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.

Social enterprise means nothing without social protection

1st August 2012 by

We’re very excited about a new stream of work that we’re developing here at Otesha, under our Green Jobs programme. We are developing a new Green Enterprise project, which will create an innovative community hub where unemployed young people can access training, work experience, mentorship, and support to develop their own environmental enterprises.

Woohoo! Awesome! Green! Young people! Social enterprise! It’s got all the lovely buzzwords, which is why we’re so excited. But, as we enter into this new field of work, we remain mindful of a few key things, namely, that social enterprise doesn’t mean very much without social protection.

In the current climate, with over one million young people unemployed, the world of enterprise offers some amazing opportunities. The generation just graduating into the labour market have, in many ways, a flexibility and freedom that no other working generation has seen. Due to the rise of portfolio careers, to remote and collective working, the nature and culture of work in the 21st century over the coming years could be radically different to what has gone before. And the current generation of young people could be at the vanguard of this shift, developing new organisations with innovative structures, flexible working patterns, and of course, delivering sustainable services and products.

But, before organisations like ourselves race to tell young people about this bright new future, we must be clear about what is not on offer, or what might be endangered. Because this bright future relies on a complex web of social protections to make it viable for a large number of self-employed people to go into the world and set up their own enterprises. Things like a thriving national health service, strong unions, a benefits scheme that actually works, public pensions, and good childcare provision.

Starting a business is never easy. How many times have you heard that? Many young entrepreneurs will fail. Many will need to take a break due to sickness, or caring duties. If we want these young people to get up and try again – to grasp the opportunities in front of them – we can’t just train them up and expect them to fly. We must fight for the safety nets that will catch them if they fall.

Gear Up with…Sam Tobin. (And give him advice!)

7th March 2011 by

Two months ago, I posted a blog on the Otesha site outlining my ‘big idea’ for a project in my community as part of Otesha’s Gear Up internship.

Currently, I find myself, behind schedule, in the middle of the mildly scary stage called ‘people research’. The people research is one of the most important stages in the process of developing my project; essentially, it aims to find out what people do and what they want to do; this is essential because, obviously, there’s no point opening up a centre that nobody wants.

In the last few weeks, I have been handing out surveys on the sunny streets of Plumstead and Woolwich (which haven’t been too sunny recently), asking people to donate a few minutes of their time to talk about services in their local area. My surveys looked at what community activities, if any, local residents took part in (for example, a library reading group or religious organisation) and, more importantly, why they wouldn’t take part and what could be provided to help change the situation.

It has been difficult persuading people to spend their time of a cold wet morning standing on the pavement filling out a survey but the responses have been very useful – big thanks to everyone who took part!

The general consensus does seem to be in favour of a new community space in the area, with many respondents dismissive of the facilities provided by currently-existing centres; however, as there are pre-existing community spaces in the area, would the project be more effective focusing on improving their facilities and/or accessibility rather than opening up an alternative. The decision, therefore, becomes about whether to improve the old or begin the new – and that’s where you all come in.

Personally, I am leaning towards the founding of a new centre but, then again, that was my idea all along so I would say that, wouldn’t I? So some some feedback with suggestions and opinions as to what course of action to take would be much appreciated.


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