[Skip to Content]

02 February 2010

Martin Clark - Social Entrepreneur

Martin Clark - Social Entrepreneur

Martin Clark is Deputy Chief Executive of Citylife, a social enterprise which issues charitable bonds and provides space and support for social enterprises. He is the author of The Social Entrepreneur Revolution: doing good by making money, making money by doing good.

"There are plenty of distractions that keep me from being consumed by the challenge of work: my wife and two lovely girls, sport, mountains and music. I particularly love camping on mountain summits where you briefly feel so far from the troubles of our world and reconnected to the earth, the atmosphere and the Creator."


As a child what did you want to be when you grew up?

A cartographer - I love the world in all its variety and wanted to know it, experience it and understand it.

How did you get involved in business?

After my geography degree I wanted to change the world by working on international development, but had no practical skills. The life-changing moment was when Mike (now Lord!) Hastings at the Evangelical Alliance asked me to work for him researching church responses to inner city problems. That led me to work for Sheffield YMCA on a project with unemployed young people and also led to the gradual sense of calling that unemployment was an evil to be fought against with whatever energy I could. When the Relationships Foundation in Cambridge was setting up a new charity called Citylife that aimed to change the way local communities responded to unemployment, I knew it was the job for me.

I became involved in business when the charity realised it was the only way to survive, grow and deliver our mission. We knew we had to be a social enterprise, in other words to be as focussed on income generation as we could whilst still achieving our goals.

What is social enterprise?

I think it's the business model of the future: combining social and commercial thinking so you find a balance which does more good than having separate charities and businesses.

How has the credit crunch affected you?

It's been unexpectedly positive. One of our aims is providing affordable space to social enterprises and we have been able to secure short-term use of two buildings whose owners would otherwise have had to pay rates on the empty buildings. Affordable space is obviously in demand so our buildings are full. And the Charitable Bonds we issue are also in demand as organisations look to broaden the ways they can generate funds.

What does 'business for the common good' look like?

People being as ambitious to make the world better as to look after themselves and their families. The traditional approach of ruthlessly commercial business with some token private charity or corporate social responsibility just doesn't solve the problems we face - in fact arguably it makes them worse. So we must break down this false dichotomy and persuade business people that businesses with genuinely social aims are not only morally the right way forward but will in many cases be more sustainable generators of financial value.

How would you invest a million quid?

I'd want to build social enterprise centres with it, but because land and buildings are so expensive I'd take a risk and leverage the money up so I could build several, then borrow against them to create more - and create a rolling development fund which aimed to build a social enterprise centre in every town.

What scripture or narrative influences you in your work?

I have been struck by the way the two great stories of Matthew 25 are side by side: the parable of the talents which seems to be all about multiplying your gifts to the greatest effect, next to the story of the sheep and the goats which is asking us to think about how we meet the needs that present themselves to us. If you put the two together you might ask how we can meet more needs for longer - I think the answer is by using our talents in developing really creative social enterprises.

What would a social entrepreneurial revolution look like?

Three things: business people becoming more socially focussed in the mainstream of their work; charity managers becoming more businesslike rather than hoping people will keep giving them money; and young people aspiring to be social entrepreneurs (and finding that there are careers to enable that).

The one thing I couldn't live without...

Sport. If I have to justify it, I subscribe to the philosopher Camus's view that 'All I know most surely about morality and obligations, I owe to football'!

What advice would you give to someone starting out in business?

Find others who will help you, especially a mentor; work hard at the things that really matter; and never give up.

Tell us a joke...

Never judge someone until you have walked a mile in their shoes. That way, when you do judge them, they are a mile away and you have their shoes.