“If a trickle of human energy can make a difference, imagine what a river could do.”
It is these wise words that you will find posted on the home page of Enspiral’s website, and it is a very good point. Energy when channelled in the right direction can drive significant change, especially when there are enough people behind it. But what does Enspiral do about it ? In their own words, Enspiral is a bold experiment to create a collaborative network that helps people do meaningful work. As such, Enspiral describes itself as being:
“A virtual and physical network of companies and professionals working together to create a thriving society.”
The concept on which this is based is that when people are brought together in a co-working space, that are like minded they can have discussions that lead to seedlings of ideas that then grow up into major activities that can change the world. Enspiral is working to achieve this through creating a network that is collaborative and which allows people to do “meaningful work”.
The Enspiral Foundation was founded in 2010 as a group of individuals that were doing contract work together, and who became thrilled by the idea of developing something bigger out of that. By 2011 the organisation was already launching companies, and started describing itself as a “social enterprise”. During this time the organisation began thinking about how a collective of organisations might successfully operate together. The organisation began collaborative funding in 2013, and started growing quite rapidly. As of 2014, the organisation has 150 contributors, and continues to launch new companies and ventures. It has also worked on collaborative strategy setting to develop a vision to be able to achieve the organisation’s challenging goals.
As Anna Bergren Miller (2014) explains, at first it can be challenging to understand what New Zealand based Enspiral really does. One of the things that Enspiral does is start ventures. The ventures that Enspiral has launched are ground breaking and there have already been very many of these. Examples of innovation are manifold among these. For example, Bucky Box is a venture that builds cloud software for an emerging food system that is designed to tackle the food distribution problem. Loomio works to empower communities to take action together and participate in decision making. Metric Engine allows companies to compare their performance with similar organisations so that they can identify ways in which they can improve, meanwhile Enspiral Accounting offers accounting services to those that place social responsibility in pride of place. Enspiral Legal focuses on providing legal documentation and support to technology start ups. Dev Academy has become New Zealand’s first Developer Academy which allows people to be able to “radically upskill” their tech skills in a nine week boot camp. Volunteer Impact supports environmental volunteers by helping them to understand their impact through tracking and measuring what they do. All of these are excellent ideas that are already making a difference, even though the timeframe in which this has all been set up has been short.
Bergren Miller suggests that the organisation has a very decentralised organisational structure which is called an “open value network”. This is a deliberate avoidance of developing power hierarchies. At the outset, Enspiral was conceived of by its founder Joshua Vial as being a vision to improve the world through creating meaningful work. From this diverse individuals came together due to shared values. This led to networks of companies that were connected by the Enspiral Foundation. The organisation uses open sourcing tools and processes to achieve all of this. It uses collaborative decision making where a wide range of views are brought together to make decisions for collective action. The funding, as already explained, is also collaborative, and the organisation will fund projects that support the network through its transparent and participatory approach to budgeting.
Part of the way that Enspiral has achieved its success is by building up its network. To date, the organisation has held a social enterprise week in New Zealand, organised social enterprise meet ups using “Meetup”, has created internships and has run workshops on good enterprise. There has been a festival for the future with workshops and keynote speakers as well as encouragement of young innovators. There is even a programming club that regularly meets to help people to improve their development skills. Through all of these different activities, and a lot more besides, Enspiral is inventing a new and creative business organization, and is changing the world, one step at a time.
Paula Newton is a business writer, editor and management consultant with extensive experience writing and consulting for both start-ups and long established companies. She has ten years management and leadership experience gained at BSkyB in London and Viva Travel Guides in Quito, Ecuador, giving her a depth of insight into innovation in international business. With an MBA from the University of Hull and many years of experience running her own business consultancy, Paula’s background allows her to connect with a diverse range of clients, including cutting edge technology and web-based start-ups but also multinationals in need of assistance. Paula has played a defining role in shaping organizational strategy for a wide range of different organizations, including for-profit, NGOs and charities. Paula has also served on the Board of Directors for the South American Explorers Club in Quito, Ecuador.