Microfinance: supporting social enterprise for student and community benefit


Option 29 described in the curriculum for excellence senior phase post was described simply as: Establish a microfinance investment fund for student application.

I’ve been asked by a number of people to explain what I meant by this and how it might work.

This option has a number of threads but the starting point is founded upon a perceived need to encourage students to actively create social enterprises which will benefit their communities, and in turn,themselves.

The idea is not new and is rooted in the Grameen Bank  concept, although with more of a focus upon community benefit and personal/group development, rather than tackling poverty. The scheme should certainly tackle some of the symptoms of poverty within communities.


The concept is based upon the establishment of a microfinance fund using donations from local business people and other sources – councils included.  This money would be placed in a trust to which students, or other members of a community, could submit an application for a micro loan which would allow them to establish and develop their social enterprise. The only stipulation – aside from the viability of the plan – would be that the proposal must have a direct benefit to their local community.

An example we have been developing relates to an Elders Buddy Scheme. Let’s say that a student (or students) at the school applies to the fund for an interest free loan to set up the buddy scheme, which will involve families or individuals paying a minimal fee for a young person to spend 5 hours week making an evening home visit to an elderly person. The social entrepreneur/s, would use the loan – to a maximum £1000 – to pay for advertising, information materials, recruitment, training, disclosure fees, and other costs.

The microfinance fund would seek to provide additional support through a business /community mentor and a further network of relevant contacts  and fellow social entrepreneurs.

Areas of possible community benefit include; early years and child care; elderly care; youth programmes; disability support; and environment.

Obviously there are numerous working details missing from this description but in order to keep this post brief and to the point I’ll focus upon the benefits to the indviduals and the community they inhabit, and the possible problems.

Here’s a list of possible benefits:

  1. Young people are introduced to the world of work and enterprise in a real and meaningful manner.
  2. Communituties would benefit from the services provided.
  3. Experience in developing and running a social enterprise would be highly regarded on applications for employment or further/higher education.
  4. Young people develop real experience in financial management.
  5. It gives meaning to other academic studies as they become contextualised in a world of work and social duty.
  6. If  recognised as part of a young person’s senior phase curriculum it would enhance and  deepen that experience.
  7. It would promote comunity engagement and awareness of young people with/about their community.
  8. It woukd raise the positive profile of young people in their communities.
  9. Encourages young people to take the next step into running businesses for themselves.
  10. Promotes and entrepreneurial spirit in a community/school.

And possible problems:

  1. Loans are not repaid
  2. Enterprises collapse as young people leave their communities for further study or employment
  3. Services to vulnerable groups are not sustained
  4. Existing services with full time employees are placed at risk due to competition.
  5. Schools do not recognise the value of the scheme and only allow high achieving students to particpate or do not facilitate time  for involvement.
  6. The scheme does not offer sufficient support in the initial stages
  7. The bureaucracy of the application process is too off putting and complex.
  8. Funding is too short term.
  9. Insufficient number of financial backers.
  10. Works only in areas of high net worth and not in communites which might really benefit.

Comments and suggestions welcome.

Further reading:

What can social finance learn from microfinance

Social innovation

Peer to peer microfinance for young people

Youth enterprise

Microcredit for young entrepreneurs

Developing my role

As Head of Education I had a very clear and unambiguous role, i.e.  I was responsible for everything which came under the banner of education of children and young people from 3-18 years of age.  In my new role as Acting Director of Education and Children’s Services I have a much wider remit which includes the oversight of education but also gives me responsibility for the social care agenda for children and families in East Lothian.  I’m fortunate to have two outstanding heads of service in the form of Alan Ross, Head of Children’s Services, and Maureen Jobson, Acting Head of Education, both of whom have tremendous experience in their respective fields and can be relied upon to deal with the business of managing our £85 million budget whilst also contributing and shaping our strategic direction.

