The Christmas before last, I read a very important book called The Social Entrepreneur by Lord Andrew Mawson, charting his journey transforming a church in Bromley-by-Bow, East London into a centre delivering arts, healthcare and education services. The overriding lessons for me were a) the success of mobilising untapped creativity and cash in communities to tackle social problems and b) using church space outside of congregation time is as good a place as any to start. I was reminded of Andrew’s work by two Fellows’ ventures supported by Catalyst who have taken a similar approach.
The first venture is led by Francis Davis FRSA to use excess faith-run spaces to incubate start-up or growth businesses and social enterprises, initially across the Solent region but developed for replication by every faith-based centre. He was supported by Catalyst to find nine Fellows who stepped forward to be designated mentors for the businesses. Last week I went down to the Portsmouth Cathedral Innovation Centre and saw Francis launching community shares in the fund investing in the start-ups, with Baroness Berridge, Minister for Employment Mark Hoban and Dean of Portsmouth Cathedral David Brindley there to commit to be the fund’s first investors.
Creating wealth is a good thing, employing people is a good thing, and I think it’s really important that the cathedral gets involved so that the capitalists, the people who make the wealth of the future, do it in a way that’s more socially responsible than we’ve seen in the past – Baroness Berridge, backer of Cathedral Innovation Centre, speaking on Radio 4
The second is The Sunday Assembly who run big public meetings with the aim of helping people to “live better, help often, wonder more”. They get people together in churches and other available spaces to sing pop songs, meet their neighbours, hear how they can help out with local community projects and listen to inspiring speakers to teach them more about the world they live in. As co-founder and RSA Fellow Sanderson Jones put it: “Atheists make a mistake to look at church and throw it all out just because they don’t believe in God.” Mobilising other faith spaces will be crucial to the ability to scale the assemblies to other communities. An encouraging sign came when one Assembly in North London dovetailed with a church service, the Bishop was very encouraged by the Assembly: “in the process of time, with love people will come to know the God that we serve.”
Of course the guardian could not resist citing experts who say “I do think it’s going to appeal only to one particular section of the community… a middle-class cultural elite” and “atheist churches were formed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, but petered out because people found other forms of social organisation that suited them better”. What Mawson said is relevant to these critiques: “start with people and action rather than research… avoid paralysis by analysis.” Sanderson is getting on with it and with the help of a Catalyst grant wants to provide clear instructions to help others launch Sunday Assemblies in communities across the world.
Atheists make a mistake to look at church and throw it all out just because they don’t believe in God – Sanderson Jones FRSA, co-founder of The Sunday Assembly
I wanted to end with what Lord Mawson had learned from building his Bromley-by-Bow centre, which I think sums up what Catalyst is about, supporting RSA Fellows to try out new ventures. He said that: “answers to macro-political questions must be sought in the micro-experience of local activity… rewarding those who bother to get off their backsides to work together on practical projects and discouraging those who want to take the lazy, pontificating, seminar-attending approach.”
Sunday’s episode of Channel 4’s Secret Millions series focused on a venture supported by RSA Catalyst. Led by Fellows, it aims to reduce reoffending by making offenders more employable: manufacturing and assembling quality furniture during the time that is often spent sitting in cells and being unemployed on release. The venture was selected by the RSA’s Social Entrepreneurs Network to be part of their Spotlight initiative and it also made perfect sense to me that this was the first Catalyst-funded idea to make it onto primetime television:
The size of the problem
Recent figures published by the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) (1) underlines the positive impact that securing a job on release can have on reoffending rates – they are lowered by more than 50% if employment is found upon release among those serving short term (less than 12 month) prison sentences. A previous MOJ survey found that 68% of prisoners said having a job was the biggest factor in helping them to stop offending (2).
While some employers such as Virgin, M&S and Greggs have taken a lead in employing offenders, many employers remain nervous, often irrespective of the nature of their crime, their skills-set and real (rather than perceived) risks. This will at some point affect the almost 100,000 prisoners in the UK and the roughly 1.25m benefit claimants and 0.5m JSA recipients who have been cautioned or convicted (3). Their difficulty in finding a job will also increase as the labour market moves online (difficult to access in prisons).
