Starting up on your own is certainly no easy feat – in fact we often discuss the potential obstacles that lie ahead at the RSA’s monthly Social Entrepreneurs breakfast. However, one thing I have noticed is that the first barrier is not (as you might think) imagined lack of capital; it’s simply getting started.
Seemingly, a number of skilled, imaginative people are just unsure how or where to begin.
It wasn’t until I began working at the RSA that I fully appreciated the value of having a support structure. I thought breaking out on your own was something you should do…alone? I soon learnt that successful leaders do quite the opposite: they join a network, get training and tap into all the help that’s available.
A couple of weeks ago, we hosted an evening event at RSA House for thirty individuals currently undertaking the Clore Leadership Programme which focuses on those with experience working in the Arts, and the Clore Social Leadership Programme which is primarily for people with careers in the social sectors. We were privileged to have a mixture of current Clore Fellows join us for some drinks, networking and an historical tour of the building.
For those who don’t know, the Clore programmes are designed to develop strong leaders in the cultural and social sectors so that more individuals are better equipped to engender positive change in their communities, organisations and the world around them.
Given the electic mix of experience and knowledge in the room a number of interesting conversations were initiated – from discussing the trajectory of the Walt Disney corporation, to the role of art in school curriculums – Clore Leaders are inspiring and inspired company. For more information about the current cohort of Clore Cultural and Social Leaders you can view full profiles on the respective websites.
We were also joined by Asma Shah FRSA who spoke to the room about her social enterprise Ladies Who L-EARN. Asma demonstrates exactly how transformative the Clore programme can be. With a background in the Arts, Asma was a Clore Cultural Fellow though as she pointed out, you wouldn’t know it now as her current work sits firmly within the social sector.
Upon finishing the programme she joined the RSA Fellowship and by applying to RSA Catalyst, Asma was able to get her project off the ground. Since then she has been able to access further funding, attract more volunteers and ultimately, help more women.
Asma was keen to point out the combination of the Clore Fellowship and RSA Fellowship is a powerful one. This cannot be overemphasised. Asma began working with women in her community who had limited access to the kind of training or social capital that she had gained from joining influential, supportive networks like Clore and the RSA.
The RSA has partnered with Clore Leadership for nine years now and we continue to work together because of our mutual belief that investing in individuals is one of the fundamental ways to improve society.
Part of investing in people is offering them a framework to carry their ideas, so that getting started is never an obstacle.
Alexandra Barker is a Fellowship Development Coordiantor at the RSA
If you would like more infromation about RSA Fellowship or any of people or projects mentioned above, then contact email@example.com
The Big Idea: Auntie Daisy is a new service that delivers sanitary towels and tampons discreetly through women’s letterboxes every month. 100% of profits go to Camfed - a charity educating and empowering girls in Africa. Matt Lill FRSA is the co-founder of Auntie Daisy.
When my partner Claire lived in Tanzania and taught English to young girls, she noticed how some of them would often miss school at certain times of the month. Without access to sanitary protection and without proper toilet facilities in schools, some girls in Africa can miss a whole week of lessons every single term – just because of their period. This leaves them way behind, which is just not right.
One evening many years later, Claire told me about the girls she met and the problems they faced. My brain automatically turned to my background of working with social enterprises, and a few glasses of wine later Auntie Daisy was born!
Auntie Daisy is not just about supporting girls’ education with our profits. We want to hit a chord with women in the UK by relating to something they use every single month.
We aim to inspire women to change their shopping habits ever so slightly, and buy their sanitary products through Auntie Daisy. By buying social, they can have a direct impact on girl’s lives in Africa and help Camfed educate more young women of the future.
The RSA Catalyst grant has been fundamental in getting Auntie Daisy off the ground. We invested the funding in the packaging for our boxes, which will be hitting women’s letterboxes soon. The boxes look amazing and hopefully women who receive them will agree and enjoy opening them each month.
