newham and surrounding area.  Through promoting healthy eating through schools and community facilities, providing fresh fruit and vegetables as well as healthy cooked meals, and by training community food workers Eric has impacted on the lives of tens of thousands of individuals.  Eric is stimulating an important change in the fabric of his community, one where understanding and importance is placed on the need for healthy eating for the health of the individual and that of the community.  As a consequence, through training programmes he runs and through word of mouth, his work is beginning have an impact throughout the UK.

There are no Global or Europe wide data sets that can give us a sense of the scale of this phenomenon.  Indeed the blurred nature of what might be classed as socially entrepreneurial activity would make this task difficult, if not impossible.  It is, however, somewhat easier to measure trading activity and thus get a sense of the scale of social entrepreneurship, by measuring social enterprise activity.  This is something the UK Government decided to do in 2006.  The former Government Department of Trade and Industry found 55,000 trading social enterprises in the UK turning over £27 billion, or 1.3% of the total turnover of all businesses with employees and with a contribution to Gross Domestic Product estimated to be £8.4 billion.

Clearly social entrepreneurship and social enterprise is not a flash in the pan.  There is something happening at the interface of business and society and it looks like a structural adjustment that is here to stay.

What’s the future for social entrepreneurship?

As social and environmental problems increase in number and severity the role of the social entrepreneur is becoming more important.  An aging population in the developed world will see pressure placed on Governments to innovate and deliver efficient, value for money health and care services.  By 2030 more than 50% of the population of Japan will be over 65 years old significantly decreasing the Governments tax base while increasing overall health and care costs.

The 2006 Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change shows the effects of climate change costing between 5 and 20% of World Gross Domestic Product.  And as insurance claims from extreme weather events and rising sea levels outpace increases in GDP pressure will mount to devise new ways to climate change.

These kind of demographic and economic changes provide huge opportunities for individuals and organisations that place social return over financial return.  Who better to rise to these challenges than the social entrepreneur on the cutting edge of innovation and using commercial acumen within a not-for-profit structure?  Could it be that the days of the business entrepreneur are numbered and the days of the social entrepreneur are in the ascendant?

How to get involved in Social Entrepreneurship

As social and environmental pressures increase, business entrepreneurs and professionals from across the commercial world are starting to explore the world of social entrepreneurship, by becoming practitioners, funders and volunteers.  They are as likely to get involved in an initiative local to where they live as they are to focus on a field or sector where they have a particular expertise.  Bankers are starting to look at new ways of allocating capital to civil society, Hedge Fund managers are practising arbitrage to drive down the cost of anti-retroviral drugs, Management Consultants are transforming local community organisations into sustainable social enterprises.  These people are changing the world.  You too can change the world.

September 18, 2009

SoCap recap

Filed under: life..., projects, social finance — benmetz @ 2:50 pm

Annapurna – the high point of SoCap!

The quote of SoCap09 for me was an amazing Indian social entrepreneur, Annapurna (I forget her last name) running a cloth weaving social enterprise and moving it to scale. When asked “how do you value your company” she simply replied “I value my company”. I’ll flesh out her full answer a little more… she said:

“I value my company.  The people who I work with value my company, their children and families value my company.

For me value is an emotional word, not a financial one.  For me equity is about equality.

I value my company.”

In my opinion Annapurna captured what was missing from SoCap and what the social capital markets should really be about – the redefining and recapturing of terms such as value, that have been perverted by commerce and finance, and their re-anchoring into real meaning….

Supply vs. demand?

Another observation from SoCap was the dominance of supply (of finance) side people and thinking.  While arguably this is what such events are about it is also clear that such an aggregation of folk without balancing representation from the demand side of the equation (for benefit organisations needing finance) can have negative consequences.  I think I just bore witness, once again, to the creation of a bunch of soon to be redundant architecture – this time a proliferation of systems for metrics, monitoring, evaluation, benchmarking etc…  Undoubtedly some will survive but the aggregate cost to the sector will be high and perhaps better spent doing deals, developing organisations?

Dont get me wrong, it’s great to have the supply side visionaries finally on side.  But those of us coming from the demand side have an obligation to keep these guys feet on the ground and their approaches in reality – with reality being a balance of immediate need (deals to be done) and aspiration (frameworks and global systems for the sector).

Connections and Vignettes…

At the end of the day the acid test for any conference or gathering of people is whether I’ve come away inspired and connected to my fellow attendees.  And in this respect SoCap wins out – in fine style.

I was inspired by people like David Green and his Solar World For All project, looking to radically reduce the costs of photovoltaics and revolutionise the PV supply chain.  I caught up with Ron Layton from Lightyears IP and found out he’s looking at up to a 17 fold increase in current activity levels over the next couple of years (astounding work – check out the website).  Over a conversation about China I met Wayne Silby, founding chair of Calvert, and exchanged crazy ideas…

Oh, and as a bonus I came away hugely better informed about the work I’m doing for the private equity firm I’ve mentioned before.

I met old friends and strengthened friendships.  I met new friends and began new friendships.  I laughed lots with inspiring people (jeffweee, awdweee!!!).  Oh and I ate a fair amount of fantastic food too!!!

Looking forward to SoCap10!


September 16, 2009

SoCap Recap UK – come one, come all…

Filed under: projects, social finance — benmetz @ 8:53 am

Below is an invitation to the UK SoCap Recap, an afternoon and evening review of SoCap09 for people who made it to the conference and for people who didn’t but are interested in finding out what went on…

Dear All,

Jonathan Jenkins, Director of Ventures at UnLtd, is kindly hosting some informal drinks for people who made it to SoCap09, and people who didn’t, to meet up, catch up and share/find out about peoples conference experiences.  Sort of a SoCap recap…

If you were at SoCap and you fancy a debrief please come along to the UnLtd offices at 4pm on Monday 5th October for a bit of a formal review, followed by informal drinks at 5.30pm through to about 7:30pm.  And if you didn’t make it but would like the low-down then do come along.

Those of us who want could make dinner arrangements after.

We’re a bit tight on space, so please RSVP to

That being said please do forward to people you think might be interested in coming along

UnLtd’s offices are at 123 Whitecross St, London, EC1Y 8JJ


all the best


August 30, 2009

Zazie and The Future of Fish…

Filed under: food, projects, social finance — benmetz @ 4:49 am

Brunch at Zazie with Cheryl Dahle who is working on a fantastic project – The Future of Fish.  And while it’s certainly worth mentioning the classic San Francisco brunch (avocado omlette, blueberry pancakes, that great extra thin crispy American bacon) Cheryl’s work gets the bandwidth over a plate of food any time!

Working through Central, a design innovation company, with Ashoka and funded by The Packard Foundation Cheryl has been leading a project exploring how to revolutionise supply chains right across the fishing industry.  The interim report is pretty mind blowing stuff.  She’s identified 120 innovative approaches to transforming the fishing industry, at all points, into a completely different beast – sustainable, viable and environmentally beneficial from hatchery through to plate!

Cheryl’s work is a rich vein of inspiration and opportunity, of particular interest to me as I start to discuss with Technoserve, a DC based emerging markets value chain development NGO, the possibilities of developing a marine entrepreneurship initiative.  The idea, in it’s infancy, is to build on the work of Blue Ventures to test and bring to market environmentally beneficial entrepreneurial approaches that deliver sustainable livelihoods for coastal communities in the developing world.  At first take there are probably six to ten additional initiatives in the Future of Fish report that could fit the bill for this potential project with Technoserve…

Which is why a blog post that started with the aim of describing a great omlette turned into a rant about Cheryl and The Future of Fish….

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