NAME: Claire Carpenter
BACKGROUND: Universty Degree
ACTION/SECTOR: Education; Services; Voluntary Sector
POSITION: (Founder and) Managing Director
ORGANIZATION: The Melting Pot
My Background and Career
The Melting Pot – a non-profit, self financing, eco-resource base for people working for social, environmental, economic and cultural well being which provides a range of resources and services to stimulate and support social innovation – co-working, meeting, events services, Membership, support, awards.
From a Self-employed family background which influences my personal work ethic/culture. Over 20 years of working in third sector doing ‘community development’, as an employee, a freelancer, activist and social entrepreneur. Originally started out in outdoor/environmental / community education – always interested in different routes for personal development.
Educated to MA level (Human Ecology / Open University) and have undergone much personal/professional development. Character is entrepreneurial and often in a leadership role. I have no dependents and a strong motivation to effect change / contribute to social welfare. Can spot gaps / opportunities and think strategically/ in concepts – but I don’t identify as being a ‘political’ person (with a big P). I like making and am good at ‘creating connections’.
Spent the past 7 years creating this enterprise after realising it was possible, necessary and not just a crazy idea – and that someone else would do it if I didn’t. 2 years grassroots development work pre-trading, then a public baptism of fire learning to run and operate a business and all that goes with it. Business is now self-financing (in year 4 of trading). .
Economic - Self reliant through all my adult life. Not money motivated and have lived off very little for many years.
I’ve had to go from relatively little business acumen (though a strong work ethic) and low budget to a huge monthly outgoings. We could easily have failed. I had to secure various small grants to keep going. It was not pleasant, safe and I wouldn’t want go through it again. Thankfully we learn along the way
Family - Not being able to give enough time/energy to my long-term partner. We didn’t overcome this and recently split up.
My parents went through voluntary insolvency when I was a teenager due to business problems (not directly caused by them). For me I’ve had to seek a balance between being very engaged in my business and regularly taking time out. Mental health is fragile, and sometimes you never get back what you lose.
Personal - Self-confidence. This has been the biggest thing. I’ve been on a huge learning curve, and it’s been very public which is intimidating and can be humiliating. My confidence has grown – and I do take risks, but I’m not an arrogant or highly ambitious person.
Social (discriminations…) - Being gay (female) – its just a part of me.
Being English, in Scotland – not so bad in Edinburgh but its there.
Being female – oh yes..
Others - Just a steep learning curve – how to set up a business, a board, work with volunteers, set up admin systems, get and keep the right staff, learn about finances, business planning – all of it #
Opportunities and threats which had a strong influence on your career.
MSc in Human Ecology – and thesis on the motivation of social activitist and the barriers to being invovled in social change
Living in Edinburgh/ Scotland – strong emerging social enterprise scene – small and intimate and able to make connections (though this can work against you too)
Volunteering in a charity when I was 18+ and the many professional routes and friendships that came from that time, and mentors / advisors
Living affordably and for a long time in a housing co-operative
burn-out and stress and lack of personal well-being through , over-work, self-sacrifice, poor time management, and too steep a learning curve
wrong staff, wrong structure…
panicking about not having enough resources or experience, just strong motivation. This eventually paid off, but it’s been a gamble.
Organising and administration not just ideas. Inability to delegate or have appropriate people to delegate too
Hints & Tips
Lucky saying or phrase - Never dream harder than you work
Inspiration: I’ve been inspired by many things and people and ideas – but mostly it’s around the use of natural or created spaces that ‘contain’ people in an activity. I’ve worked wth many people who’ve set great projects up – all social change type stuff. My MSc thesis as also part of my learning / understanding about the factors that motivate or act as barriers to motivation of social change makers. I’ve been a volunteer and co-ordinated volunteers and know the power of this relationship of choice. My social innovation is designed to practically support others to achieve their good ideas for a better world. This is not meant to sound trite – I’m sincere. I’m also finally having fun and that helps keep everything going.
Advice to others: Be clear what you want to achieve, what you’re prepared to give what you want to get and the realities of what you might lose along the way. Be patient with yourself and others, but be firm and fair, don’t get taken for a ride. Build your confidence – it’s like a muscle, when you’re overstretched it can get damaged. Have faith and work hard. Keep swimming or you’ll sink, but find times and places for rest and sanctuary along the way. Remember to change gear. Celebrate the key achievements, you don’t know when you’ll be crying next! Would you rather have the luxury of being an employee, or the freedom and responsibility of being your own boss and making your own destiny?