Wanted: 100 tycoons with a heart

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The Independent Online
LORD YOUNG of Dartington, the 83-year-old peer dubbed "the most brilliant social entrepreneur of the century", will this week outline plans for a network of business schools for men and women with the vision of a Richard Branson - but without his desire to become filthy rich.

Lord Young is preparing to open branches of his pioneering School for Social Entrepreneurs in Liverpool, Salford, Newcastle and Glasgow. Students will develop their money-making talents, but every penny they make will be ploughed back into the community.

"Social entrepreneurs" are hard-headed operators who, instead of creating wealth for themselves, do so for the wider community. They include John Bird, who founded The Big Issue in 1991, and Father Myles Kavanagh, a Belfast priest who built up a business venture with assets well in excess of pounds 60m. Fr Myles receives not a penny of profit, lives on a miserly salary and admits to just one perk: "I do like a pint of Guinness." And then there is Lord Young himself.

In 1945 Michael Young wrote the section of the Labour Party manifesto pledging a National Health Service. He has spent the past 50 years "getting things done". He was the inspiration behind the Open University, the Consumers' Association, the National Consumer Council and Language Line, a telephone interpreting service used by police, hospitals and social services.

Now he is convinced the time is right for, possibly, his last big project. Last week the independent think-tank Demos revealed that not-for-profit mutual societies are one of the fastest-growing sectors of the economy, with an annual turnover of pounds 25bn. Social entrepreneurs, says Lord Young, make mutuals work.

Ian Christie, co-author of the Demos report, believes mutuals are the key to the Prime Minister's much vaunted "Third Way" strategy. "Where public services are under strain the Government should not think that the best solution is to privatise. It should turn parts of the public sector into mutual organisations."

Lord Young said: "The School for Social Entrepreneurs will be for people high-minded enough to be concerned about what is going wrong with society, but they need a lot more than good intentions and a social conscience. They need to be hard-headed enough to do something about it."

It is business school orthodoxy that entrepreneurs cannot be trained, that they are unique. They have the ideas on which enterprises are built. Lord Young says that there are hundreds, possibly thousands, of potential social entrepreneurs who have the ideas but not the experience or expertise to put them into operation. Which is were the SSE comes into play.

Eighteen months ago a pilot was set up in a converted house in Bethnal Green, east London. Lord Young twisted corporate arms and got the cash, principally from the Hongkong and Shanghai Bank. For the next stage of the venture he has Marks & Spencer on board. Sir Campbell Adamson, former director-general of the CBI, provides the business expertise.

More than 1,200 men and women expressed interest in the project. Space and cash meant only 23 could be accepted for the one-year course. Which is why the school is going national. "We just don't have the space. We need to cater for hundreds and we can't do that in London alone," explained Lord Young.

James Smith, director of the school, stresses that entrepreneurs cannot be made from scratch. "For starters you need a certain attitude. We can provide tuition in law, marketing and finance, but primarily we are about working with students on practical schemes - which they have to devise. We give them pounds 800 at the start of term and it's up to them how they use it."

Bert Leslie, one of the first people to graduate from the SSE, was managing director of a landscape gardening company. He had proven his entrepreneurial skills but wanted to use them in a more altruistic way. The school sent him on placement to a voluntary body in east London and he raised nearly pounds 500,000 for it. "The school has been a watershed in my life," he said. "I was disenchanted with the commercial sector and the SSE has enabled me to start a new life with almost limitless opportunities to help people in a direct and tangible way."

Most students, so far, have not come from a commercial background, although most have experience in the voluntary or charity sector. Mr Smith is clear how the school can change the attitude of those coming from the not-for- profit sector. "The problem with lots of people working in the voluntary sector is that they think because what they stand for is good, the way they do it must also be good. Alas, it isn't. That's why we stress that the high-minded have got to become hard-headed."