As well as funding, the RSA has provided us with some invaluable advice from its fellows, including those with expertise in marketing – essential for helping as many women as possible to hear about Auntie Daisy. We have also received a lot of advice and encouragement from other fellows we’ve met, including at the excellent recent #RSAEngage event (and I don’t say that just because I was speaking at it!). We look forward to meeting more inspirational fellows over the coming months.
As for next steps – well to be honest as a new business everything’s a next step at the moment! But we definitely have some exciting times ahead. The first thing we want to do is find out what women really want when it comes to their periods. Together with Mumsnet, we’ve launched a survey about women’s monthly trends and habits. The responses will help ensure that we’re offering the best service we can, that appeals to women and gives them one less thing to think about each month.
Auntie Daisy needs you!
Auntie Daisy provides convenience, discretion and a contribution to a cause for our customers – we want to get these messages out in front of as many women as possible. We think that one way to do this is through partnerships with established women’s networks. Accordingly we would be grateful for advice from anybody who has held a senior position in such a network, or negotiated such a partnership, to make sure we get our pitch right, in a way that will be valuable for both sides.
RSA Fellows can help Auntie Daisy get it right from the start – please take the survey and pass it on to any women who might be interested. If you think Auntie Daisy is a service that could work for you, please visit our website and sign up. Again, please pass the link on to any women you know. You can also show your support and join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter.
We’re really excited about what the future holds for Auntie Daisy and we strongly believe in everything it stands for. But we’re always very open to more suggestions and ideas. Please do get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org – we look forward to hearing from you!
To get help from RSA Catalyst for your social venture visit our webpage
One evening over the Christmas break, I found myself at the home of a friend and her partner, both of whom happen to be psychoanalysts. Over dinner, whilst attempting to steer the conversation away from work, we began discussing the role of storytelling in our lives; the social narratives we believe in, the stories we pass on to others and the ones that resonate at a personal level.
The conversation led us to conclude that whilst a good story will always have readers, a really powerful story, will inspire people to act. In the Fellowship department, we often discuss how to make this shift. When there is so much great material available, it can be difficult to know how to piece it all together and the power in a story can easily be lost.
At first glance, social change appears to lend itself well to narrative. For a start, there is natural beginning; if we are trying to solve a problem, first we have to understand it. The starting point has to be-
What exactly is happening here?
This is especially poignant when encountering subjects that people might be uncomfortable talking about. Rachel Clare FRSA is Assistant Director at the Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM) which deals with the issue of male suicide. According to recent government statistics on mortality rates, suicide is a bigger cause of death in young men than HIV, traffic accidents and assault combined, with 77% of all cases of suicide in the UK every year being male. CALM was born from a simple need to generate greater awareness of the problem.
Once a problem is defined, we have to figure out the best way to solve it – how do we improve the world around us?
Monday night’s Fellows event RSA Engage demonstrated that within the Fellowship there is a wealth of ideas about how we can transition from the beginning to the middle; problem to potential solution. Amongst the seven Fellows who pitched their project at the event, was Richard Blissett FRSA. Richard was recommended for Fellowship by a previous Catalyst winner and in turn decided to apply for funding for his own project. Through RSA Catalyst, his digital tool Edukit is well on the way to helping teachers find the appropriate resources to support disadvantaged students, quickly and easily. For Richard, the how lies in getting the right tools to the right people.
However, for a modest enterprise like Edukit to earn a place in the grander narrative of social change, it must also create a story around itself. Tools will not reach people if it’s not clear why they’re relevant, so creating a strong, individual narrative is critical – it is not enough to be heard, you have to be understood.
New RSA Fellow Emily Farnworth founded her social business Counter Culture on precisely the understanding that powerful stories are the key to changing indiviual behaviour, yet when tackling complex issues such as poverty or climate change, a simple beginning, middle and end doesn’t always cut it.
Emily believes that ‘the only way to solve the world’s biggest problems in a meaningful way is to see all sides of an argument.’ Counter Culture was established to help businesses and charities reach their audiences through a more agile form of storytelling that incorporates multiple and differing perspectives.