The programme brushed over the difficulty of negotiating the bureaucracy of the prison service when helping prisoners to get employability skills through work in prisons:
- As Kate Welch (one of the two RSA Fellows who co-founded the venture in the programme, Reap & Sow) explained, owing to the responsibility that a Governor has over an individual prison, expanding a social enterprise would take considerable time persuading each Governor;
- There are also problems in that the longest a working day is allowed to be in many prisons is 5 hours long. Even those hours are restricted by staff shortages and emergencies/searches. This Howard League publication discusses some of the institutional barriers in more detail;
- Selecting the right people who have the skills for the job can take time. And getting the data on how they do upon release is also not easy – as a Fellow voiced at a recent Social Entrepreneurs Network event.
Some of these barriers are reducing as government sees it as more of a priority to “Make Prisons Work.”
(Presenter:) It’s a product with a conscience, do you think that’s a selling point?”
(Furniture retailer:) “To have a strong story behind a product is always very good”
(P:) “We were looking to sell it for about £1000…”
(FR:) “I think that’s feasible”
(P:) “How would you feel about having this in your shop. Is that something you would consider?”
Turning problems into opportunities
It was genuinely encouraging to see that some key elements of the social enterprise these Fellows wanted to test appeared to be viable. The furniture retailer interviewed signalled that the £1000 price-tag for the furniture was commercially-viable. The retailer also said that the social side of the enterprise – it was helping turn around the lives of the offenders – was a selling point. This echoed with what I heard from the CEO of Blue Sky Development. They have employed more than 500 ex-offenders since 2005 and 60% of the business is funded by delivering commercial work (4), in which he said firms are keen to take part.
Not only can the “turning-around-lives” line help sell products, but it also helps reduce some of the costs of producing them. Reap & Sow made use of the RSA Fellowship’s cultural partnership with Northumbria University to get students and designers in residence at arguably the top design school in the country to do the designs (helped along by our Catalyst grant award).
One interesting dimension comes in the form of studies that show ex-offenders display more entrepreneurial traits than average. It is this kind of evidence, when combined with problems set out above that has informed the RSA’s Transitions project, which is working with a prison in Yorkshire to test a new approach. It is aiming to provide prisoners and ex-offenders with resettlement services alongside opportunities for work and skills development both in custody employing ex-offenders on site and on release, with the assumption that some people will become ‘sole traders’ but will need support on developing their business, while others will go into employment but will sometimes need additional support. (Here’s a recent post from our Chief Exec on its importance and progress.)
There have already been smaller-scale successes by focusing on self-employment: Startup has supported 230 clients into self-employment and their clients have a re-offending rate of under 5% (5). Baillie Aaron FRSA set up Venturing Out which helping offenders plan micro-enterprises in prison. She now runs Spark Inside, who provide life coaching to young offenders before and after they leave prisons. Spark Inside believes that coaching can help ex-offenders break down long-term goals into small steps; for example how to use what might at first look like a dead-end low-paid job to build up the sufficient skills and capital needed to launch a business.
The RSA as a Catalyst
Many start-ups fail and we don’t expect every project that we support through Catalyst to become a gigantic social enterprise. Reap & Sow has been put on hold because of a breakdown in the working relationship of the two Fellows who co-founded it (which is why you never heard the words “Reap & Sow” and the programme is quite unclear where the idea came from, whether it was via Acumen Trust or Katie Piper herself). But given the success of the first batch of production both for the ex-offenders and the response from retailers the Fellows are looking to make tweaks to the model and set up new vehicles to take it forward.
As well as supporting the success of individual ventures, we hope that Catalyst-funded ventures offer lessons to others trying to tackle a similar social problem. Getting the venture’s concept out to a primetime audience of at least a million will inspire others to run something similar and increase the demand for products made by ex-offenders.
There are some fascinating stories in the programme, not least the attitudes of the presenter who was herself a victim of serious crime. You’ve got 26 days to watch it and if I haven’t persuaded you, I’ll let Dostoyevsky: “The degree of civilisation in a society is revealed by entering its prisons.”
