Serendipity, and how social ventures can get more of it

Cherry Parker

I recently met a social entrepreneur involved in environmental services - a sector I worked in for over four years - based only ten minutes from my home. We met up and the conversation turned to how his dyslexia made it difficult for him to pitch effectively.

It's at moments like this that serendipity strikes. I knew a senior civil servant working in the same area, who was exploring a move into social enterprise and whose mother worked as a dyslexia coach. I helped them come together and they're now collaborating.

Building networks can sometimes seem a luxury for busy social entrepreneurs. Why spend time making connections that might not lead anywhere? The answer is that networking can transform a business in ways that are more valuable than closing the next deal.

Serendipity is about discovering unexpected connections and possibilities, which turn out to be far more valuable than we could have hoped for. It doesn't just happen by chance: the truth is the way you behave can help bring more of it into your life.

As a delivery partner on the Big Venture Challenge, Shaftesbury Partnership is providing one-to-one support to 100 entrepreneurs across three years to enable them to make best use of their networks. An important part of our work is to help harness the power of serendipity through networking. Our approach has three key components:


It's important to put yourself out there. But remember it's quite rare to meet someone who can transform your business at an industry event. What's more effective is proactively seeking out several individuals with the expertise you need.

To make the most of this approach, you need two key skills; tapping into the relevant networks of people close to you and making the most of meeting a stranger. Keep it informal. Meaningful. And if it doesn't look promising, move on.


It helps to be attuned to the possibilities in every encounter. As any coach will tell you, using effective questions and actively listening helps encourage greater openness in others.

So seek out what is there for you to find and help people to trust you by opening up yourself. Talk about ambitions and challenges that resonate. Be curious about someone's life. And most importantly, be purposely focused or mindful.


Everyone knows giving usually feels better than taking. So be mindful of what you can do for another. Sometimes you'll be lucky and find two people who want the same thing. More often you will need to go out of your way for a stranger.

Generosity is the key to building relationships and goodwill for the future. It is remembered because it's so rare to find outside of circles of family and friendship. And it will be returned when you need it.

These three qualities are key to networking. But the value of the Shaftesbury Partnership team goes further. By drawing on our extensive web of relationships and helping entrepreneurs to develop their own, we bring about transformative relationships.

By working for several ventures at once, we improve the chances that a meeting will yield results. And most powerfully, by running semi-structured events for our ventures, we create serendipity to help them meet potential customers, non-execs and others.

In the business world, great insights are rare and extremely valuable. The competitive edge may sometimes come from a single great idea. Social ventures tackling society's biggest problems require all the insight and support they can get.

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