This can be achieved in many different ways. Even if you don’t recognise it immediately, brands, charities and individuals are communicating with us all the time without ever needing to put pen to paper. New Fellow David Pope, filmmaker, consultant and member of the British Council’s Creative Economy Pool of Experts, is interested in the storytelling possibilities offered by new technologies because this evolution is creating opportunities for a more diverse range of voices and stories to reach wider audiences.
New mediums can transform the way an issue is presented and the type of people who can tell the story. An example -
In December, Mark Leruste FRSA joined the Fellowship. As well as being an ICF Certified Professional Co-Active Coach (CPCC), he is a Country Manager for Movember, the infamous worldwide men’s health charity that invites men around the world to grow a moustache for 30 days in November to raise awareness and funds for men’s health. This in itself proves that a serious message can be communicated through the power of a moustache.
A story can still carry weight even if the chronology is disjointed or the medium unconventional.
Movember shows that a life-threatening disease affecting a particular demographic can gather mass support using humour and facial hair. If that isn’t re-writing the story, I don’t know what is.
If you would like to find out more about any of the projects or Fellows mentioned above, or would like to know more about joining the Fellowship please contact email@example.com
Alexandra Barker is a Fellowship Development Coordinator at the RSA
The Big Idea: Fluency is a learning platform and crowd work marketplace that gets young people into work and connects them with small businesses who need their skills. Sinead Mac Manus FRSA is the CEO and co-founder of Fluency.
I founded the company to solve two big problems: the fact that there are limited work opportunities at the moment for young people, both here in the UK and across Europe, and the lack of digital expertise in small businesses in the UK.
We teach our young people in-demand skills such as how to build a website, how to market a company on social media or how to optimise content for Google. Our learners complete digital challenges and collect badges to demonstrate their learning. But what’s really unique about our platform is that as our learners get mastery in a subject, they become eligible for work on the crowd work platform. In this way they can ‘learn and earn’ at the same time.
The story so far
My background is a digital coach and trainer to small businesses. For the past four years I have been working with them to overcome stresses about engaging in digital and showing them the potential that the web and social media can have for their business. But many of my clients were just too busy to implement much of my advice so I back in 2011 I saw a gap in the market for providing outsourced digital services and, with help from UnLtd and then the Nominet Trust, started training low income women in east London with these skills.
To be honest I never had a passion for working with young people specifically – as a feminist, creating economic opportunities for women and girls was always more my thing. But as I developed this work, I couldn’t ignore that youth unemployment remains stubbornly high here in the UK and is catastrophic in many European countries such as Greece. Spain and Italy. I realised if we don’t provide work opportunities for this generation of young people, then we run the risk of a ‘lost generation’ with knock-on effects in communities for decades. Since starting to work exclusively with young people last year, I have been amazed at their talents and ambition to make a better life for themselves and feel proud if we can help even one young person succeed.
Fluency was accepted onto Bethnal Green Ventures social technology incubator in July and have been building the platform and piloting our work with young people over the last six months. The Catalyst grant from the RSA was amazing and it allowed us to work with a great bunch of young people over the summer – one of whom is now working in our company, one is doing a technology apprenticeship, and the others are interning or in education.
What does the future bring
We are a very young startup but have received lots of recognition from industry and the press. We were finalists in Vator Splash, one of the most prestigious pitching competitions in the US and we won The Challenge Cup in November last year and were voted Best Education Startup in the UK. We have made strategic partnerships with some of the biggest youth charities in the UK such as The Prince’s Trust and are just about to start working with our first 100 young people getting them trained up and working as digital experts. We have grown our team from the original two co-founders to a team of five and are raising investment to bring the team to nine and reach as many young people as we can.
We have a passionate belief at Fluency that we can help some of the 75 million young people around the world who need work. As more people around the world come online and get access to cheap devices, we want to be there providing access to decently paid, online work opportunities, not only in the digital space, but moving into other verticals such as customer service, lead generation and customer support.
