What is it like to work in Social Enterprise?

Richard tells some stories of working in social innovation and with social entrepreneurs in the UK, to potential students of the first Integrated Business and Humanities class at McMaster University, Canada.


If you’d just like to read what I said, I have included the full transcript here:

I have supported many social enterprises since 2010 

(I would like to talk to about..) the kind of social innovation and social enterprises that I worked in over the last 6 years, to give you some ideas of the kind of interesting organizations that perhaps you’ll go on to work with, support or start after this course. 

As you can tell from my accent, I’m not from Canada. I’m actually from a small island called the Isle of Man but that’s a story for another time.

I was working in London from about 2010 until recently, supporting many social enterprises, and I’d like to tell you some examples of that work that hopefully you’ll find interesting and inspiring. 

It all started with social investments 

A big part of wanting to get into this type of work is because of the interesting, inspiring people and organizations that we can work with.  I studied business at university.  It wasn’t a business and humanities course, but I really would have liked that. I had to learn by doing.

The first thing that I got into in social innovation when I started work in London in this field was social investments speed-dating.  That’s where we took one group of high net worth individuals and matched them with another group of social entrepreneurs.

We kept it very much in a kind of speed dating style. Sitting down for five minutes with each other, a social entrepreneur could try to convince the high net worth individual to give them a million pounds, or whatever they were looking for. 

I should tell you is quite hard to convince anyone like that, in five minutes.  But of course, it helps build relationships, which is what we wanted.

We had help from the fashion industry 

One example of the kinds of entrepreneurs that we wanted to help with this event was People Tree. People Tree is a fair trade ethical fashion company. It’s also a multi-million-pound company that sells products in the UK and Japan.  They’re a very inspiring company to be around.

Another very different organization from fair trade fashion was a technology-based company called JustGiving.  JustGiving is a platform that helps you and I raise money from our friends through the internet. They take about five percent profit from every transaction if you do raise money from your friends and family.  They have enabled so many people to raise money through online giving. That might all sound normal now, but ten years ago it was just beginning, and they were really pioneering this kind of service.

It’s a multi-million-pound company and the kind of organisation that has a strong social purpose. It’s really increased the amount of donations charities could get in and it offers an opportunity for people to work with and support these kinds of organizations. 

I then moved into educational programs 

After social-investment speed dating, I went on to run other educational programs for social enterprises.  We realized that social entrepreneurs and investors didn’t know how to speak to each other to raise money.  Along with running investments readiness courses for social entrepreneurs I also ran the first crowdfunding accelerator for learning how to do well on services like Kickstarter and IndieGoGo. 

Crowdfunding is really good for the social enterprise because there’s a clear need for why they’re doing what they’re doing, but even with that clear message, the social entrepreneurs don’t always know how to share their story.

We helped train them and how to share their stories and hit their targets.  We had a few success stories with this as well.  It’s just so inspiring to be working with these kinds of organizations. 

Who were those organisations? 

The first one I want to talk about it’s called Positive News.  Positive News shares, as you might imagine, the positive news stories that happen in the world today. We get so much news and it’s important to stay informed but if it’s continually negative it makes us feel that the world is negative.

It’s great to know what’s also happening that’s good in the world because there’s so much good happening in the world too. I’ve been really inspired their quarterly magazine and their website. They raised about £250,000 pounds (over $400,000) on crowdfunding, and I became a co-owner through their campaign. 

Another really inspiring organization that we helped with is called GravityLight. GravityLight is in the clean technology sector.  They have a gizmo that you attach to a wall or anywhere, that will provide light from gravity.

Fill a bag, for example with mud, dirt or a book and as the book falls down, the gizmo generates enough electricity to power a light! It’s a really useful device for people who don’t have access to regular electricity.  They managed a hugely successful crowdfunding campaign and using a “buy one get one” model raised over one million dollars.  People would get a good price for the product, and they would also be getting one for someone in need around the world.  This was a great campaign by a great team.

But the penultimate one I want to talk to you about is . . . 

But today, I have the honour to share with you perhaps one of the most innovative ideas ever, that I personally invented myself in London. 

Let me start by explaining. In all types of learning, peer to peer learning is very important.  For example, you’ll be learning from lectures and teachers, but a lot of the time you’re learning from each other.  That’s a really important part of the course.

In London, I wanted to develop a social entrepreneur peer to peer learning.  Learning doesn’t stop once you finish University, but I needed to make learning more interesting for social entrepreneurs.

That’s why I invented a new kind of peer to peer event for social entrepreneurs. A Beer to Beer learning event!

It was a tour around London where I would invite a group of social entrepreneurs and supply them with local, organic drinks and beer, and take them to three or four different co-working spaces and social enterprises, and together we would take a learning journey!

We talked about social enterprises, we drank, we learned about each other, connected and bonded. For this amazing innovation, I was awarded one thousand pounds to continue it. Just to put that in perspective.  GravityLight raised $1 million. I think we all know which is the most innovative idea! 

Beers aside, I have enjoyed the life-changing journey 

But seriously, I do think that learning journeys are extremely useful, and even life-changing. This kind of walking tour came from my interest and experiences with learning journeys, and I really think there’s a lot of value in travelling and learn something in a different place.  With that unique experience,  you get an adventure that changes you. 

So why am I here now? I know what you’re thinking, but it’s not because of Brexit. I’m here because my beautiful fiance, who is Canadian, invited me here. Luckily, I had also started my own location independent e-commerce business selling travel accessories, Inspiring Adventures. 

Of course, I know difficult to build a social enterprise and I’m still putting that dynamic in my own business. I have a mission to plant a thousand trees for all the product I sell this year.  It’s a kind of “buy one get one tree” business model. I want you to know that my business is still a work in progress, but I hope I’ve been able to share some valuable insights with you.

Just try your ideas, and along with the kind of education you’ll get here, you’ll have a great chance to end up while you want to be. You really never know where your ideas and education might lead you.  And with that, the end.

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