In Your Network - Brian Smouha
Brian Smouha FRSA founded the Coalition for Efficiency (CfE), a registered charity that seeks out ways to help charities run themselves more effectively. Find out how he would like to connect with other Fellows:
1) Please give a brief explanation of what it is you do and why?
I founded and volunteer for the Coalition for Efficiency (CfE), a registered charity that seeks out ways which will influence charities to run themselves more effectively without sacrificing quality.
The full space in our economy occupied by the charity sector is rarely given fair recognition. In 2010 charity expenditure in the UK amounted to £51 billion (source Charity Commission) and the value ascribed to volunteering in the sector is £21.5 billion (source NCVO before the 70,000 Olympic Gamesmakers were counted). A theoretical across the board improvement of only 1% would be equivalent to extra donations of £725 million every year. That is a prize worth striving for.
We’ve been working on leveraging the expertise of volunteers from business to help charities identify or develop their impact measurements. Charities mostly know about impact but there is still the challenge of making it the norm to measure and publish details of the quality and quantity of what each charity achieves.
We’ve developed The Practical Approach, a self-sufficient handbook to guide a business professional, used to working with KPIs, help a charity establish and develop their own measurements. The scheme works because it is led by the CEO of the charity with the support of a trustee and senior executives. The skilled volunteer acts as a facilitator, advisor and catalyst drawing upon their business expertise and experience to assist.
2) What did you join the Fellowship for?
I have been a Fellow of the RSA since 1995. I was attracted to the RSA because of its approach to business issues from a social point of view and social issues from a business point of view. It has gathered together the ideal type of person that represents what is good in 'capitalism'.
'Capitalism' seeks to have that mix of entrepreneurial spirit needed to invent, to explore new areas and to make something out of them. In all it does, it has a strong, ethical base. It also means using the fruits of success and skills to help others intelligently who are less fortunate but who deserve a step up. I think it might have been what David Cameron called the 'big society'. Catch phrases grab attention but do not usually work.
The RSA gives its subjects the benefit of deeper, less hurried thought, not quite philosophical but well considered and from an independent viewpoint. It pricks the mind. It says, think a bit deeper but remain practical. And what is done is done in style; a style that fits the ethos of the RSA.
3) In what capacity do you think you could contribute to society/the Fellowship?
Just think of the Olympic Games and Paralympics. The UK did not use the financial resources of the United States. We did not have the human resources of China. We did it our way. Four hundred thousand people applied to volunteer out of a total population of sixty three million. In China that would have been eight million volunteers. It is now being seen as one of the most successful Olympics of the modern era.
We have all witnessed what an inspiration an army of volunteers can provide. I was fortunate enough to volunteer for the Olympics and Paralympics and I’ve had so much enjoyment from being part of a greater cause and making a difference.
The reward in applying one’s work skills and experience to help a charity is equally fulfilling and fun. There is a huge potential body of skilled volunteers in the UK, and more specifically among the Fellowship and lots of charities, that could really benefit from commercial expertise. This is what the Coalition for Efficiency’s The Practical Approach is all about.
4) What would you change in society given the chance?
We are privileged to have such a powerful and innovative force for good with over 198,000 charities operating in this country. All of these charities are trying to solve problems and fill gaps not provided by society.
Starting with their identified mission, charities should all seek to measure what they achieve against their use of resources. Good management and good governance of a charity is about fulfilling the mission to the maximum. It is through the use of metrics that charities can increase the degree to which it is succeeding in proving its value to its beneficiaries.
Many charities out-perform the public’s perceptions and proof of their achievements will bring a better understanding of the vital part they play in our society.
5) What recent bit of news have you heard which inspires you?
The courage, perseverance and performance of the athletes in the Paralympic Games.
6) What did you learn last week?
The personal satisfaction and reward from helping others.
7) Tell us about another interesting Fellow you have spoken to.
Dr Neil Cross, former President of the RSA. He worked at 3i for many years, latterly as Group International Director. He holds a number of non-executive positions. He is a strategic thinker, who brings his skills to the table and focuses on realistic outcomes. He is great at getting things done and tactfully.
8) What would you like to connect with Fellows about? Please tell us if there is anything you would like from other Fellows
I would like to reach out to other Fellows who are trustees or executives of charities or business professionals and retired professionals who might like to take part in ‘The Practical Approach’. CfE is looking for an army of suitable skilled volunteers and charities to work together through ‘The Practical Approach’. The four steps of the process requires approximately 15 hours of time across four meetings. Projects can be completed in 2-3 months, alongside a full time job and other commitments.
CfE will be working with volunteering experts CSV and will connect interested charities and volunteers at no cost. For more information please contact Marina Mooney at firstname.lastname@example.org or by telephone on 020 7240 6044. Visit the CfE website for more information and to download The Practical Approach. CfE does not charge for its services. The charity is self-funded and relies on charitable donations.
I believe that the RSA and the CfE are very similar in that they both look to the common good. They look to resources and they target making the most of them. They do not differentiate in society but strive to improve society. They work in an open way, not worrying about who owns what intellectual property. It ends up with results but results with “a good taste in the mouth”. When we work together and think together with the same ideals and the same objections, we can achieve almost anything.
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