How you can get involved
We are always looking for youth partners to get involved. If you or your organisation are helping young people get into work, then please do drop us a line and see how we can help. We are also looking for small business clients for our young trainees, so if you need help with a making a website, managing your social media, or a host of other digital services – then please do get in touch with us on firstname.lastname@example.org. More information can also be found on www.fluency.io.
Sinead Mac Manus FRSA
Follow them at @getfluency
To get help from RSA Catalyst for your social venture visit our webpage
While several retailers sit reflecting on a disappointing Christmas trading period, 2014 promises to buzz with excitement about online, mobile and social network tools to get you to buy things. We’ve heard plenty about the ‘death of the High Street’; its time to contemplate the future of the ‘big box’ out-of-town superstores in the online era. Shops are about more than shopping, their advantage remains face-to-face interaction. Retailers need to make physical stores community hubs to entice shoppers, appease a restless public, and help a stretched public sector.
New research we released today suggests that a future retail model must make the most of the physical assets of large stores and their network of human relationships. A big supermarket typically hosts 200 staff and 10,000 customers every day. Physical space offers the opportunity for services and experiences which can’t be replicated online. Most important for shops, as people live more of their lives staring at screens, is human interaction. As well as sites of consumption stores are sites of social interaction and employment with a role in combating loneliness and isolation which are increasing. Our previous research found 40% of shoppers at one large DIY store talked with other customers.
With every self-service checkout there is a missed opportunity to build a relationship between staff and shoppers.
What’s in store for the store of the future? We are already seeing shopping malls, retail parks and town centres add leisure and entertainment attractions, but participants in our research wanted to see a wider range of community services offered at large supermarkets. As well as existing cafes and pharmacies, large stores have the flexibility to use space in their car parks, staff rooms and back office. Two years ago Asda started letting community groups use space in store for free; since then they’ve been used 65,000 times. In this period of public sector austerity, we’ve seen libraries and youth services shut their doors and while need for support rises. Local residents suggested to us that they wanted to see their local Asda used for recruiting volunteers, expanded health services and hosting homework clubs, art shows and sports tournaments. Successful large stores will need to be fun destinations: there could be food markets by day and drive-in movies by night in the car park.
In coming to terms with the rise of online shopping, we are not rejecting the concept of physical shopping as is frequently claimed. Rather, we are using apps and websites as a new channel to browse and buy, adapting the way that we use stores. As digital platforms which make sharing product information, comparing prices and organising consumer campaigns easier, key attributes that brands desire, like trust, must be translated to new types of customer interactions.
In reconfiguring the shop floor for the mobile-connected consumer, stores will need to differentiate themselves from competition, build loyalty and secure a reputation for being a positive force in society. Realising this prize will mean creating social value for the locally-connected citizen. We call the exploration of these opportunities ‘community venturing’. Early indications from Asda’s Community Life programme – which the RSA evaluated for its report – suggest that the most socially valuable projects will be developed in partnership between charities, public sector agencies and business.
So why should a large national supermarket care about community venturing? It gives people a range of reasons to visit a big store and deepens relationships which can generate local insight: something commercially valuable to retailers. As Campbell’s Soup is finding at their headquarters in New Jersey, engaging in community work is inspiring to employees. Perhaps most importantly, it’s in the interests of a big store to grow the social economy and help local people lead fulfilling and rewarding lives.
You can’t have a thriving store in a failing place.
In 2013 national retailers faced public and political scrutiny over supply chain practices, pay conditions and tax payments. In 2014, High Streets will continue to adapt, and new retail businesses will show us products and producers in new ways. Several recent research reviews have suggested that with coordination among stores, High Streets can harness the power and reach of online channels. Vacancy rates will stabilise in most places; independent businesses have often been first to respond to the opportunities of contemporary consumer demands whether its coffee, bike repairs, or ethical products. Internet companies, both startups and established heavyweights, will increasingly try to develop a localised retail offer. It’s up to our big national chain stores to use their local presence to beat them to it and offer us something as citizens as well as consumers.
This blog was first published on Huffington Post.