As Director I also have a major corporate responsibility as a member of the Board of Directors, alongside the other directors and the chief executive.  It’s this area that has perhaps the greatest potential for seeing a change in the way that we do things in East Lothian.  For example, we have agreed following our recent Managers Conference to revise our corporate plan to consider things in a much more thematic approach than simply from a service perspective.  For example, by considering the corporate parenting agenda as a theme we can begin consider how each of the discrete services can work together more effectively to provide a service which has a positive impact on the lives of Looked After and Accommodated Children – as opposed to one where the needs of the individual service took precedence over the needs of the child.

As a Director I also play a key role in the interface with the elected administration through working closely with the convener pf education and children’s services and other senior members of the administration in assisting them to fulfil their democratically elected agenda. The range and number of meetings can be a burden in terms of the time required but this is a necessary outcome of democratic accountability if we are to ensure that local government is properly managed and effectively delivered.

I’m also heavily involved in developing our strategy and practice in relation to the integration of various services to ensure that we work together effectively to meet the needs of young people and families.  As the chair of the Chief Officers group which includes senior representatives from education, police, health, the voluntary sector, children’s services and elected members we have begun to see a more connected approach to planning and the use of limited resources.  One of the exciting dimensions of this approach is our emerging strategic emphasis on Early Year and Parenting.  I have used this concept as a prism through which to reflect upon all aspects of our practice – that is not to say that everything that we do can be explicitly connected to early years or parenting – but that it’s a useful process through which we can begin to align resources and our practice to make substantive , long-term impact on the lives of children who otherwise would be trapped by the generational cycle of disengagement and poor outcomes which can afflict so many families.

In addition to these long term agendas there are of course the wide range of day-to-day issues which can land on my desk as the person with whom the “buck stops” – in many ways these are the bread and butter of my job but there does remain a danger that they can draw you into that cycle of “fixing things” – a phenomenon I recently wrote about – as opposed to considering the underlying issues which often underpin the day-to-day problems. This does require a disciplined approach if I am not to get lost in the detail and keep myself focused upon the bigger picture – which doesn’t always happen.  To that extent I think the role of this Learning Log is absolutely crucial as it’s the one of the few times in my working week when I have the freedom to explore ideas, reflect upon my work and consider the “opposite worlds” which might provide a more fruitful outcome than our current practice which can so dominate our lives.

Looking forwards I reckon I also have key role to sustain and support my colleagues who are dealing with issues at a face-to-face level with our customers – our senior leaders in schools and children’s services face innumerable challenges and do so in such positive and professional manner which explains why our respective services are of such a high standard. Nevertheless, such challenges inevitably take their toll which is why it is my intention in the coming year to work with my colleagues at a much closer personal level by regularly visiting them on site, attempting to understand their problems and offering my support both in a practical sense and in a longer-term strategic manner to change the way in which we do things.

Engaging with our communities – the role of social media


We held a meeting last week where we explored the potential of weblogs to assist the community planning process – based on the edubuzz model -although not necessarily using the same platform.

Community Planning is a process which helps public agencies to work together with the community to plan and deliver better services which make a real difference to people’s lives.

The aims of Community Planning in Scotland are:

1. making sure people and communities are genuinely engaged in the decisions made on public services which affect them; allied to

2. a commitment from organisations to work together, not apart, in providing better public services.

There are two further key principles in addition to the two main aims outlined above:

3. Community Planning as the key over-arching partnership framework helping to co-ordinate other initiatives and partnerships and where necessary acting to rationalise and simplify a cluttered landscape;

4. the ability of Community Planning to improve the connection between national priorities and those at regional, local and neighbourhood levels.

As we discussed the potential of weblogs it became apparent that this might just be a vehicle which could be of some real use.  If we could encourage key figures and other members of a local community to keep a weblog where they would reflect upon local issues and stimulate a dialogue within a community, the likelihood of planners and public services to take account of these opinions would be greatly enhanced. The old ways of questionnaires, focus groups, community conferences, canvassing do not enable a substantive, two way, on-going dialogue to take place where ideas can be shaped and developed over a period of time.

I know how I am being influenced by being able to read the weblogs of teachers, parents and children – surely this has some possibility for community engagement?

