Ambassadors, nominees and associates of the Social Entrepreneur Index met on 10th April to discuss the challenges of running a social enterprise with global intentions, and how early stage social entrepreneurs can be supported to think globally to make a bigger impact.
Jennifer Beer, Event Host, from UBS Wealth Management
Jonathan Povey, Event Host, from UBS Wealth Management
Nicholas Berman, Event Host, from UBS Wealth Management
Graeme Taylor, Event Host, from UBS Wealth Management
Kate Welch OBE, founder and chief executive of Social Enterprise Acumen CIC
Claudine Adeyemi, founder of Career Ear
Kevin Munday, chief executive of City Year UK
Tim Howarth, chief executive of United World Schools
Pranav Chopra, chief executive NEMI Teas
Anne Donoghue, chief of staff marketing and comms X-Forces
Lucy Buck, chief executive of Childs i Foundation
Graeme Taylor, UK WM Charities
Victoria Ijeh-Allen, chief executive and founder of Iconic Steps
Bryan Hoare, commercial director BE Group
Chair: Caroline Theobald CBE, advisory board at Newcastle Business School & Northumbria University
Jennifer Beer. Welcomed everybody and congratulated those who had been included on the Social Entrepreneurs Index. She described UBS’s engagement with community affairs and the Bridge Academy in East London. “As entrepreneurs, I’m sure you’ve all experienced problems growing your businesses from scratch and hopefully this event will provide a good forum to discuss these sorts of issues.’’
Bryan Hoare. Thanked UBS for hosting the event and for their sponsorship of the Index. “It was devised last September in order to recognise some of the work that social entrepreneurs do. We’ve been seeing more and more social entrepreneurship coming through our channels and I thought it was high time that we created something that recognised it.’’
Caroline Theobald. Asked each guest to summarise their business and describe their biggest challenges in setting up.
Tim Howarth. United World Schools develops community schools where there are children without access to basic education. It now has around 180 schools in Myanmar, Cambodia and Nepal. “The biggest challenge to some extent is the boring stuff. When we are getting going in a new country we need a licence to operate and the insurance and the contracts and the XY and Z. It’s not exactly the most exciting part of the journey but if you get it wrong from the outset the mistakes are compounded as you scale up.’’
Jonathan Povey. “One of the main challenges when you’re starting is that you wear every single hat in the business and the demands on your time are so extreme.’’
Claudine Adeyemi. Originally founded a non-profit organisation called Student Development Company to provide career support to young people. She also sits on the board of Employers’ Network for Equality and Inclusion and a member of the Global Shapers London hub, an initiative set up by the World Economic Forum. “One of the big challenges in the early stages of the Student Development Company was resources in terms of finance and in terms of people.’’
Lucy Buck. “We work in Uganda and the aim of the project is to get children out of orphanages and into families. My background was in television, I used to produce Love Island and the Big Brother and I then volunteered to work in a baby orphanage. I thought the best thing would be to build a better one and I spent two years spending my savings, raising all the money to build the best orphanage in the world and then an expert told me that it was a terrible idea. Now 10 years later we are the leading organisation in Uganda and we’re pioneering with the government the closure of all the orphanages. So that was a big challenge I faced trying to change the whole mission and bringing donors along on the way.’’
Kevin Munday. City Year UK supports 18 to 25-year-olds to do a year’s full-time service in disadvantaged schools. It aims to help them develop employment and employability skills, but also to help the pupils improve behaviour, attendance and attainment. “We have been running for nine years here in the UK but we have sister organisations in the US and in South Africa and there are organisations with similar purposes in France and Germany.’’ The biggest challenge when they started with no track record, was trying to secure the first customer schools.
Kate Welch. Is an ambassador for the index. She is still on the board of the first of 17 social enterprises she has set up, which helps long-term unemployed people in East Durham to find work and it has helped 16,000 people to find jobs. Now she runs Social Enterprise Acumen, supporting social entrepreneurs to start, scale and grow. “There have been lots of challenges for me over the years but the hardest thing is finding trusted people to work with and I had some really tough times with someone who turned and personally attacked me and I think that was the hardest thing of all.’’