Jonathan Schifferes (@jschifferes) is a Senior Researcher working with 2020 Public Services and Connected Communities
This is a guest blog from Jennifer Fong FRSA. Jennifer is Founder and Co-Director of Cooking with Mama, a project which received Catalyst funding earlier this year.
Coconut biscuits, Sri Lankan pumpkin curry and Mexican chiles en nogada. These are a just a few of the many dishes that over 150 Londoners have learned to create at Cooking With Mama (CWM).
A RSA Catalyst-funded culinary school and social enterprise, CWM has had a productive first year, including cooking classes, secret supper clubs, catering, corporate events, market stalls, Mama training days, an expansion into Berlin, and kitchens filled with new friends learning to create authentic home cooked meals. Best of all – we have been able to empower women, our Mamas, with confidence and work-readiness skills through training and paid opportunities to lead cooking classes in communities across London.
CWM is taking shape at a critical time for women. A report from the Fawcett Society earlier this year showed that women’s unemployment has risen to a 25 year high, with almost three times as many women as men having become long-term unemployed since 2010. This is a context within which social enterprises like CWM can help fill a critical gap. As ‘conventional’ full-time jobs become increasingly rare, people are acquiring work experience in more creative ways. And, if you’re a great amateur cook, you can pass along your skills and knowledge to a curious and committed audience with CWM.
Beyond our cooking classes and supper clubs, CWM recently held a ‘Mama Training Day’ dedicated to our Mamas’ personal development, professional goals, and building a strong community of women with whom to learn and grow. A focal development area was the importance of storytelling and developing the skill of bringing cultural content to life during the classes.
For our official launch party, CWM also gathered a diverse mix of individuals from the foodie and social enterprise spheres to showcase our Mamas’ culinary talents and celebrate our achievements for the year. See a video highlighting the moments here:
How you can get involved
CWM is thankful for its supporters! As we continue to grow and develop, our goal is to serve our existing Mamas by providing them with access to opportunities to gain food industry experience and continue to support as many women as possible. Based on the feedback we have received in recent months, the encouragement and motivation provided by the RSA’s Catalyst Award, and our genuine love of yummy things of all kinds, we believe the future is bright. Our future is looking very tasty indeed!
If you think our idea sounds delicious, there are many simple ways to get involved!
- “Like” us on Facebook and “follow us” on Twitter
- Sign up for a Cooking Class or Supper club
- Let us plan your next group team building event with a Corporate Class
- Contact us to join our mailing list to learn about upcoming events and news
- Volunteer with us – we’re particularly looking for people with expertise in partnerships, recruitment, social media and websites. We are also looking for legal/tax advice. Please get in touch if you think you can help us!
Find out more about Cooking with Mama at www.cookingwithmama.org.
If you would like to support some of the fantastic projects run by RSA Fellows – such as Cooking with Mama – please sign up to RSA Skills bank and join a growing network of individuals inspired to share their knowledge, time and expertise to deliver social change and enhance human capability.
The Big Idea: The New Cross area of south London could gain a new arts space. A previously closed public library has re-opened as New Cross Learning, inspiring and uplifting thousands of local users. Catherine Shovlin FRSA has launched a crowdfunding campaign to develop a creative arts space working with the local community…
Over the last 10 years we, Artmongers, have been stirring things up in Deptford and New Cross, South London with thought-provoking public art that changes the way people relate to space. Now we want to create New Cross’s first public artspace: a giant 3D lightbox on the ceiling of New Cross Learning. We will work together with local groups, running workshops to create multimedia artworks that change every six months. Central to our aim, we will be collaborating with emerging artists in our local community as well as school children, community groups and Goldsmiths students. To do this, we need to raise nearly £5k.
This is where we need your help. Through RSA Catalyst we have launched a crowdfunding campaign, Looking up in New X, to raise the funds needed to bring a much needed art space to the New Cross area – and we have ten days left to go!
