Alan McLeans writes about his experience of supporting volunteers about Social Enterprise
How you can support groups and communities of interest to go forward as a social enterprise.
Context – What’s happening
There is less money for services, directly from local government, and few activities in the day time. Disabled people themselves have less money, and may have experienced change in their benefits. They may also have less money to spend on personal assistants and care, money that enabled them to be independent.
Individuals will be experiencing changes in services. They may have attended regular activities, that have now changed or stopped, staff with specific skills and known to Disabled people may be gone.
Local authorities solution to the problem is to sign post disabled people to activities in the community.
There is a need for an increase in activities in the local community, that are accessible to disabled people. There is now opportunity for small and specific social enterprise to flourish and grow.
Read on to find out how disabled people can take control, have more choice and be independent. Disabled people may require support to take them through the following steps, that will lead to user led activities in the community and funding to enable the activities to operate, be it small scale.
What is the ethos of social enterprise, and how it is different to a charity.
Imagine the need for soup kitchen, so homeless people have a regular meal each day. You can meet this need, by putting on a soup kitchen everyday with volunteers and charitable contributions, however it is difficult to run this everyday and you will stop putting on the soup kitchen. This will result in the homeless people not eating each day, because they have become dependent on your soup kitchen. Is it not better to work with homeless individuals, to make them less dependent, train them and give them skills, so they can get a job and buy and cook their own food. This is the ethos of a social enterprise and social entrepreneur.
Where do I start?
There are many ways to start a social enterprise, the two we will explore here, are building up from an existing user group and consulting with user groups to find a market for a social enterprise that involves and benefits disabled people.
The process is about finding energetic and enthusiastic disabled people in the community looking for a focus to channel their ambitions to change the world they see; be it a meeting a local need, or personally developing themselves. For example a learning disabled person may of attended years of drama activity and now wants to run a drama group for people with a learning disability. A painter may of attended years of mental health art groups and now wants to find a channel for people like themselves to sell and exhibit their work. They may want to run their own art groups and focus on the ambition of selling art work, rather than the therapeutic value of painting and drawing.
How do you transform a group of people meeting regularly to do an activity, into a social enterprise?
Please meet with them more than once to build trust and identify who are the potential leaders of the group. Find out more about the activity, find out what it is that people like about it, importantly find out the benefit of the activity, what do people gain from attending the group.
When you have found this information out, approach the group to hold a meeting specifically talking about establishing the group as an independent group.
If the group is run by an organisation, local authority or charity, it is important to tell them first of your intentions and explain why it is beneficial (the points above), it is very likely that your input will be welcomed, for example local authorities want to nurture and support social enterprise in the community, so people can build the services they require from the group up, rather than top down. Also the group may be able to get grants that the organisation can not apply for because their turn over is to over £20,000 or £30,000. This is the usual threshold for grants between £300 and £10,000.
With this important point out of the way you can now pursue collaborating with the group to take them on the first steps towards independence as user led organisation.
What are the benefits of establishing a user led group as a social enterprise.
The individuals in the group have choice and control and demonstrate full participation in the community.
The group are independent so feel confident and self assured when circumstances change around them, for example a new organisation takes over.
The group can raise money for activities they want to do, and can pay for expertise to enable them to access a diverse range of activities.
The group can plan, grow and develop. It can action the thinking of it’s users, to bring about change in how the group is run.
The group can meet for specific purpose and have a single focus.
The group can use the internet to be gain a profile, so that third sector and arts organisations can offer them free activities and services.
The group are independent and are not dependent on the organisations or service that runs the group.
Many groups I have met have ended because the service provider has lost it’s tender, or have decided not to continue the group because of reduction in staffing. Further more groups have not established themselves sufficiently with bank account, regular accounts, constitution, and evaluation so when a regular grant stops from a local authority, it is difficult for the group to demonstrate they have track record to a new funder and manage funds. For groups that are artistic, it activity may be led by a member of staff with specific skills, who leaves due to changes in staffing structures of organisations following reduction in funding.
The group can increase the numbers who attend by marketing their services to disabled people in the community, and explore pricing the service, or partnership with an organisation for use of space.
The group can meet a need in the community, for example day time or evening social activity.
The group can meet a need for a specific impairment, like improving social skills for adults on the autistic spectrum.
The steps to take towards empowering a group of deaf and disabled people:
Give your group a name
Support the group to find a name, by asking them about the benefits of the group, it can be better to have a name that tells people the outcome and difference the group makes rather than the activity. For example Expressions is a better name than choir for disabled people. The activity enables people to express themselves, and the name has the potential for the participants to do more than sing.
However for disabled people and deaf people, it can be important to be clear and descriptive with the name, rather than ambiguous; for example, a group named themselves Wolverhampton BSL crafts, what is exactly what it is, and deaf people know what it is.
List your aim and objectives
The discussion about the name will also produce a discussion about the purpose of the group. Following the discussion about the name do not underestimate it’s value. Write down the key points people have said, and read it back to them. This is an immensely empowering experience for everyone, and enable’s people to see the purpose of the meeting. Have a look at the example, written during a meeting with a group of young people on the autistic sprectrum. The key point to remember is that it is rare that disabled people have the opportunity of defining their group, why they meet and write something that shows other what they do, with aim of attracting people to the group with similar and aims and interests. Ownership of this is often with the organisation who run the group.
Ask people about the benefits of attending the group.
Ask people about the skills they want to gain
Ask the people who attend the group what they want to be doing in year’s time, two years time and so on. Help them draw a road map of where they want to be, and then work with them to include the resources they would require to get their. This is the basis of the business plan.
Foundation for a Business Plan
Ask people about partners – individuals and organisation they know who could help them, these individuals could be invited to join the board of the social enterprise. They may provide ways to help the start up of the social enterprise.
Ask people about who they need to convince and who’s mind need changing to bring about an increase of users of the group, or increase the number of people purchasing the service.
Ask what activities would start this road towards changes in thinking amongst the disability community, their carers and families. So more disabled people are ‘ Thinking independently, and living independently’
This is probably the most important question as it will reveal what the social enterprise needs to do in the first year and what the group needs to do to establish a market, or establish a place in the market.
It could be marketing, branding, publicity, free events and activities, meeting people and convincing them of the groups purpose.
The emphasis is increasing communications with disabled people, so that a market is established to communicate with, and that market understands that services are no longer free, all of the time, and that a network of small Disabled people’s user led organisations can support individuals and groups to operate, by enabling them to lead and support each group to gain funding for the individual projects.
Why is social return on investment important
Because your most lucrative customers will be those buying into the social return they can read by investing in what you do.