If you want to get in touch with Kate Welch, you can do so via firstname.lastname@example.org
RSA Transitions is doing a feasibility study to deliver a site next to HMP Everthorpe. If you are interested in finding out more see here or get in touch with Rachel O’Brien RachelO.email@example.com
I saw two main strands to the RSA’s recent Generation Enterprise report written by Adam Lent, our Director of Programme. One charts the increase in entrepreneurialism among today’s generation of young people and analyses its causes and effects. This was explored both by the headlines that the report received in CityAM, Evening Standard and in the RSA Event with Madsen Pirie and Martha Lane Fox. I want to explore the other, Adam’s identification and analysis of the social effects of what he calls ‘self-generated value’. ‘What’s that?’ you might ask:
“in a growing number of areas, the consumer no longer has to rely on the insight of the entrepreneur to obtain value. Instead, the consumer can generate that value for him or herself. Think, for example, how the most potent source of detailed factual knowledge across the world is now an online encyclopaedia written by its readers.” (See my colleague’s blog for some well-known examples of where SGV has been applied in practice).
As Adam, says, the phenomenon has been identified before, and called pro-sumption (the merging of the production and consumption). But he goes on to say:
“What is truly revolutionary about the new worm-hole [caused by the creation of the internet] is not the collapse of the distinction between production and consumption per se but the new capacity of individuals to start generating value for themselves in ways which continue the capitalist trend towards the creation of ever greater value for millions of consumers.”
Though I will be reading Tapscott and Williams’ Macrowikinomics and Doc Searls’ The Intention Economy to find out more, I wanted to illustrate my initial understanding of this through some of the RSA Fellows’ ventures supported by RSA Catalyst in a few different areas of value-creation. In one sense, these examples don’t really do justice to what Adam is focusing on. His focus is on quite conventional products and services purchased in the private sphere (music and t-shirts) rather than any kind of service in the social sphere (personal education, food waste and care). Indeed, half the point was to show the value to society of improvements in private consumption. But I think hope these examples demonstrate the trends Adam identifies in the private sector to an audience from the public and third sectors, drawing on manufacturing and commercial expertise to deliver more effective undertakings explicitly for the public good.
Production of knowledge-based goods. Services like facebook and twitter offer blank slates upon which users inscribe their own value and meaning, together creating huge value for its participants.
- Omnifolio is building a service for users to track their traits, work experience, formal and, crucially, informal educational (such as books read, lectures attended). They hope resulting profiles will help people find, train for and better communicate one’s suitability to potential employers.
Pricing and distribution. Adam gives some examples of sites dedicated to getting consumers to club together to negotiate on price over a product the ‘crowd’ desires and how consumers now exert greater control over when their purchases are delivered.
- Plan Zheroes; rather than businesses throwing away and paying councils (sometimes by the tonne) to take good food to waste, this map makes it simple to find a charity nearby and organize to drop off surplus food to a local soup-kitchen, community group or food redistribution programme. Over 300 businesses have signed up so far. By giving the market small amounts of information about waste, participants are helping others provide a service that takes away the guilt of throwing away edible food at the end of the day.
Marketing. It may seem strange to see marketing as an integral part of creating value. But it is indeed since advertising can make low-value product look or feel valuable and that consumers are swamped with a huge variety of products and services, the difference between which is increasingly meaningless.
- Rate My Care; an online platform for rating social care providers, providing a resource for people unsure where they should residential to an elderly loved-one. As well as opening up marketing of particular services, these ventures also emphasise the need for consumers of services to give input into the re-design and improvement of the services.
The Generation Enterprise publication is a good read and the lecture a good listen. I hope it sparks ideas for a new solution for people to generate value for themselves. If it does this, feel free to throw your idea into the Catalyst programme.
Over the summer I went to Fellows’ network events in Nottingham, Cardiff and Leeds to discuss RSA Catalyst – the programme I manage supporting the new and early stage ideas for social innovations that RSA Fellows come up with.