The story so far
Since it opened in 2011, New Cross Learning has quickly developed into a vibrant community hub. Locals go there for books of course, but also for computer access, street dance, poetry group, baby bounce, community meetings, training sessions, Chinese dragon making workshops and much more.
The front of the building got a great facelift in 2012 (thanks to RSA Catalyst and the Funding Network) with a participatory artwork that marked the beginning of community ownership and involvement. Now we want to do something about the inside. New Cross doesn’t have a public art space so we are raising money to make this happen.
Last year’s flash mob on the A2 (for those outside London, the A2 is a major road connecting London with Kent) highlighted the challenges pedestrians face getting from one side of New Cross to the other. We didn’t break any traffic rules but we definitely caused a stir. And this year’s campaign to plant 1000 sunflowers has involved hundreds of school children, Goldsmiths University, local businesses and community groups. It brightened up the place and more importantly it encouraged people to realise the possibility that it is our environment and we can choose how it is. Then recently we worked with another RSA supported project – Talk to Me London to create unexpected creative interventions at bus stops in New Cross including a disco.
Taking back ownership of public space encourages all sorts of social benefits – not least the improved sense of well-being while you’re taking part.
Taking back ownership of public space encourages all sorts of social benefits – not least the improved sense of well-being while you’re taking part. Enough downcast acquiescence, people in New Cross are ready to LOOK UP and improve their public spaces for themselves. Backers get to be part of the creative process, and some will even get a piece of art for their home. Most importantly, those who support this project will know that they are part of transforming an area and empowering local residents.
How you can get involved
Those living around New Cross will know how much community spirit there is in the area. We want to give something back and give local residents the chance to express themselves through art – and in a local space everyone can enjoy.
We need your help to make this happen. Please visit the RSA crowdfunding page and find our project - Looking up in New X – and help us to reach our target. If you would like to get involved in the project or would like to visit us in New Cross, you can email me at email@example.com or follow us on Twitter.
Catherine Shovlin FRSA
New Cross Learning and Artmongers
The Big Idea: Nalibeli is an online platform created by Blair Glencorse FRSA and Surabhi Pudasaini that helps citizens in Nepal to navigate complicated public services, and uses crowdsourcing to give people access to the information they need. Here, Blair explains more…
Accessing basic services, like obtaining a new passport or renewing a driver’s license, is a difficult, complicated and messy ordeal for citizens in Nepal. There is no clear and readily available information – of the sort taken for granted in a country like the UK, whose gov.uk website won Design of the Year award – to help Nepalis understand the services the government should provide. As a result, it can take numerous visits to offices and a great deal of confusion (and bribes) to navigate the administration.
That is why we’ve started a crowdfunding campaign on the RSA crowdfunding area to support our Nalibeli portal. Nalibeli (a Nepali word that gives a sense of understanding the intricate details of something) helps citizens navigate government and make more informed decisions about issues that affect their lives. With generous support from the RSA US Challenge fund and RSA Catalyst (which supported initial development, research and network-building on the ground) we are using web-based tools, like Facebook, to gather ideas on the problems that Nepalis care about. Then we are using our contacts across the country to organize, package an disburse relevant information through a wiki-tool (using MediaWiki, the free, open source wiki product that was evolved from Wikipedia).
The story so far
We’ve begun a massive outreach campaign around the country and despite our small budget, results so far have been impressive: Nalibeli has over 115,000 hits and over 400 pages of information on key services in both Nepali and English. We began with higher education and mapped information across over 60 college campuses and 38 faculties, and we’re now mapping services through District Administrative Offices (with which all Nepalis have to interact for obtaining birth certificates, marriage licenses and so on). We’ve held numerous “wiki-a-thons” at colleges in different parts of Nepal as well as numerous informal wiki-sessions to build a committed user base and demonstrate the importance of what we are doing; and we’ve built up a solid team of 5 people and an informal network of over a dozen institutions and organizations who, on a volunteer basis, give us their time and expertise.
