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21st August, 2019

The Gift that Keeps on Giving



Amerie Rose

Originally published on April 10, 2019 as part of the Boosting Resilience programme

 

I have been trying (and failing) for a year to not be the person within our organisation who processes our financial record. Truth be told, it is because I have become extremely bored of the spreadsheet that hours of community activism through the arts eventually boils down to. Funnily enough, there isn’t anyone chomping at the bit to take my place. How terribly dull. Or so I thought.

 

I was recently gifted a place on the ‘Practical Accounting and Finance for Entrepreneurs’ course, with faculty Stefano de Cesaris at Cass Business School. Over the course of an intense day, something in my mind opened to the possibilities which unfold when I allow myself to admit that there is something intriguing hidden and glinting behind those numbers. Moreover, the possibilities will become exponential if I give due time to the part of me who IS chomping at the bit to burrow on in and find the treasure. I left that room no longer bored but with a bee in my bonnet which had set to with its pollinating and was about to bring all sorts of interesting ideas together.

 

The finance course was offered to me as part of the Boosting Resilience Programme which I have been fortunate to be a participant of. From day one, they emphasised that the world we now live in is VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, Ambiguous). They provided us with presenter after marvellous presenter who shared various skills which will support us to negotiate this world and not only survive but thrive. The day with Stefano added the opportunity to bed in some practical learning on finance management which I now view as essential to all business leaders.

If you would like to know more about ‘Practical Accounting and Finance for Entrepreneurs‘, you will find a superb summary by my fellow Boosting Resilience participant Aki Schilz. Aki poses this question;

 

“Why is it that in our sector, thriving, creative, and commercially successful as it is, we are often afraid to tackle the [nuts and bolts] of financial paperwork?”

 

I believe that Aki’s question is, in part, answered by Charles Eisenstein, de-growth activist and de-growth theorist, who’s research illuminates the opposite of a money culture. “Today… the professions that give the most money aren’t the ones that are contributing the most to society and the planet. You can make a lot of money by doing terrible things and the things that we need to do the most, there’s not much money in those.” Our arts and cultural sector is built on a fundamental human need to story tell and down here, at its community roots, we graft with hand, heart and headache with rewards that don’t make Stefano’s traditional balance sheet that gripping a read. We all know that within our industry, money is scarce and we survive because it is not the only kind of energy we are trading in.

So, I found myself asking, what would happen if, instead of apologising for our lack of cash/energy, as was my temptation in this executive learning seminar on accounting, we recognise that, despite this, we are surviving. What if we saw our survival as a hint that resilience is boosted by peddling in multiple energy sources? And what if someone, somewhere had figured out a way of accounting for ALL the different sources of energy a business harnesses and distributes? Now, I suspect that would transform ANY balance sheet into a gripping read.

A month after spending that day with Stefano I attended the ‘Beyond Resilience: Co-designing our creative futures’ forum. We were asked to write down our dream, in one sentence or less, about what could enable the conference theme of “co-designing creative resilient futures”. I wrote:

“I dream of a societal sea-change which moves our focus from financial gain to creative and social gain, funded by a shared wealth mentality.”

And then, a fortnight later, I sat down to write this article and suddenly everything began to fall into place. A curiosity has been sparked within me. What if I view the learning I gleaned from Stefano as the framework of a new accounting methodology which I can test case within my enterprise? What if I reach out to my networks and find people skilled at monitoring and representing the diverse ways in which my business both receives and delivers energy? And what if my company began to align itself to philosophies such as those underlying the Gift Economy and Time Banking: would we have an unstoppable force with which to solve most of our social problems if people pooled their knowledge, skills and energy?

This isn’t a new idea by the way. Forbes are all over it. There is global recognition of a generational shifting trend towards a connected world which is informed and cares about, “doing well while doing measurable good.” And if you want to remain in the game, I suggest you enhance your ability to capitalise on the ‘good’ which your business is doing by getting to grips with its worth and learning how to trade it, creatively.

Ok, let’s take a pause and acknowledge that by this point doubt may well be creeping back in. There are times and situations where only cold, hard cash will clinch it, right? Yes, of course, the way things are done today. So, while I am waiting for my BIG dream to manifest, I am also going to increase the likelihood of short term survival. The language of investment is changing and to enable us to catch the eye of a social investor I need to update my dictionary by getting myself along to a ‘Measuring Social Impact’ course. I intend to come out armed with the skills to harvest the statistics which the ‘right’ kind of benefactors will understand.

 

My final words go to the Gift Economy. I received the gift of a bursary place on the ‘Practical Accounting and Finance for Entrepreneurs’ course and the exchange was to write a short article for LinkedIn. This is a lot longer than ‘short’ but I am pleased to find that in writing it I have found a place to bring a lot of distant yet connected thoughts together. At the end of this process I feel as though I am the greater beneficiary of this exchange, by far. So, in the spirit of the Gift Economy, what will I gift back? Well, I will sign off with the following as a statement of intent to keep the gift I have been given gifting forwards. My next long-term learning mission as a leader is to become adept* at using alternative funding and accounting models to boost the resilience of the arts & cultural sector. Watch this space… 😉

 

Amerie Rose is Co-founder and Regional Artistic Director at Theatre Obscura, a SouthWest based Arts & Health Social Enterprise.

 

* In the days of Medieval Latin, an adeptus was a person who had learned the secrets of alchemy. Although an adept person today cannot turn lead into gold, the adjective is still high praise meaning “skilled, expert, highly proficient.

 


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