I kept the events simple: firstly, I tried to get people thinking about new solutions to tackle social problems by talking about Catalyst-supported ventures and our criteria; then I asked local Catalyst-supported ventures to present; finally I gave those people with new ideas a structured platform for sharing them, in order to get attendees to give advice and start collaborating with them.
- Apply for Catalyst via www.thersa.org/catalyst; (two attendees of events already have, with one successful in getting a grant, the other shortlisted and encouraged to reapply once they have tweaked the improved their ideas in certain respects).
- Use the presentation I created to run similar events at more of the 60 places across the UK and internationally where Fellows meet regularly. The presentation, now up on the Fellows’ resources page, walks you through how to do this.
The Catalyst projects we heard from were:
- Our Leicester Day; who recently ran their second annual gathering in the main market square for all communities, local clubs, societies and charities to share what they do with the local community and get more participants
- Inklusive; who create sustainable employment for people with disabilities by remanufacturing, refilling and reusing printing cartridges rather than them ending up in landfill
- New Endings; brings together residents, artists and town planners, to re-imagine dead-end streetscapes
- Solderpad; A website for people to collaborate open-source on electronics
the main aim of the evenings was to hear and help new ideas being developed
But the main aim of the evenings was to hear and help new ideas being developed. Here are 6 ideas that were bubbling up at the meetings:
- Urban growing/housing Turn farmland in Lincolnshire into a town that grows more edible food than it does currently as farmland whilst building affordable housing – more details or contact
- Teaching support to start new peer-to-peer and online networks for and between new teachers, piloting in Cardiff and Bristol – contact
- Unemployment/advertising Council-owned land puts up advertising hoardings of local businesses that take on long-term unemployed and also advertise local charities – more details or contact
- Affordable housing a advice service for community groups across the UK to start Community Land Trusts, a way to generate affordable housing – more details or contact
- Education tours of a cemetery for children to learn about the history of Bradford through its former inhabitants – more details or contact
- Prisoners/photography Train prisoners to take photos in visitors centre to give a link during their time spent inside – contact
Where can I see Catalyst projects? “What if I want to expand a project to Cardiff?”
I’ve now put up a list of all ideas awarded a grant on the Catalyst webpage. Those projects at the top are the ones that the panel believe are most readily-scalable to other locations since they’ve been awarded an additional £5,000 Catalyst grant.
Why is Catalyst resource prioritised on those things that have “yet to be tried out”?
Taking on board feedback about the lack of clarity in this part of the criteria, last month the Fellowship Council Catalyst Working Group (the Fellows and senior staff who decide on grant awards and process changes) changed the criteria from prioritizing ideas that have “yet to be tried out” to ideas that “are totally new or applying something in a new setting”. This reflects the fact that we have supported ideas that are local responses to models proven elsewhere. For example, We Are Bedford is an empty shops project that focused on the inaccessibility of arts to the majority of Bedford residents and on the difficulty local arts and crafts businesses have in selling their products.
Why did Catalyst support Solderpad (see above); what have solder boards and a for-profit company got to do with a social problem?
after being asked ‘Where can I see Catalyst projects, I’ve now put up a list of all ideas awarded a grant on the Catalyst webpage
As always it was a pleasure to meet other Fellows of the RSA and I hope I’ve persuaded them and now you, the reader of this blog, to either apply for Catalyst or run a similar event using the presentation. Please leave me a comment if you have any questions or feedback.
RSA Catalyst awarded a £2,000 grant to life Fellow William Makower to support his development of a national funding scheme for our arts and cultural institutions and venues. The Catalyst panel was impressed by the strategic idea of a national digitial solution, the work done to date and the level of commitment gained across the sector, such as Director of the National Portrait Gallery Sandy Nairne FRSA. The RSA grant was used to develop the graphics for the launch including a representative movie of the scheme in action. In this guest blog William sets out the thinking behind the idea, what’s happened to date and how Fellows can get involved.
Arts and cultural institutions are going through a critical shift. 30% cuts from the Arts Council due to a reduction in funding by £350m for the next three years, resulting in over a hundred organisations with their future threatened, coupled with reduction in spending by 24% by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, paints a bleak landscape.