All of this has taken just a few months. There have been challenges of course. Crowdsourcing information under difficult conditions has been harder than we thought it would be, and bridging the digital divide is proving tricky, but we are working on these problems and making fantastic progress. The wiki is fully functional and has a truly vibrant community developing around it. Now we need it go from a useful tool to the essential resource it should be for every Nepali citizen to ensure that the provision of government services is equal and fair for all.
The next stage of the project involves recruiting plenty more volunteers, scaling up the amount of information in the wiki to cover all public services, and greater outreach efforts to ensure the tool is as usable and accessible as possible. Friends from elsewhere have also indicated that Nalibeli would prove valuable in their countries – and we are keen to pilot it in other South Asian contexts and beyond. Citizens everywhere want reliable and up-to-date information on government, after all, even if the government itself is unable or unwilling to provide it.
How you can help
We’ve had tons of interest in the project from Fellows so far. We’d love to speak to any other Fellows in the technology field, with experience in crowd-sourcing information or who may have grown projects like this across issues and countries.
We’d also welcome any support for this next stage which you can do through the new RSA Kickstarter crowdfunding area. There are plenty of amazing pledge gifts up for grabs including Intercontinental Holistic Missiles (ICHMs) – collections of medicinal, cooking and other healthful herbs grown in Nepal (all in Nepali embroidered bags!); vedic astrology charts and much more! Please help us continue to build transparent and accountable government in Nepal.
Support ‘NaliBeli: Helping government work in Nepal’ by finding his Kickstarter campaign on the RSA curated area. To get in contact, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @blairglencorse.
Our most recent social enterprise breakfast was an illuminating affair for me. We have been holding these breakfasts for a couple for years now so it was high time that we focused on communications, and specifically how we approach communications in the social enterprise sector. We were joined by Peter Gilheany, PR Director for Forster Communications, a communications agency which was set up by Jilly Forster in 1996. Jilly’s aim was to set up an agency with similar ethics to her previous workplace, The Body Shop.
Peter explained how Forster works with socially focused businesses; they don’t like to get involved in definitions of ‘social enterprise’, hence the emphasis towards working with those with a social purpose. He went through some of the considerations when communicating your social enterprise; the why, who (ie. audience), what and how.
Your messaging should be a conscious exchange with your audience, matching up their motivators and answering their perceived barriers.
Peter gave us a lot of useful information but here are three key points which stuck for me:
Point one: the best marketing tool is you/your impact/your opinions
As a social enterprise without marketing budgets or a team to carry out the communications, the best tool you can use is ‘you’- ie as the founder/director/CEO of an organisation. Your ability to tell your story and that of your enterprise is one of your most powerful tools. It has the personal touch so try to scout out speaking engagements, blogs and editorial articles as much as possible. If time is an issue make sure you can still communicate your impact in a clear, dynamic and relevant way. Similarly if you are not someone who likes public speaking, try to identify someone in your team who can be the ‘external face’ for your organisation.
Point two: the difference between owned, shared and non-owned channels (and don’t spend so much time on your website)
When we spoke about the ‘how’, Peter highlighted the difference between owned channels (those you have control over, like website and newsletters), shared channels (mainly social media sites where you produce the initial content but it can be forwarded, interpreted and translated) and non-owned channels (essentially the media which gives you little control but high influence). Most people spend far too much time on their owned channels bearing in mind how much (or little) traffic and promotion they generate. Having said that, if your website has a high hit rate, having a slick, clear and well-structured website is worth it – so find a balance.
Point three: people don’t care whether you are a social enterprise
Now, this last point has got me thinking since Friday’s breakfast – when I asked what was the biggest mistake made by this sector with regards to communications, Peter said that telling people that you are a social enterprise is meaningless: it means nothing and “why should they care?” This jarred with me slightly, as surely by the fact you are helping people/the environment/society (as a social enterprise or social business) people should and will care? But then it hit me – the ‘social’ aspect of a business is secondary or even tertiary to demonstrating a quality product or service and being able to convince people why it will benefit their lives. You can then follow up with the fact their money is going towards a good cause but don’t lead with it. It comes down to cold, hard business sense that you have to be relevant and convenient for people to spend their money on you – even if you have the most amazing story.