So how might such a scheme work? Let’s take a community like Tranent.  If we established an area where the weblogs of of the community could be accessed and new members could participate we would begin to build up a very rich picture of the strengths, opportunities and needs within the community.  Officers and elected members could engage with this dialogue and perhaps even have their own weblogs to make the decision making process even more transparent and interactive. 

I know some people might feel very threatened by such a suggestion, as it appears to almost encourage anarchy by handing over the “airwaves” to the public – yet surely that is what community planning is about? – a transparent enagagement with the local community to the point where people eventually (it would take some time) begin to believe that they do have a voice and that it is listened to. Even more importantly those who do make the decisions can explain the thought process and reasoning behind decisions – even those decisions which are unpopular (see example).

Last observations:

  • A councillor recently described how no one had attended any of their surgeries in the last four weeks. 
  • Another councillor described how few people had attended their surgeries over a three year period. 
  • East Lothian Council have started to hold some council meetings in the evening to be more available to the public – very few (less than 10 have attended in any one evening) .

Perhaps it really is time to explore alternative vehicles for community interaction?

Curriculum Architecture Conference

Our curriculum architecture conference proved to be a great success.

P1010675 P1010672 P1010667

The evaluations from the 100 participants has been exceptional. It validated the approach we selected to involve a wide range of participants – HTs, DHTs, PTs, Primary HTs, elected members, parents, students, business people, community services and members of the department in the development of policy.

Our sincere hope is that this format could provide a model for further such debates at school and cluster level. The contribution made by the senior students to the debate was incredible and showed how learners have such an important role to play in co-creating their curriculum.

I’ll be publishing the outomes of the event here once the feedback has been typed up.

Political Scrutiny

We had our second Policy, Performance and Review Panel (PPRP) Meeting of the session this afternoon.

The panel is made up of elected members who are not part of the political administration. It’s their job to publically scrutinise the work of the department.

I was delighted that they have agreed to focus upon our Standards and Quality Report. At future meetings we will present our self-evaluation of the various performance indicators. The Panel will examine our practice, review our evidence and validate (or otherwise) our own evaluation. It’s only by this kind of public scrutiny that we can really show that we are committed to providing an improving and high quality service.

The other advantage of this approach is that it will demonstrate to schools that we are subject to (and welcome) the same kind of validation process that our Quality Improvement Team provide for schools’ Standards and Quality Reports.

Building a Curriculum for Excellence

We are holding a conference in October entitled:

Curriculum Architecture in East Lothian Schools: Building A Curriculum for Excellence

Objective – To provide direction for policy decisions relating to curriculum architecture in our secondary schools.

Some of the issues which will be discussed at the conference will include:

Timetabling; Class Organisation (setting); Age and Stage; Choice and Personalisation; Transition from Primary; Transition beyond Secondary school; Learning Teaching; School Buildings; Disciplinary and Inter-disciplinary Approaches; Organisation of teachers.

Who will attend? All Secondary Head teachers, Two Primary Head Teachers per cluster; One Depute Head Teacher per secondary school; One Principal Teacher per secondary school; six elected members – one per cluster; Two senior pupils per secondary school; One local employer per cluster; Two parental representatives per cluster; Teachers’ Union representative; Community Learning and Development representatives; Representatives from JEVC and QMU; Representative from voluntary sector; and officers from Education and Children’s Services Department.

As things stand the programme will be as follows:
8.45 Coffee/Tea
9.15 Welcome and Introduction, Peter Mackenzie, Convener of the East Lothian Education and Children’s Services Committee (provisional)

9.30 Reflecting upon curriculum structures for the future: TBC
10.15 Some Options for the future: Don Ledingham, Head Of Education, East Lothian Council

10.45 Coffee/Tea

11.15 Task 1
Groups made up of a cross section of representatives from across the County will discuss and consider the following questions:

— The questions will be derived from the Literature Review Paper – see attached
12.50 Indicating Preferences: Following Task 1, members of the group will have the opportunity to indicate their personal preference in response to each question

1.00 Lunch

2.00 Summary of responses to Task 2 by Secondary Head Teacher – what would these preferences mean?

2.10 Introduction to Task 2

2.30 Task 2

In the same groups as the morning session representatives will consider a second series of curricular questions:

