Duane was a little frustrated. Expelled from school as a teenager he’s a classic rags to (not-quite-yet)-riches social entrepreneur! In brief, he turned his life around when he cofounded Sense Magazine for young people. He’s worked with young people and seen them take positive strides in life as a result of his projects. But his frustration came from knowing that there are other plenty of organisations keen to apply better models to their youth engagements but which did not know how to. I shared his enthusiasm and Naomi wasn’t far behind. How could we combine our resources, experience and contacts to create a broader movement of improvement within youth engagement for social change?
And so began the arguments! What is “youth”? Is it a homogenous group or a group of overlapping tribes? How much of a strategy for engaging 20 year old university students can be applied to engaging 15 year olds who have dropped out of education? What is “engagement”? Is it inspiration, hand-holding, awareness raising, getting young people to do what you want, getting young people to do what they want? And what role do I play as the person working with young people? Am I one of them or do I lead them? Do I get them to lead themselves? What about mistakes? Do I let them make them?
Well, what if it’s all if the above?
We got excited!
We are now creating a practitioners model for engaging young people in social change. One that acknowledges the variety and homogeneity within youth, the spectrum of ‘engagement’ and the tension between adult leadership and youth empowerment. What do you think? As Social Enterprise Day dawns, join the discussion around how we engage this next generation.
Saturday, April 25, 2009 at 12:00 in London
Sunday, April 26, 2009 at 12:00 in Birmingham
The Commission’s current research project involves, among other things, compiling a literature review about youth social enterprise, how it has been applied, who’s using it, different definitions and basically all other information available. My part of this research has been to glean information from the Internet in the form of articles, reviews, and organizations discussing youth social enterprise. I’ve spent the past month reading as much as I can about it and I’ve managed to narrow down a rather broad definition to this: there is no narrow definition. The Commission Coordinator, Nick, describes social enterprise as a business model applied to a social problem. Ok, but what does that mean? I had started an internship in an organisation devoted to the idea of youth social enterprise and there I was with a) next to no concise idea what it means or how it operates and b) beginning to doubt that anyone else did either. A bit of an overstatement perhaps but nonetheless that’s how I was beginning to feel.
Through my research I’ve tried to narrow down social enterprise into two categories. There are the organizations that put a portion of their profits into a social cause and there are the businesses that are for a social cause in and of themselves. There aren’t many well known examples of social enterprise out there, much less those that are genuinely led by youth, which is what we are interested in. One of the best known examples of social enterprise is Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen restaurant. This restaurant takes disadvantaged young people and teaches them how to become chefs as an opportunity to build life skills and create a future career for themselves. This is applying a business model (a cooking school/restaurant) to a social problem (disadvantaged young people). Fifteen fits within the second business model as a business that is in and of itself a social cause, the business side of the company channels a portion of the profits back into the social aspect of the company. Fifteen isn’t however, run by youth, rather it is run by “adults” people who no longer fit within the loose age range that defines youth, ages 16-25. In order to be a true youth social enterprise the organisation has to be led by young people not just involve young people.
Why aren’t social enterprises well known let alone youth social enterprise? The answer to that is not that social enterprise is a new concept; it’s been around since the late 1800s, but that for some reason they are not considered a viable business option. Charities are an accepted practice, as are profit-driven businesses, why then is the idea of combining the two such a controversial and unknown practice? By generating its own income a social enterprise can control its own funding rather than relying on outside grants and donations. Furthermore a business model focused on generating a profit makes an organisation more sustainable by creating a more solid place within the business environment for itself. Simply put; when money is on the line, people tend to take notice and better care of a company. All right, there is social enterprise in as much of a nutshell as I can muster, but that doesn’t answer where the idea of youth social enterprise fits in.
Earlier I mentioned that Fifteen isn’t a true youth social enterprise. This is because while the company was created to help young people it wasn’t founded and it isn’t run by young people. Young people are the focus but not the facilitators in order to be a true youth social enterprise young people must be both. If social enterprise is considered a risky business, a social enterprise designed and sustained by young people is considered even more risky. Nick expands more on this in his blog but it comes down to this: young people aren’t trusted to start their own companies. We aren’t seen as sustainable entrepreneurs. Give us a few more years and a little more experience and people might be willing to take a chance on a social entrepreneur but right now society’s perception of our age is standing unjustly in our way. Are youth social enterprises sustainable? Can young people really create and run their own businesses? These are questions the Commission hopes to answer with its research.
My attempts to refine the idea of youth social enterprise led to long lists of exceptions and my attempts to pin Nick or Maor, the Research Consultant, down to a concise answer is what led to this blog post in the first place! So far there is no definitive answer as to what youth social enterprise is: there is no pre-fabricated pattern to follow. This lack of definition can work to the benefit of young social entrepreneurs. It allows them the freedom to develop businesses that work for them and their community and the ability to engage the business world and social issues they face on their own terms. A malleable definition fits a malleable market where businesses can grow to fit a niche issue and social objective without the constraints of a definition to line up with.]]>
I think this fear is more about the threat active young people represent to the status quo than it is about disregarded behavior or clothing. While in theory new ideas are encouraged, in practice they are threatening to those currently in power.