But hope is budding despite the recent downpours; new figures from Arts and Business highlight a growth of 6.4% in individual giving to £382.2m last year.
The task for institutions now is to grab hold of this growth in individual giving and build its momentum. The key to doing this? Digital fundraising, utilising mobiles, tablets and new technological platforms.
The National Funding Scheme, available from March next year, will provide a means for visitors and supporters to use their mobiles and tablets to direct funds to the arts and cultural institutions they wish to support. The scheme’s aim is to raise new funds for the sector through mass giving.
The scheme will address the following issues:
- Introduces new donors to cultural institutions by providing a national, simple and accessible means
- Giving needs to tap into the point of high emotional impact (in the cafe after the exhibition, reading a plaque, at the encore etc.)
- Providing additional means for international tourists to give to our cultural institutions and organisations
- Providing a means to collect donor details and therefore begin a conversation with the donor
- The need to ‘change the language’ around giving – it is not just for the wealthy, but something all can participate in
The National Funding Scheme will provide a means for visitors and supporters to use their mobiles and tablets to direct funds to the arts and cultural institutions they wish to support
Findings to date
Panlogic, with grants from the Paul Hamlyn Foundation, Rothschild Foundation and others carried out over 85 face-face interviews with senior individuals across the cultural landscape and had nearly 950 responses to their online consultation. These findings, along with those identified by Ipsos Mori’s independent research found out:
- That for 48% of respondents something that shows what is being done with a donation will increase giving
- 73% of respondents want to allow donors to understand specific things that individual institutions want to raise money for
- 44% of respondents said a system with flexibility would encourage them to give more to arts and cultural institutions
- 31% of respondents said they had made a contribution to an arts or cultural institution in the last 12 months
On July 2nd 2012 Jeremy Hunt, Secretary of State for Culture, Media, Olympics and Sport, Sandy Nairne FRSA, and I announced the scheme at a launch event hosted by the National Portrait Gallery.
The launch was attended by arts professionals, journalists and other industry observers. Sandy’s speech was followed by the Secretary of State giving a warm welcome to the initiative followed by me giving the details behind the scheme. The RSA grant paid for the graphics and illustrations of the product at the event.
We are looking for Fellows who can provide expertise with data, licence sales, mobile payments and marketing and communications. In addition we are looking for Trustees for the charity we are setting up to run the solution, who have the following experience/expertise:
- A senior figure with arts/cultural/heritage background that could possibly chair the trustees
- An ex-development director of a UK arts/cultural/heritage organisation
- Strong financial expertise and controls
we are looking for Fellows with expertise in data management, licence sales, mobile payments and marketing and communications
More information, including photos/transcripts/invite list and the full research can be seen at www.nationalfundingscheme.org
William Makower is founder of the National Funding Scheme and CEO of Panlogic. you can contact him via firstname.lastname@example.org
If you have an idea to tackle a social problem in a new way, visit www.thersa.org/catalyst
The Angels’ Attic evening organised by the RSA Fellows’ Thames Valley Network in Reading recently gave four organisations each 25 minutes to get input from Fellows on the challenges faced by their start-up social enterprise or increasingly-entrepreneurial charity.
we will create a space online to share guides or toolkits for successful event formats
The event went so well that when I later met with colleagues from the Fellowship Networks team (who have helped Fellows put on similar events across the UK) we decided we will create a space online to share guides or toolkits that will help others draw on these successful event formats such as these in their own location. But before we create this, here are my brief thoughts on what happened, what good came from it and what caused that success.
The financial crisis and the resulting fiscal crises have put capitalism in the spotlight. In an era when public spending is being tightened, a question often asked is how can the private sector help alleviate social problems? So I thought this would be a good opportunity to turn people’s attention to the Future Quotient, FQ, a new idea from a Volans report I recently read, co-authored recently by Fellowship Councillor Charmian Love FRSA.
