Enspiral, which built the SBN’s new website and directory, is a network of professionals and companies working together to create a thriving society. We spoke to Chloe Waretini to learn about Enspiral’s innovative approach to creating change.
What does Enspiral do?
Enspiral builds start-up social enterprises and runs business service companies that are designed to help solve some of our biggest social and environmental problems. This is why we have an affinity with the Sustainable Business Network. We’re a network too, a network of over 150 people working in 13 social enterprises connected by the Enspiral Foundation.
The most interesting thing about what we do is how we do it. We decided we wanted to be a truly democratic organisation, so there are no bosses at Enspiral or any management hierarchy. We’ve been figuring out how to do that and grow. Some of the solutions to problems like how we make our decision-making processes inclusive, efficient and effective have turned into ventures. The first example of this is Loomio (an online tool for collaborative decision-making), and we’re just about to launch Cobudget, an online platform for participatory budgeting.
For the past year or so now we’ve worked together as a collective, managing and deciding where our discretionary budget goes. Each month, if you’re in our network and see a project you want to do, for example an internal project to enhance our website, or an external one like putting on Social Enterprise Week, then you can suggest it and each person who has contributed financially to the collective that month can decide where to put their funds. This way of managing our finances has been incredibly empowering.
Everything we do in the organisation is about unlocking the power of collaboration with the belief that the more diversity you have in the decision-making process, the stronger the decisions will be.
What is Enspiral’s vision?
We exist to drastically increase the capacity of people doing meaningful work. We see a trickle of energy go into solving big challenges but we want to make it a river. Our vision is that if someone, somewhere, has a passion for something that is going to help make the world a better place, then we can enable them to work on it.
What is your own role in Enspiral?
I work in Enspiral Services, which is a series of teams that primarily work with clients (though we often have a few self-initiated projects on the go too). I coordinate a team called The Purposive Collective. We work with clients like the SBN that are focused on creating community around particular causes or missions. We also recently created the world’s first Crowd-Grown Feast as an experiment in building an urban food-growing community. I’m also a Member of Enspiral which means I’m a non-profit shareholder of the Enspiral Foundation.
Which part of your job do you enjoy the most?
Taking the core of an idea or challenge – like ‘how can we increase the capacity of SBN members to connect and support each other to make NZ a model sustainable nation?’ – exploring this with others to collaboratively generate ideas, and then seeing it through to a live product like the Sustainable Business Directory. I love bringing together diverse minds in creative process and watching it generate new directions I could never have thought of on my own. It feels like magic every time.
What is Enspiral’s biggest contribution to a more sustainable NZ?
For me it’s really about unlocking people’s capacity and opportunity to do work that’s most meaningful for them. Many people have the desire to do work that is tackling social and environmental problems (like sustainability), but don’t have the resources or the confidence to get started. We can help with that.
What are the main challenges Enspiral has faced?
The main challenge is that there aren’t any precedents for what we’re trying to do. We’re the first business organisation at scale, with over 150 people now, that is trying to do everything absolutely democratically. Even if you have no bosses, power still accumulates in some people informally and the same people end up making decisions because other people look to them. We’ve had to work really hard to break down those cultural norms, and that takes time to figure out.
These days, Enspiral is a joy to work at – it’s functioning like a self-regulating organism with new inventions popping up every week. We’ve recently completed a collaborative strategy for 2014, which involved over 50 people shaping and now activating it.
What makes you get out of bed in the morning?
The people and clients I work with. Being able to have complete freedom over who I work with and what I work on means I only do stuff that feels really great to get out of bed in the morning for. I feel that all of the work I do is having a really great impact on people’s lives and it’s a lot of fun too.
Have you got any nuggets of wisdom for our members?
True collaboration takes a lot of skill and effort but once you’re able to get it, it really is the key to everything. It results in better decisions and better solutions. Being able to involve people in the process is far more efficient than trying to figure things out and communicate them yourself, as everyone’s on board and understands why decisions have been made.
Collaboration is the most valuable resource I think that we have in how we create change. That’s my reason for wanting to work on the SBN website and directory. I wanted to see how we could create a community – not just a network – and mobilise people to act together.
Find out more about Enspiral