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Podcast: Enspiral's evolving collective of entrepreneurs

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In our latest podcast, Nicole Haack talks to two of the minds behind Enspiral – a difficult to pin down, but successful, organisation that is changing the way social entrepreneurs think about working together, making money, and making a difference.

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If Enspiral is difficult to define, that hasn’t dampened the enthusiasm of Adelaide’s nascent entrepreneurial sector from flocking to hear what they have to say.

The Don Dunstan Foundation brought two of Enspiral’s key people to Adelaide for a workshop this week, which booked up so quickly that another session had to be added.

The Wellington-based collective has a booming international reputation for its work, not only in creating a new structure for entrepreneurs to work together, but for a growing suite of products that help people collaborate.

Enspiral’s Loomio tool, for example, is now used by thousands of organisations across the world to make consensus-based decisions, including by local government in New Zealand, and that country’s statistics bureau which used it to help decide on questions to include in the census.

The software tool says a lot about Enspiral’s way of working internally, but also its approach to the “business” of social change.

In today’s podcast, Enspiral c-founder Joshua Vial says the idea for Loomio grew out of a request from the Wellington branch of the Occupy movement to find a better way to find consensus within the group.

“Consensus or consent-based decision-making is very costly and expensive…,” Vial says. “It’s also amazing and beautiful. There’s a way in which when you get a group of people consenting to a decision it becomes so much more effective to implement that decision.

“Just by taking that process online you can get a lot of the good things but much cheaper.”

Loomio, based on the kind of decision-making processes practiced by the Quakers in the past, or by the early women’s movement, was born: and, as well as helping the Enspiral collective make democratic decisions, it’s also a product that can be sold (with a donation-supported free option for community groups).

Financial health is a key goal for Vial.

“To help people, you need to be financially strong. Get strong financially, and then try and make a difference.”

This was one of the founding principles of Enspiral, a collection of lawyers, accountants, designers, computer programmers and many others working together in both virtual and physical co-working spaces.

Vial says one of the original core ideas was to help people who want to change the world to get highly-paid contracts so they can put their ideas into action.

Vial and Damian Sligo-Green, who works on Enspiral’s business development, both conceded the organisation is not easy to define, but this is because it is both constantly evolving, and also means different things to the 200 or so people who are connected with the network.

Sligo-Green, a freelancer who felt disenchanted with his industry and had a growing sense of loneliness in his working arrangements when he first sought out Enspiral, says he found the organisation confusing and “bit strange” when he first came across it.

“Here was a different way of organising, and it was one that was intentionally evolutionary,” he says. “Also there were no bosses – there were no managers around.”

Vial adds: “In one way Enspiral is hard to understand because it’s alive… and just because it was one thing two years ago, doesn’t mean it is that thing now.”

“Also there’s no consensus about what it is. There are lot of people with similar stories and similar ideas, but there are also people with different stories and different ideas.”

Whatever it is or isn’t, the network is gaining increasing attention among similarly-minded enterpreneurs across the world.

Maybe it’s as simple and potentially rich as the phrase on their website: “people working on stuff that matters”.

Listen to the conversation below.

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