I think this collection of people and organisations that bring the interests of future generations into our decision-making today can inspire new ideas for businesses and social enterprises
To help define it Volans identifies 50 people, projects, organisations and states that have a strong Future Quotient. With nods to a diverse set of emerging business models – like biomimicry, collaborative consumption, open-source and freemium – it is an interesting collection. (If you think I’m in danger of buzzword overload, I urge you to familiarise yourself with the links.) I think this collection can inspire new ideas for businesses and social enterprises. And obviously we will look to support any ideas our Fellows have through our Catalyst programme – of which Charmian is a member of the working group that decides grants.
One of the organisations featured that everyone will have heard of is B&Q (and their parent company Kingfisher). They made it in because they actively seek input from the next generation to work out how their values compare to their business model. They do this by getting the children of employees to give their impressions of their parent’s work.
B&Q run DIY free classes… helping people mend and repair their homes at less cost to themselves and to the environment as well as improving B&Q’s trade
I also wanted to mention the way the report engages readers in its findings. Alongside The Future Quotient report, Volans, with the help of MindTime, invites readers to participate in a quick survey. This both engages the reader in the topic – giving me some questions to remind me what it meant to be future-minded – and provides them with more data – about the FQ of its stakeholders by age, sector etc.
This is relevant for us because, as Matthew Taylor states, “nearly all our major research and development projects are now designed to engage Fellows.” One example of how we do this already is the RSA Fellows’ Profit with Purpose Network who are collaborating with our Enterprise programme.
Bringing nearly thirty social entrepreneurs supported by RSA Catalyst together with Fellows leading social enterprises and from social enterprise intermediaries meant that there were many opportunities for good things to happen…
I’ve already blogged about some of what happened on the day here, but wanted to give a further update after collecting feedback from the Catalyst winners about the event over the past few weeks. What were some of the achievements of the day? How could we (and hopefully other Fellows looking to put on similar events) make it better in the future?
Firstly, we watched relationships grow as people had the opportunity to informally network, as evinced in this graphic mapping the connections made by a sample of the Catalyst venture leaders:
There were also specific collaborations started during the afternoon. This photo shows Richard Butler FRSA swapping cards with a lawyer who specialises in advising on different legal formats project like his venture could adopt. In the background, a Catalyst-supported venture in Cardiff is meeting another Fellow who gives charities and social enterprises access to empty spaces. They are now pursuing access for the venture to a 3space in Cardiff.
This opportunity to strengthen relationships and encourage collaboration was talked about by my colleague Vivs Long-Ferguson on her recent post evaluating recent Fellows’ events.
But in addition to this, the afternoon aimed to help those Fellows leading Catalyst supported ventures to overcome specific challenges they were facing areas on the day itself – over and above any connections and collaborations started on the day. We used information gathered from our survey of Catalyst projects that have delivered the outputs promised with their grant to assist with this. Kate Welch OBE FRSA leads a venture currently based in Durham working with prisoners to build outdoor living products. And here she is having a one-to-one talk with marketing professional to build a plan for getting their projects or services to market.
It is always impossible to make the event perfect for everyone in the room. For example, those who had read all of the event brochure on the train to the event were frustrated that people took too long introducing themselves; those who hadn’t read anything felt things moved too quickly.
Another example is that we couldn’t get all the expertise there on the day that people had requested in their survey – the requests were wide-ranging. We are looking at covering some of this through follow-up with the individuals in question.
One interesting suggestion that came in after the event was to split the room up according to different common threads between the projects, rather than letting people select their workshops. This might go as follows: a social impact workshop might be more productive where the beneficiaries of the social venture were similar; funding workshops might be more productive to be discussed among social ventures that employed similar means of achieving their impact, or were at similar stages of progress.
There were also suggestions that as well as hearing from successful social entrepreneurs from the RSA’s Social Entrepreneurs Network and Skills Bank, we might turn the focus on one or two of the Catalyst projects for a part of the afternoon.
This is all really good feedback that’ll go into the planning of next year’s Catalyst event.
Meanwhile, I will finish with some of the extremely positive feedback: comments on the presentation from Albert Medal Winner Albina Ruiz ranged from “very inspiring” to “mind-blowingly brilliant.”
