"" Tim Coates: October 2011

Monday, October 24, 2011

Start Me Up

Starting and building an organization is a test of perseverance, motivation and patience. After reaching the other side, having time to reflect on that experience is a luxury and opportunity that I wish more people could indulge. Since moving to Connecticut a couple weeks ago, I’ve been reliving the first 5 years of 21inc – reading through journal entries, meeting minutes, and emails to better understand what happened, why it happened, and what I can take to the next challenge.

I’m obviously biased but the questions we were grappling with are fascinating, and I can’t help but see connections to current economic and social challenges. Canada’s Globe and Mail, for example, just produced a special report on giving, focusing on the challenges facing the country’s charities. The same winds sweeping through Canada are disrupting the social space around the world – greater accountability demanded from donors; innovations in finance, technology and business models; demographic change altering trends in giving and volunteering.

The founders of 21inc discerned what was needed in Atlantic Canada and acted quickly with one solution (next generation leadership development) to problems (economic decline and social malaise) that require many.

Like our colleagues in the private sector, we had to compete to survive. We had to create demand for a product that previously had no market. We won and lost battles in the war for talent. And like our colleagues in social innovation trying to change the world, we developed a business model with two customers, donors and participants. We thought long and hard about how to measure success and engaged the ecosystem in our effort. We built capacity however possible, mostly with volunteers and through partnerships. We learned (and too often re-learned) where to leverage volunteers and where to rely on staff.   

21inc’s field of leadership development, according to a few recent conversations, is a field in growth mode. It is finding resonance in previously guilded professions. And the techniques and processes so valuable in developing people are being applied to the world of start-ups, innovation and entrepreneurship.

This blog is my tool to help reflect and learn the lessons from this experience. And because there is an increasing number of people and organizations out there trying to make an impact, I hope it will be interesting for many. While the focus will be on leadership, entrepreneurship and social innovation, it may slide into musical tangents or rants about the weather. I’ll try to keep the latter to a modest frequency.