Caroline Theobald. “Setting up a business is not easy and the personal things can hit you hard.’’
Graeme Taylor. “One of the biggest challenges that I’ve come across is the measurement of impact: how do you measure impact to your beneficiaries and your stakeholders?’’
Anne Donoghue. Representing the founder of X-Forces, Ren Kapur. X-Forces is the UK’s largest social enterprise working on behalf of the government and charities to provide training for people in the military and their families to develop skills to help them to go into enterprise. It also lends through the government’s Start-Up Loan scheme. “We have lent £15m to people on a micro finance level since establishing five years ago and we have a 93% success rate on lending. Ren’s passion is not just about getting people into business but to teach people entrepreneurial skills. One of Ren’s biggest challenges was in achieving a level playing field. If you leave the armed forces and you’ve moved around a lot, you won’t have a decent credit rating and whatever skills somebody may have, they may not be able to actually qualify to get going. But Ren had the courage to knock on doors and go to government and she succeeded in changing government policies to remove barriers to create that level playing field.’’
Nicholas Berman. “The challenge for investors and families that we work with, is convincing them that they can invest in a social enterprise and still generate returns.’’
Pranav Chopra. “NEMI Teas is a tea company which was set up three years ago to provide work opportunities and employment opportunities to refugees living in the UK. A big challenge refugees face when they are looking for work is a lack of relevant work experience. It’s a Catch-22 because, if they don’t get that first opportunity, they won’t get the experience. They also need a referee. In three years we’ve helped 18 refugees to gain work experience and 12 of them have moved on to full-time employment. I think one of the biggest challenges is a personal challenge. A lot of people forget about the entrepreneurs themselves. I didn’t really have any experience of working with refugees and it’s the mental challenges I face on a personal basis.’’
Victoria Ijeh-Allen. Iconic Steps helps 16 to 25-year-olds find employment in the media industry and works with young people from disadvantaged backgrounds. “We focus heavily on our after-care program which focuses on mentoring. I’ve been doing this now for about seven years and, during that time, one of the biggest challenges was not having the infrastructure around me to understand the business world.’’
Caroline Theobald. “Lucy, how did you overcome the realisation that your business model was wrong?’’
Lucy Buck. “Like most people in the world, I thought that orphanages were solutions. When I said I was a building orphanage, people were throwing money at me to build an orphanage. Then I spoke to a child development expert and I was expecting them to congratulate me, but instead he told me that it was a terrible idea. We needed people to understand that that the 50-bed orphanage that we had planned was actually a terrible idea. The big challenge globally is that orphanages are seen as a solution whereas evidence shows that they are not, they are harmful and 80% of kids have families. You have to change the mind-sets of orphanage owners, of donors, of governments and the families who give their children and the families who take children. We learned that orphanages are a very expensive form of care, so while the donors really like the idea of having children, in actual fact you can look after hundreds more children for the same amount of money if you keep them with their families. But donors like their own children and they like to fund children and no one likes funding a child protection and care system which will enable a whole country’s children to be protected. When you’re talking impact level, the work we are doing now is truly impactful, we’re changing policy, we’re building systems. But, if you’re talking to a donor, they just want to write to a sponsored child. So our challenge is showing impact but in a way that donors don’t go and sponsor a donkey instead.’’
Caroline Theobald. “Claudine you were highly paid lawyer, so what made you do what you do?’’
Claudine Adeyemi. She left school at 16 and was homeless and had to overcome many obstacles to achieve her ambition of becoming a lawyer. “When I made it, I looked around at peers and had this overwhelming sense of duty to make sure that young people that had similar obstacles didn’t have to have the experiences I had. We are trying to raise investment at the moment. Because its impact driven doesn’t mean that it can’t be scalable and cannot make a profit. Trying to convince investors of that is probably the biggest challenge that we’re facing. One solution is to cut off those individuals and investors who just don’t get it and just move on and find new individuals and investors who do.’’