Thanks to the RSA’s social media reporter Matthew Mezey, we have videoed some fantastic interviews of Catalyst venture leaders. So in the New Year we hope these will offer a good chance to share the progress of Catalyst projects more widely.
You can find out more about RSA Catalyst and apply for grants and support at www.thersa.org/catalyst
On Tuesday we held our first RSA Catalyst Winners’ Workshop, bringing together nearly 30 leaders of the new social ventures we have awarded grants to. It was the first opportunity for the initiatives we have supported to come together and learn from each other. There were also presentations and workshops facilitated by experts we had assembled from the RSA’s Social Entrepreneurs and Profit with Purpose Networks as well as the RSA Skills Bank, where Fellows register to give their expertise to Fellow-led projects.
Adam Lent kicked off the day by setting out Catalyst and the progress it has made to date in delivering an RSA deeply engaged in its communities. As one Catalyst grant winner tweeted; “Just found out that I’m part of the Catalyst ‘SAS’ thanks Adam Lent #RSACatalyst”
Colin Crooks, registered in the Skills Bank, reminded Catalyst winners that successful social ventures can start with humble beginnings. He described how GreenWorks, which has provided low-cost furniture to 16,000 organisations and 800 young people with training and employment in the process, started “with me, a rented van, and £300.” Colin spoke of exemplifying sweat equity, since he picked up furniture in a van, changed into a suit in the van to “go into a meeting [with a potential investor] as if I haven’t been lumping furniture around for the last four hours.”
It started with me, a rented van, and £300 – Colin Crooks FRSA, Founder of GreenWorks
There were some reassuring messages to those Catalyst winners who have faced a challenging start. Dan Snell, a leading member of the Social Entrepreneurs Network, recalled the first pilots for his educational social enterprise: “Most of the time I got my ass kicked in those classrooms, to be honest.” Arrival Education has grown substantially and recently was a winner of the prestigious Big Venture Challenge on the basis of programmes for inner-city youth that had 90% of participants agreeing the course had given them more confidence to take on their lives.
The Catalyst winners heard an inspiring talk from this year’s Albert Medal recipient Albina Ruiz. Albina mobilised street-waste-pickers in Lima to form micro-enterprises, who then went on to persuade local residents to sort their waste and pay for its collection. She described one tactic to encourage people to contribute towards the rubbish collection by likening it to the cost of one beer a month. Albina’s energy has over the course of 25 years’ hard work and in the face of not-inconsiderable vested interests seen her micro-entrepreneurial movement take off across Latin America and now to slums in India. Most attendees went on to listen to her full lecture after collecting the medal in the Great Room.
Albina Ruiz at #RSACatalyst is inspiring, entertaining, insightful, charming, challenging – Catherine Shovlin FRSA, Catalyst winner
Matthew Taylor wrapped up the day by reiterating that Catalyst ventures have been not only a powerful catalyst for change within the Fellowship but are also inspiring other areas of RSA activity. One Catalyst winner tweeted the next day “Matthew Taylor’s assertion at #RSACatalyst yesterday that nexus of social values, innovation & enterprise is place to be, still resonating.”
I’m really grateful to all who participated and helped make what I found an energetic and inspiring afternoon.
You can find out more about RSA Catalyst and apply for grants and support at www.thersa.org/catalyst
Alex Watson is Networks Manager responsible for RSA Catalyst, RSA
This is about a radical model of enterprise in Stoke where the “cradle-to-cradle” zero-waste business model has been taken one step further. On Saturday I heard at Stoke Stories how a former cattle and tropical agriculture specialist came to be involved in an organisation tackling pressing environmental and social problems through computers.
Hugh Irvine is one of a number of people who are functionally “directors” of The Ethical Computer Company (TECC), based near Stoke. He gave us an honest and insightful account of how it refurbishes and recycles computing equipment that has stopped being used or is damaged. For the last 12 years it has sold computers at low-cost whilst providing paid employment for long-term unemployed and training for young people and marginalised individuals to get them ready for employment. Unemployment is generally recognised as Stoke’s greatest problem, in particular, the unemployment of skilled artisans who once worked in the pottery industry.