Ignoring formal procedures and just being real with each other is one way of circumventing bureaucracy. Youth have an amazing ability to make things happen—which sometimes only comes from breaking a few rules.
That being said, young people do not have a blank check to say or do what ever they like. We have a responsibility to treat our peers and elders with respect while pushing each other to not get stuck in the status quo and outdated ideas.
But it’s this balancing act that is difficult for youth and adults to get right.]]>
Give me a minute to get my head round to what happened since that morning while sitting in the basement of the UnLtd London office with Nick playing Nat King Cole and Jessica writing (hand-writing is not entirely a long lost practice) her first blog…
The website is up and running! And the server is fixed so I could actually continue spreading the word of our survey and stay in touch with our volunteers’ whereabouts. On that note, we now have 195 completed online surveys, approximately 30 completed interviews and 35 arranged.
I’m crossing all my fingers and toes that we’ll hit our targets, a lot can happen in 4 days!
Ok. Oxford. We met with the crew from the StudentHubs, also known as Oxford Hub. My understanding of their aim is to inform, inspire and connect students to opportunities to take action and contribute to making a better world. I suggest you check out their website www.oxfordhub.org if you want to find out more.
The StudentHubs’ biggest thing is the spectacular annual international development conference (OxFID) which they organise. Having discovered “social entrepreneurship; a whole new world!” their ambitious team wants to engage students by presenting an array of panels and workshops on social enterprise. While a lot of their work at StudentHubs has been organising volunteering, they hope to go beyond volunteering and generate “a cultural change in mindset”. The Oxford Forum for Social Enterprise hopes to be their first steps to making the change.
So, we came along and had a chat about what a conference for youth and social enterprise could look like. I can’t give away much, but the agenda looks really promising and dates have been set for May 9th and 10th. Keep these precious dates in your diary!
Meanwhile, we’re starting to get our interviews and focus groups transcribed and are planning 2 research workshops; one in London and another in Manchester. At these essential workshops we’ll be picking our volunteer’s beautiful brains on their experiences and thoughts on their fieldwork which will draw the initial map for the interim report. Exciting stuff.
What else? The next steps on our agenda is analysis (analysis and more analysis) and writing (writing and more writing).
Let me see.
What are some of the things that jump to mind when I think about the journey of the Commission for Youth Social Enterprise so far, since I stepped on board to help with the interim report…
… To begin, there’s the thrilling undertaking of developing a new logo and website. A new logo which delayed our new website. A new website which crashed our server along with my email account. All very “thrilling”.
So here I am blogging in Oxford at 9 am … but I’ll get to that.
First things first, so in chronological order: we delivered training days in London and Manchester, where we equipped our 20 rock-star-world-changing-whirlwinds of volunteers with research and interviewing skills and sent them off to put their new skills into practice; then there’s Juan the indoor-climbing-Venezuala-meets-Italy-meets-England-paparazzi-with-a-conscience intern out‘n’about filming youngsters in the UK today; and, we commenced a comprehensive literature review on youth and social enterprise, a project our exceptional-shining-breakfast-loving intern Jessica is compiling.
Our fieldwork to this date entails 10 completed interviews, 20 arranged and 30 interviewees in ready-steady-go mode, 80 completed online surveys and 2.5 Focus Groups wrapped.
We also took VOICE09 by storm. Nick the infamous-multitalented-and-charming coordinator and I headed to Birmingham and plunged into THE conference of social enterprise where we shook-up, inspired, campaigned, recruited and challenged (phew!) delegates and panels about the role ‘youf’ play in the sector. For your information only, we also productively popped round the UnLtd Birmingham office, shared a Chinese feast, mulled wine and passionate monks and failed at an attempt for Karaoke.
Today, I’m proud to introduce Oxford to the Commission. Despite the somewhat horrific 6.30am (yes, AM!) alarm, an 8am train, an 8.50am cab and 9.15am (hallelujah!) full English breakfast on Cowley Road in the little big heart of Oxford. This, in prep to meet with (drum rolls!) the Oxford Hub to (more drum rolls!) chat.
Admit it. You’re totally on the edge of your seat to find out what happened next, right? Stay tuned, watch this space, to be continued…
Over and out (for now)
In the following series of blog posts, I hope to examine the various labels the youth sector uses to describe young people.
The problem with young people is that…
They are unprofessional and unpredictable.
They are unreliable.
They are unengaged.
They are un-experienced.
While these statements are sometimes true, their labels are ultimately problematic because they constrain young people to stereotypes and don’t acknowledge the positive side of having fresh perspectives.
Check back every few days as I post the next blog in this series.]]>
Since then Liz has had her work published in (among other titles) the Sunday Times and has three exhibitions in the pipeline.
She recently won a scholarship to work in Italy on the highly prestigious and much vaunted Colours Magazine, run by Benetton, the clothing company.]]>
The UK guide has been so successful that she has been commissioned to produce several more guides and international editions of her brand of travel guidance are also on the horizon. Ecoescape appeared in the Guardian, Times and on the BBC, among others.]]>