The ‘social’ aspect of a business is secondary to demonstrating a quality product or service and being able to convince people why it will benefit their lives.
So that was our journey on Friday morning. Thanks to everyone who came along and in particular to Peter for giving us much to think about. It was a reminder for me that the Social Entrepreneurs Network is a great resource to have your thinking challenged. I remember a Fellow once saying about the network, “no-one I know thinks how you all think” which can only be a positive thing. You can get involved in the network by visiting the online group. The next breakfast will be on Friday 29th November at 9am so I hope to see you then.
Fellowship Communications Manager
Follow her @SarahTucker10
“The main dangers in this life are the people who want to change everything…or nothing.” – Viscountess Nancy Astor, the first woman to be seated in the British Parliament
A couple of weeks ago, I attended the graduation ceremony for fifteen female entrepreneurs who had recently completed Make it Real – a business support programme for aspiring women run by The Centre of Excellence for Women’s Entrepreneurship (CEWE) at the University of East London. Held in the impressive surroundings of the Museum of Childhood amid a live market place which allowed the finalists to showcase their work, the event saw each winner congratulated with a cheque of £2,000 to grow their business.
The ceremony kicked off with a lively speech from Lisa Burger, Head of Customer Experience at easyJet. Lisa has been with the airline right from its entrepreneurial beginnings and she outlined how this has shaped her approach to life. During her speech she passed on many words of wisdom to the audience, but there was one thing in particular that stuck in my head:
“Don’t be afraid to ask the question.”
Lisa Burger is a confident, successful woman but she was keen to relate to her (mostly female) audience and acknowledge the psychological barriers that often stop people from achieving – specifically, the fear of speaking out and being seen to be wrong.
So, honouring her request, here is the question I am slightly fearful of asking: are women inherently less confident than men when it comes to putting themselves forward and creating the career they really want?
Are women hiding away?
I am not the only one to consider this question. Since the RSA set up its Catalyst fund, it has supported ventures lead by some inspirational women and many of these have focused specifically on helping other women. Dr Catherine Fieschi FRSA was inspired to set up her enterprise – 50 Foot Women, precisely because she happened to notice a worrying trend whilst recruiting for positions in her role as Director of Counterpoint.
”While male applicants were more inclined to over-emphasise their skills and ability, the women tended to under-sell themselves -”
This direct experience was enough to merit the birth of 50 Foot Women, a mentoring scheme that she hoped would boost women’s confidence and their potential. Cooking with Mama is another Catalyst supported enterprise specifically targeting women. Set up by Jennifer Fong FRSA, the project offers cooking classes run by mothers who might otherwise be out of work or not have the confidence to return to work. The classes address both problems by employing and empowering at the same time.
Discovering a problem in your locality and working to address it is the essence of RSA Fellowship. When it comes to tackling inequality in the workplace, things are definitely changing and entrepreneurship is a big part of the equation. Unfortunately, the question of why there are less female CEOs is a highly politicised issue, and my worry is that this will lead many women (and men) who have great capacity to help, to steer clear of the problem altogether.
The lesson illustrated by our Fellows is that it pays to ask the question but not get too caught up in trying to solve the whole problem – instead, focus on what you can do, and who you can help, right now. Do not become overwhelmed by trying to change everything at once and risk changing nothing. It was not until 1928 that Viscountess Nancy Astor became the first women seated in British Parliament, yet the RSA has been offering woman a platform to participate in public life and improve society from its inception in 1754. This in turn influenced other societies to do the same and slowly, things changed.
The Fellowship continues this legacy by letting innovative people like Catherine and Jennifer change the landscape for women, one bit at a time.
If you’d like to find out more about the projects mentioned, or would like to apply for Fellowship then contact email@example.com. If there is someone you know who would make a great addition to the network then why not nominate them?
Alex Barker is a Fellowship Development Coordinator at the RSA, @alexandrabarke1