— The questions will be derived from the Literature Review Paper – see attached

3.50 Indicating personal preferences

4.0 Summary of responses to Task 2 by Secondary Head Teacher – what does would these preferences mean?

4.10 Summary of conference and next steps; Alan Blackie, Director of Education and Children’s Services

4.30 Close of conference

Next steps: The conference will be followed up by a working group who will design a policy paper which will go to the Education and Children’s Services Committee for approval.
We are using the comprehensive literature review undertaken by Professor Brian Boyd et al as a key resource. I’m having a go at providing a precis of this review with a series of options linked to each issue. Our hope is that each of the 100 delegates will have the chance to express their opinion – following discussion – about the various options. Delegates will have a series of green, amber and red dots with which they will indicate their point of view – green – agree, amber – unsure, red – disagree.

There’s still plenty of time to shape this up over the next few weeks but of you want to contribute ideas please leave a comment here.

Public Service

I spoke to our staff team on Friday and announced the local election results.

It’s going to be quite a dramatic change from the labour adminstration that’s been in place since the creation of East Lothian Council 12 years ago.

I made the point that it’s our job to support the democratically elected members as best we possibly can to deliver a high quality education service in East Lothian. 

Taking account of social dynamics?

 I attended my third community evening in Dunbar this week regarding Dunbar Primary School provision.

Due to a rapidly expanding population in Dunbar it has become necessary to enhance the primary school provision in Dunbar earlier than had been previously predicted. There are a number of options – all of which involve the construction of a new building.

As is the case with all such developments the council officers representing finance, property services; planning and education met to undertake an option appraisal where the criteria for selection included: cost; education; flexibility for expanding provision in the future; and traffic considerations

There were 5 options:

  • A. Do nothing – not an option really given the growth in population and predicted school roll of 1,253 by 2014;
  • B. Build a second primary school in a green field site;
  • C. Build an infant school (P1-P3) on a green field site and use the current primary school as an upper primary school (P4-P7)
  • D. Build a new upper primary school on a green field site and use the existing building as an infant school;
  • E. Extend West Barns Primary School – this has been discounted due to a traffic management review which demonstrates that it could not accommodate any increase in roll.

Options A and E can be discounted – which left B, C an D.

Taking all factors into account the officers – of whom I was one – preferred the option B.

However, what has become very apparent is that the concern of the community does not focus solely upon educational criteria but is based upon a strong fear that a new school South of the Railway (which might only service the educational needs of the new houses which have been built in Dunbar over the last 7 years) would split the community of Dunbar between “old” and “new” and – as was suggested on Thursday evening – along socio-economic lines. 

The question I’m left with is whether or not council officials such as myself can ever take such criteria into account?

Our reasoning for recommending a new school on the proposed site was influenced by the fact that it was a better educational solution; significantly cheaper (we have duty to procure within a best value regime for the benefit of the whole of East Lothian); enables safe routes to school; and significantly reduces travel distances and associated environmental impact)

Considering these factors objectively – and in isolation from the social dynamic factor  – one can see why we are recommending the solution for a new school. However, such a decision does not satisfy the wishes of the community.

It has been suggested that it should be left to a referendum of the people of Dunbar but how does a council ensure appropriate distribution of its resources if every community makes selections without any reference to the financial or educational consequences of such a decision?

ICT twin dimensions

We held our Education Policy and Performance Review Panel (PPRP) meeting today in Preston Lodge HIgh School.

The panel consists of elected members who scrutinise the work of the Education and Children’s Services.

We met in the school to show elected members how ICT policy is translated into action in our schools.

We looked at two very different examples:

  1. The first was a demo’ of the interactive whiteboard in a maths classroom. This looked at how technology was assisting and enhancing learning and teaching.
  2. The second was a visit to the art department to look at some digital animation and a film produced by students about the holocaust – one of the most exceptional films I’ve ever seen – regardless of who was the producer.

The councillors were very impressed and the visit proved so worthwhile that we intend to make school visits a regular feature of the PPRP programme.

Thanks to all at PLHS.