Tim Howarth. “My experiences of bringing in the right kind of trustees, having a group with deep expertise and networks is that is has been very beneficial. It hasn’t always been fun and there have certainly been robust conversations but you have to respect the intentions of those conversations and the good place from which they come. Bringing in people who know their way around a really good business model and getting them to scrutinise a social impact model or a charitable model has been very helpful.’’
Kevin Munday. “I would question a bit the assumption that it’s difficult to measure social impact. I was a trustee of an organisation and there are cost challenges because you have to pay someone to do it. And there are sometimes technical problems as to how you do it, but I don’t think it’s necessarily intellectually difficult to think about how you measure social impact.’’ He said it was easier when the customers who are paying for the service cared about the same social impact, such as where the Department for Work and Pensions paid for every young person not having to claim jobseekers allowance benefits. “If you have a different customer group then they may not be as interested in social impact as you and you either need to creep the impact costs in or find someone else who cares about it enough to support it.’’
Kate Welch. “I think a lot of people at start-up stage don’t think about what the business model is going to be. We work with a lot of early stage social entrepreneurs as well as charities trying to make more of a shift into a trading model and generally they are passionate about the social impact. You have to find that model and for me this is where social impact massively comes in, because the questions are: what’s the problem; what’s the solution; who is going to value your solution?’’
Graeme Taylor. “The question for corporates is: is it a PR exercise or is it a genuine investment? I think there’s a responsibility for charities as well: who do you partner with? Is it a burden? Is it for them just a PR exercise? It has to be the right partnership in both directions.’’
Lucy Buck. “The really good corporate relationships that we have had are essentially where the corporate says “our kingdom is yours: would you like the meeting rooms; would you like the print facilities?’’ We still don’t have an office and we have no overheads but we have the best office space in London available from our corporates. That saves us an absolute fortune.’’
Victoria Ijeh-Allen. Asked Lucy to explain UBS’s Global Visionaries.
Lucy Buck. “It means that you have a team in UBS who essentially look after you and they give you access to their client advice and advisers get you in front of their clients. It’s a beautiful relationship.’’
Tim Howarth. “In the early days you don’t always know what you need and you often don’t know what you don’t know yet. Maybe one of the lessons for social entrepreneurship is to work out exactly what you want from other people quickly and then ask in a crisp polite but clear way.’’
Lucy Buck. “And if you want money ask for advice and if you want advice ask for money.’’
Caroline Theobald. “Everybody around this table has lots of ambition and to go global. Pranav what are some of the challenges that you’ve encountered?’’
Pranav Chopra. Described how one of his previous enterprises was called Slum Dog Travels for tours in India and on any tour sold there was education for 10 students for one year, linked with some Indian teaching charities. “One of the challenges I personally faced is that I like working with my beneficiaries directly and you can see the impact. Now I work with a beneficiaries directly on a day-to-day basis. I think when you’re running a social enterprise that’s a great motivational factor.’’
Caroline Theobald. “Tim, has it been a challenge for you not working directly with the beneficiaries?’’
Tim Howarth. “We’re not going to be able to micromanage and be on the ground on a day-to-day basis. Our focus initially was to say: how can we get buy into the big picture and how can we get the right kind of culture and values in place and ultimately how can we empower people on the ground to go and do something they are passionate about?’’
Kevin Munday. “What we want to achieve doesn’t have to be through one organisation. The US, UK and South African organisations are independent with their own systems but we regularly engage with each other and meet up at least once a year to share learning. There are a certain number of core things such as the logo and the uniform young people wear when they are in schools and the key DNA of the program is broadly consistent everywhere. At the volunteer level there are opportunities for people to go and serve in other countries and at the pupil level we have exchanges. There is a second level to our international strategy, which is, if we have something that is working in one country, how do we take it to other places? We have tried to be a bit more open source.’’ He said he had been involved in a couple of mergers and that, while there are benefits to consolidation, there are also many advantages to localism.
