Written by William Heath
Michael Young, who has been called the greatest social entrepreneur in the world, was born 100 years ago this month. The Young Foundation, the charity that carries on his work after his death in 2002 and bears his name, was the founding investor in Mydex CIC; it organised a celebratory conference — #MY100 — to mark the centenary.
It was an informative and inspiring event. First it showed the Young Foundation confident and vigorous after a period of transition. It is doing new work on people, places and gender equality, with major projects in Leeds and Northern Ireland, and a new tie up announced with Mondragon, the Spanish conglomerate of co-operatives.
Some of the still vigorous household-name institutions Michael Young founded – such as Open University, and the consumers’ association Which? – were strongly respresented, full of relevance and ideas.
But for all the institutions represented there, many of which Michael Young had founded, the most informative and compelling insights came direct from the man himself, via several people who had worked with him known him well including the new director Glenys Thornton, Kate Gavron and the Young Foundation’s original director Geoff Mulgan.
We learned about an exuberant and enfuriating man who made a point of treating “no” as a question, who advised entrepreneurs to seek out their severest critics because they were the most helpful, and to persevere to the point of stubbornness until the problem was solved. He was an academic sociologist whose research method of listening and talking would now be described as ethnography. But the point of his efforts wasn’t academic; the point was to change the world. And he did this by creating viable institutions, both commercial and above all social enterprises.
Geoff Mugan’s recollections are well worth reading, and his summary is characteristically succinct and insightful. Happy anniversary to all involved. Mydex CIC wishes the Young Foundation every future success and looks forward to being part of Michael Young’s successful legacy still to come.
William Heath, chairman of Mydex, is an entrepreneur.
He co-founded Kable Ltd, which researched the computerisation of public services (sold to GNM in 2007). From 2004 he moderated the Ideal Government multi-author blog which explored how government IT could be done better: cheaper, faster, designed for the individual and built on a foundation of trust.
He is a Fellow of The Young Foundation whose Launchpad incubator service for social enterprises has supported Mydex. At the same time as co-founding Mydex, he co-founded the independent research business Ctrl-Shift Ltd, which advises on the implications of the polarity shift in customer empowerment which services such as Mydex will make possible.