Enterprise: a solution to our economic and environmental challenges?

31st October 2012 by

Otesha’s mission is to build a community of young people who see their lives as powerful tools for change. A part of that is to show people that they are citizens, not just consumers and that they aren’t defined by how they spend their money. But unless you’re emulating the Moneyless Man, then you’ll probably have to spend money on some things and we want to encourage you to think about how you can use that spending to support projects which have the best interests of people and planet in mind.

A social enterprise is a business which trades for a social and/or environmental purpose. These businesses operate with a ‘triple bottom line’ in which the economic, social and environmental performance is measured at the end of each year. Famous examples of companies which were set up explicitly to do good include Divine Chocolate (which as well as being Fairtrade is 45% owned by the farmers) and the Big Issue . Such companies produce a product and make a profit, whilst providing an opportunity for people facing barriers to improve their own skills and finances.

At Otesha we’ve been thinking about how we can use social enterprise at a more local level to tackle the huge environmental and economic problems facing the young people we work with. Along with our partners in the East London Green Jobs Alliance, we provide high quality environmental literacy and job readiness training to prepare young people for work. But with 1 million UK youth experiencing unemployment, what if there isn’t a green and decent job for them to go into? Increasingly, we’re saying ‘why not create your own?’

Setting up a social enterprise could provide meaningful work for young people in businesses which do a lot for our communities. A great example comes from our friends at the Golden Company, a social enterprise which works with young people in East London who want to become beekeepers. 15 people this year have learnt how to look after bees and then create, market and sell products made from their honey. At the other end of the scale Fair Finance, a social enterprise also based in East London, offers a range of financial services and support to people who are excluded, protecting them from loan sharks and predatory payday loan companies like Wonga.   They’re providing a service, creating jobs and improving the social benefits of community-level financial companies.

Otesha is currently producing a ‘how to guide’ for organisations and individuals looking to set up their own social enterprise. In the meantime, you can find out about funding opportunities and advice from our friends at UnLtd and the Young Foundation. If you have a social enterprise that you’d like us to share as a case study, get in touch with Claire at clairea@otesha.org.uk.

Greening the 9-5

19th June 2012 by

Back in July 2011, our lovely ex-Project Director Liz led a two-day Greener Workplaces training session for a large company alongside Otesha cycle tour co-ordinator and graphic recording whiz Calu.

They took all that fresh Otesha knowledge of sustainability and how to get projects off the ground, sprinkled in some valuable behaviour change theory and created an inspiring training course to help people green up their workplaces. The two-day workshop went down really well and helped kickstart some exciting new initiatives for greening up the company’s HQ.

Fast forward to early 2012. The Otesha team were keen to investigate ways to bring in some extra income to help fund current projects and perhaps kickstart new ones – as Liz described in the Guardian back in April. As this is a social enterprise, we were looking for a project that not only brings in a bit of income to support Otesha’s good work across the board, but – very importantly – also one that aligns with Otesha’s mission and ethos: creating real change through the actions we take in our daily lives (including our lives at work).

I was joined by a brilliant volunteer, Bunmi. Our task (should we choose to accept it): undertake a bike-trailer-load of research into different social enterprise ideas for Otesha, and then help the team pick out the best idea.

The ideas ranged from a café selling sustainably-sourced food, to Otesha cycling holidays. But the one which grabbed everyone’s attention, and soon shaped up to be the most promising, was to roll out the Greener Workplaces training to other organisations – from companies and charities to public sector organisations and universities.

The past two months have been incredibly busy getting the project off the ground.  At the end of May we ran our first pilot training session: a one-day workshop with Lewisham Council. We talked about behaviour change theory (which we also use to design effective programmes at Otesha), giving participants the skills and knowledge they need to engage with other employees and create real change from within. Then we worked on putting together action plans in the areas identified as the most important (and the most doable) within the context of the organisation.

Co-facilitating the workshop, I found it fascinating to learn about the specific barriers to change faced by the public sector in a time of drastic budget constraints. What’s more, the energy and commitment to greening up from the inside, despite the financial pressures, was truly inspiring. Luckily they seemed to like us too, and feedback from the participants emphasised how inspiring they’d found our more creative approach. And vitally, their action plans are now on the way to becoming a reality, showing us that this training could be a powerful way to create change.

And we’d all learned a bit more about how we can offer the best training possible – no dreaded Powerpoint included (well, who needs Powerpoint when you’ve got our own amazing graphic recorder, Calu, wowing everyone…)

So, what next for our intrepid trading arm? For the next two months we’ll continue finessing the training for different organisations and working out how we can include some inspiring bike-based tours of inspiring social and ecological projects into the training we offer, because we believe good ideas are worth sharing – and there’s no reason why a borough council or a university shouldn’t get a world-changing idea from a grassroots bike co-op or permaculture forest garden!

We’ll also be beavering away on an ethical policy that will ensure that any organisation we work with commits to real, lasting change before embarking on the training. If they don’t? Well, we won’t continue to work with them – simple as that.

Our ambiition is that the project will not only spread Oteshaness into new places and new organisations, but also bring in enough business to start to stand on its own two feet and then to give Otesha greater financial stability into the future. Hopefully this is just the start of a greener workplaces revolution.


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