Anne Donoghue. “It’s not so much about what we can take elsewhere, it’s about what we can learn as well. The model that we successfully apply in the UK is the international micro finance model which started out in India. We have learned from that and what makes that successful.’’
Claudine Adeyemi. Explained the World Economic Forum’s Global Shapers programme, a number of hubs around the world filled by young people tasked with delivering impact projects in their communities. “For the shapers there’s significant benefit from the networks and there is a lot of interaction between the different hubs.’’ She added “I’ve also been involved in a couple of attempts to try to set up consortia of people involved in social enterprises coming together under a wider umbrella to share their learnings.’’
Lucy Buck. “Why didn’t it work?’’
Claudine Adeyemi. “It was a mixture of giving up time to attend meetings and the time to contribute to the challenges that we were facing but also it’s quite difficult because everybody has got slightly different agendas, so trying to come up with a one size fits all is challenging. I still believe that some kind of consortium structure could work.’’
Victoria Ijeh-Allen. “For me personally being able to access the different sorts of schemes for social entrepreneurs would be really useful because I come from a position of knowing nothing, so I constantly surround myself with people and all these different schemes that you can plug yourself into to get this extra help. My background is as a filmmaker and I’ve created quite a few short documentaries and have won some awards and I was becoming a rising star and realised that a lot of people from my background weren’t doing the same thing. I realised that a lot of that was around mind-sets, so I tried to ensure that they are able to look at the barriers that they’re facing and how that can be turned into opportunities.’’
Anne Donoghue. “Sadly we’ve all heard the phrase `mad sad and bad’ about people who’ve left the armed forces, either wounded, injured or sick, but that’s a very small percentage and it is not dissimilar from the national statistics. But it has gained resonance and has become too loud and we need to completely turn the dial to say, as is proven now, that the skills that are required working in the Armed Forces are fantastic attributes for the majority to become successful in life. That’s why social enterprise is so important because it’s about being positive and I think that’s what keeps everybody around this table motivated to do what they want to do and that’s why it’s so important to divest yourself of people who are not supporting that message.’’
Caroline Theobald. Introduced question of growth challenges.
Pranav Chopra. Explained his way of growing was to supply corporates but that there was a constant challenge to convince buyers of the quality of the tea. “Getting into those corporate supply chains has been a massive hurdle. You’ve got to know your USP. Why should they buy our tea? You have got to know your story.’’
Tim Howarth. “I love the concept of the growth mind-set. Having that ambitious thinking in mind is how you facilitate that kind of thinking and of course that’s a leadership role.’’
Claudine Adeyemi. “One of the challenges that I foresee is planning for growth and particularly thinking about the personnel perspective. How do you equip yourself with the knowledge that you need and even begin to estimate who you might need to execute your vision and what that might look like.’’
Caroline Theobald. “You don’t know what you don’t know yet.’’
Tim Howarth. “Kevin you talked about measurement and that implies a certain milestone or at least a marker that people are working towards and I’m thinking about growth, so perhaps it’s about setting milestones based on what you can measure.’’
Kevin Munday. “When we are talking about growth it could mean the growth of lots of different things. If you’re saying social first, then surely that’s your measure of growth isn’t it? It’s doing more of that thing, which may or may not mean more volume of customers. Do we grow impact or do we grow beneficiaries? It sounds like they could mean the same thing but they’re not. We want the same footprint of where we are now but we want to achieve better outcomes and were going to prioritise that first. We might have more people but let’s not rush to have more people until we know that we can make a difference.’’
Kate Welch. “In scaling a business the biggest thing for me was being there with, and talking to, people who had done it and not advisers who hadn’t run a single business in their lives. With a Social Enterprise Acumen I’ve tried to have a team who, in the main, have run and scaled social enterprises.’’ She added that there are three basic models of social enterprise. “There’s the profit generator model where you find a profitable business, you make money and you use the profits for the social purpose. For some people that’s better because some people can do the charitable bit and other people are quite commercial. The next model is the trade-off model where you have the financial and social all in one and this might be where you are working with challenging clients such as ex-offenders in employment. Then there is the lockstep model where the social and the financial are embedded. You might have to build a commercial model first to get to the lockstep once you got it it’s embedded.’’