This is borne out in the murmurs of approval 51 seconds into Hugh’s talk…
… or if you prefer more quantitative evidence, almost a third more people in Stoke‐on‐Trent are unemployed compared to the national average (1).
Desso aims for all the material resources in their products to be recycled or reused to ensure that a “new” product needs no additional raw materials
I wanted to write about TECC in relation to the “cradle-to-cradle” approach discussed in last week’s RSA lecture, which included Dame Ellen MacArthur and Stef Kranendijk, CEO of the carpeting company Desso. Desso (like TECC) aims for all the material resources in its products to be recycled or reused to ensure that a “new” product needs no additional raw materials (though renewable energy and human resources are undoubtedly needed to undertake this recycling and reusing).
TECC delivers a zero material-resource-waste and a zero human-resource-waste business model… helping local people develop transferable skills that they can reuse in future employment
What TECC showed me – and this is why I called it a radical model – is another way of looking at the cradle-to-cradle business model. Firstly, TECC also recycles and reuses the products of other computer sellers (its competitors of sorts), as well as making its own products recyclable and reusable. Secondly, and what I will explore in a bit more detail, TECC also focuses on human or social sustainability. Desso might employ whoever in the labour market wants the job (to deliver a zero material-resource-waste business model). TECC, on the other hand, delivers a zero material-resource-waste and a zero human-resource-waste business model. It employs local people who face difficulties in getting employment because of a culture of unemployment, physical disabilities or a criminal record. Desso wants to prevent its product materials from ending up on the environmental scrapheap. This compares with TECC which also works to prevent people from ending up on the ‘economic scrapheap’, instead helping people to develop transferable skills that they can reuse in future employment.
This model of operating a business will be familiar to a number of social entrepreneurs. Indeed eight of the 25 enterprises that won the prestigious social enterprise programme the Big Venture Challenge are applying a similar method; employing people who would otherwise face major difficulties in getting employment.
With this in mind, you could argue that this (expanded) interpretation of cradle-to-cradle then also has relevance for those few sectors that don’t dispose of their products quickly for recycling to be important. At the Desso lecture, Paul King, CEO of the UK Green Building Council, laid down the challenge of retrofitting Britain’s housing stock – 80% of which he said will still be here in 2050. Could retrofitting be delivered by training up the long-term unemployed? The Green New Deal described this as a ‘carbon army,’ Boris Johnson proposed something similar, but RE:FIT, set to retrofit 55,000 London homes before March 2012 (2), show no signs of training long-term unemployed people. Birmingham council has embarked on something along these lines. With the retrofitting industry worth £500bn over the next three decades (3), with the likelihood of public investment diminishing and with people so far unenthusaistic about letting big energy companies sell them energy efficiency services, is there not a space for a social enterprise? I’d love to know if one exists.
we don’t have a hierarchy, we are a bunch of people that want to make things happen
Lastly, I wanted to raise some of challenges TECC faces in increasing its impact that Hugh talked so passionately about, which I will soon put to the RSA Fellows’ Social Entrepreneurs’ Network.
- In a majority public sector economy, there was some scepticism among previously state-funded voluntary groups who had been told by local authorities to become social enterprises. But the story of the Ethical Computer Company showed that it was possible to build a social enterprise in Stoke, with a lot of hard work and no little skill, without funding from the public authorities. That said, TECC has been frustrated about the lack of collaboration from the public authorities. It is based exactly opposite a partially-empty Council-owned building which could provide a springboard for growth, and Hugh knows of a closed-down school that has a great deal of IT equipment just sitting there unused
- Established in 1999 before the Community Interest Company legal form was created, TECC is a charity and company hybrid. This makes some charitable foundations suspicious and less ready to fund the enterprise
- Hugh describes TECC as follows “we don’t have a hierarchy, we are a bunch of people that want to make things happen.” Decisions are made in a weekly meeting, open to all team members, each of who provide leadership according to their own particular strengths. This is philosophically important to the team but is a challenging way to organise an enterprise and also thoroughly confuses some people. Suggestions of how to scale up governance arrangements that are neither a fully-fledged collective nor a traditional company are welcome.
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