Banking on Social Entrepreneurs?




As part of their feel-good efforts to undermine state welfare provisions, Dartington’s School for Social Entrepreneurs was founded in 1997 by Michael Young, a former Director of the pro-capitalist Political and Economic Planning think tank, who is best known as being the man who coined the phrase “social entrepreneur.” Initial funding for this project coming from HSBC Holdings plc, the National Lottery Charities Board and the Esmée Fairbairn Charitable Trust. This uniquely-placed business school works closely with the Government to translate their Big Society agenda into practical policies.

Of note, the School for Social Entrepreneurs’ founding chairman was the late James Cornford (1935-2011). Having been a ruling class policy wonk for decades, James Cornford had acted as the first director (1989-94) of the New Labour think tank, the Institute for Public Policy Research — the very think tank that helped provide the intellectual fodder to allow the Labour Party to dispatch with its working-class roots.

With expansionist plans at the forefront of their founders minds, just last year the School for Social Entrepreneurs completed their first year of work in Bristol, where they say they aim to “help address Bristol’s challenges and support the city in achieving its aspirations.” In this regard they will have their work cut out as earlier this year the Bristol Council budget was slashed by a killer £80 million – bringing the public to their knees courtesy of all the mainstream political parties in the city.

With financial support provided by Lloyds Bank, in October 2013 the first cohort of entrepreneurs graduated from the Bristol School for Social Entrepreneurs. Recall that it was the boss of Lloyds Banking Group, Antonio Horta-Osorio, who took a multi-million pound bonus last year “despite the bank (still supported by tax money) racking up losses of £570 million” the previous year! With public handouts to the super-rich and cuts for the rest of us it is little wonder that the ruling class is so obsessed with supporting a handful of social entrepreneurs.

According to their celebratory web site, each of the 17 graduates from the Bristol School for Social Entrepreneurs now “has either now a project up and running or about to launch, that will help make a huge social and/or environmental contribution to our society.”

Examples of projects started include Rob Wall’s cafe-cum-bike repair shop, Roll for the Soul, which opened in Quay Street in Bristol on July 1st 2013 to much fanfare with the help of Mayor George Ferguson who performed the ceremonial opening. Nealey Conquest, another graduate, founded Community Conscious, a not-for-profit project which offers crystal healing and the like to individuals and corporate clients which operates out of the Wellbeing Rooms at Hamilton House in Stokes Croft – which happens to be home to one of Mayor George Ferguson’s pet projects, The Canteen. Daniel Balla is another Bristollian entrepreneur who set up CoResist — “a fluid and evolving collective of artists, activists and educators; purveyors of inspiration and empowerment” — also based at Hamilton House.

Alexandra Toomb used the entrepreneurial school as a launch-pad for her special project, Into the Wild, which using:

“The ideas, founded on holism and eco-psychology, seek to re-orientate people to the natural world, recognising the inherent distress in the way we live and to change the narrative away from, ‘What is wrong with these people?’ to ‘How can we learn from the people showing us the inevitable and understandable result of endemic disconnection?.”

Inspired by a similarly bizarre way of thinking, Miriam Akhtar’s project Happiness Habits, is “a programme of simple… actions that build well-being and resilience to depression” which she delivers through the Happy City Initiative. Miriam is one of the leading practitioners of positive psychology, with her services much in demand by corporate clients like Rolls-Royce. (For a critical reflection upon the shallow virtues of the individualistic positive psychology movement promoted by Miriam read Barbara Ehrenreich’s excellent book Smile or Die: How Positive Thinking Fooled America and the World.) Here one might only observe that one particularly interesting board member of the Bristol Happy City Initiative is Jules Peck, who in the not so distant past worked for two years as the Director of David Cameron’s Quality of Life Policy Group, advising the Conservative Party on wellbeing and environment issues.

Finally, one last go-lucky entrepreneur who has just graduated from the Bristol School for Social Entrepreneurs is Janine Charles who founded Nurture & Learning which boasts of taking “a unique holistic approach to the whole world of the child’s learning, from home to school.” Dubious inspiration for Nurture & Learning’s therarpy coming from the likes of Dr Guy Claxton, author of The Intuitive Practitioner, who served on the founding faculty of the New Age Schumacher Collge at Dartington Hall Trust, the birth place of the School for Social Entrepreneurs. (Incidentally, Dr Claxton serves on the mumbo jumbo inspired corporate consultancy, Mind Gym, which counts a board member of the Lloyds Banking Group, David Roberts, as their recently acquired chairman.)

With the nice-sounding work of the School for Social Entrepreneurs ever spreading across the country it is critical to remember what it is meant to be replacing: that is, publicly funded provision of vital community services!



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