Caroline Theobald. Asked whether there were ways to facilitate payment?
Kevin Munday. “The biggest thing for us when contracting with schools is being clear what we need from them to make the partnership work.’’
Kate Welch. “We write a lot more down than we used to and we build in interest payments if they are late.’’
Claudine Adeyemi. Has a friend who runs a social enterprise and has software which means sponsors sign for an annual subscription but pay monthly.
Victoria Ijeh-Allen. “We’re a small company and the companies we work with understand. It’s on their radar that the cash needs to come in sooner rather than later. It’s about being upfront and saying, if you don’t pay us it has a big impact.’’
Kate Welch. “We have said we’re not doing any more work until you pay us. In our consultancy we used to say pay us at the end or pay a small amount at the beginning. Now we get 50% upfront, 40% on the draft report.’’
Pranav Chopra. “Obviously for us payment is massive but we’ve found that if you set out your terms and set out very boldly that for all your clients that payment is 14 days then most people do pay up on time.’’
Caroline Theobald. Asked Lucy to share some of her key messages based on her experience.
Lucy Buck. “My key message will be: I did everything wrong but it’s okay because I got there in the end. Out of these terrible ideas came the project that I have now which is game changing. Everybody has to go through their own journey, but it’s like snakes and ladders and you can very easily go from 2 to 98 if you speak to the right people, but if you don’t speak to the right people then you will be going down quite a few snakes along the way. One bit of advice: if you can do it, get corporates to pay for your salary. If you can find a corporate to support your salary, it doesn’t make you feel so bad asking investors for money because you can say my costs are paid for and this is where your money goes. It’s a game changer.’’
Jennifer Beer. “Going back to the business models and saying that some people are good at the more commercial things and some people are good at social enterprise things, it works the same with the big corporates and social enterprises.’’
Lucy Buck. “It’s working out what your superpowers are because you can’t do everything.’’
Kate Welch. Mentioned the Thomson Reuters Foundation TrustLaw, a platform to help with legal advice and agreements.
Pranav Chopra. Recommended UnLtd. Foundation for Social Entrepreneurs.
Caroline Theobald. Asked for one piece of advice for anyone wanting to set up a social enterprise with global ambition.
Claudine Adeyemi. Quoted the social enterprise Catch-22: they operate the heart of the charity but the mind of a business.
Nicholas Berman. “Clearly you need a significant amount of ambition and also conviction in that ambition, because there will be times when you will think you want to down tools.’’
Lucy Buck. “Another Winston Churchill quote: `never, never, never give up’. If you’re doing the right thing, just when everything goes to pot, something happens where it’s okay.’’
Anne Donoghue. “It’s trying not to complicate it but to keep it simple and to tell the right story. It’s articulating that story in a way that people can relate to so that they then get engaged and that momentum drives a success.’’
Victoria Ijeh-Allen. “Create networks for yourself.’’
Bryan Hoare. “Be like a sponge in the early stages and just soak it up and get as much knowledge and experience as you can.’’
Kate Welch. “Understand the problem, find the right solution, and then find the business model to address it. Once you have got that foundation built, then you can drive it from there.’’
Tim Howarth. “And en route celebrate. As you tick of the milestones celebrate, because there are enough hurdles out there.’’
Pranav Chopra. “Be positive. You go through the lows and the highs, but just be positive in what you’re trying to achieve and you will go a long way.’’
Kevin Munday. “It’s being clear what growth means in your context. That might mean knowing when is the right time to exit, when is the right time to merge and when letting somebody else copy you is a good form of flattery.’’
The UK Social Entrepreneur Index, sponsored by UBS, is a celebration of social entrepreneurship across the UK.
Open to social entrepreneurs tackling a social or environmental issue at any scale, entrants will act as beacons of inspiration for others to encompass positive social impact.
For more info visit www.socialentsindex.co.uk.
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