Tag Archives: Catch 22 magazine

‘Sell people something they don’t have’ – Reflections on Social Enterprise Exchange (part two)

Following on from part one, the packed programme at Social Enterprise Exchange meant finding a balance between attending workshops, catching up with old friends and making new ones. The first workshop that I attended was ‘Selling Skills – how to win new business’. The speakers were Tokunbo Ajasa-Oluwa from media training social enterprise, Catch 22 (previously interviewed here), Kresse Wesling of Elvis & Kresse – who create lifestyle accessories from waste, and Janet Barnes from Dunbar Bakery – a bakery run as a community co-operative.

There’s nothing unusual about this kind of workshop taking place at social enterprise event. What was different is that, whereas during the New Labour era of plenty, much of the talk involved consultants and support specialists dishing out generic exhortations for social enterprises to be ‘real businesses’ – this session, at least partially, addressed the more complicated question of how social enterprises could compete with other ‘real businesses’ while also being social enterprises.

As Tokunbo Ajasa-Oluwa pointed out while explaining his business model for Catch 22: “social enterprises have to sell customers something they don’t have“. All businesses have to do that but often (though not always) for a social enterprise to work, that thing that the customer doesn’t have needs to at least partly connect to the social change the social enterprise is looking to bring about.

In Catch 22’s case, big media companies don’t have access to talented and well trained aspiring media professionals from a wide range of ‘non-traditional’ backgrounds – people who wouldn’t have the right contacts to get in on work experience. Catch 22 provides finds those talented young people and trains them, media companies pay them to do so. It’s a relatively simple concept (which is not to suggest it’s simple to pull it off in practice).

Kresse Wesling explained that Elvis & Kresse offer customers accessories that have a story. There is a significant number of people for whom it means something to have a wallet or handbag that was “saved from the clutches of landfill“. In both cases, helping a wider range of people to get a career in the media, and making better use of the earth resources, are the social change but they’re also an intrinsic part of the product.

The situation is different in the case of Dunbar Bakery. They’re also selling customers products that they want but selling good bread and cakes doesn’t, in itself, deliver positive social change. The bakery, opened following the closure of a family bakery in the town, is a co-operative owned by over 300 local people who have invested over £40,000 in the business. They aim to offer job opportunities to people who have been long-term unemployed. As Janet Barnes made clear, the most important factor in the bakery’s success is that the products they sell are of a high standard but the business model also relies on people buying into the idea of a local community shop and providing job opportunities for unemployed people.

In the afternoon, with some apprehension, I attended a workshop called ‘Social Impact in Practice: making measurement meaningful’. The social enterprise movement currently faces big challenges around impact measurement (working out if, and explaining how and to what extent, what we are doing is socially useful).  The best known method of impact measurement, Social Return of Investment (SROI) is widely regarded as being more boring than sitting in an empty room, eating a large packet of breadsticks, while completing a book of wordsearches to find the Latin names of plants. Whilst also being overly complicated and time-consuming.

Fortunately, given that demonstrating impact is vitally important to what we do, the contributors to the workshop – Jonathan Coburn of Social Value Lab, Richard Kennedy of CAN and Kevin Robbie of Social Ventures Australia – had some interesting points to make.

Jonathan Coburn started by pointing out the value of impact measurement in the allocation of scarce resources – helping both grantmaking trusts and (particularly now) the public sector get more bang for their buck. He said that there was a danger that the wide array of frameworks for measuring impact can be a distraction. He added that it was important to start by answering the question ‘What evidence do people actually want?’ – based on understanding what the social purpose of your organisation is.

Richard Kennedy, who works for CAN Impact – CAN’s impact reporting consultancy – explained the process the organisation goes through when carrying out an SROI report, beginning with putting open-ended questions to a range of stakeholders before identifying the focused, closed questions needed to collect meaningful data. He said it was important for social enterprises to be clear about their ‘Theory of Change‘ so that they’d be in a position to investigate whether or not they were being successful.

Kevin Robbie talked about his experience of carrying out SROI reports for 49 organisations in Australia – only three had been made public as organisations were wary about putting information about what they do out in the open. He explained that it was important to agree on a set of principles for impact measurement as, while there might never be a single agreed system, it would be useful to have agreement on what the processes were meant to achieve. He said he was concerned that lots of consultants were creating their own frameworks for measurement, resulting in big arguments based on 2% disagreement over processes while there was often agreement on the other 98%.

Edward Finch, from accountants, Buzzacott, who was chairing the session, summed up the contributions by highlighting the need for impact reporting to be based on principles, and proportionate to the size and needs of the organisation – and suggested that the social enterprise movement was on a journey from ‘social impact assessment’ to ‘social impact planning’.

Overall, Social Enterprise Exchange was an enjoyable and thought-provoking day in Glasgow. In other news, First Minister, Alex Salmond was there and made a speech about how his government is putting lots of money into social enterprise. That bring back memories.


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On the Beanbag #1 – Tokunbo Ajasa-Oluwa, Catch 22

Like an incoming government managing high expectations on a tiny budget, I’m launching a new initiative a day at the moment. Following on from yesterday’s launch of social enterprise book reviews series Beanbags Bookshelf, today sees the first of a hopefully ongoing series of interviews with top social entrepreneurs.

Because this blog is only a small part of my busy day job, most of these interviews are being conducted by email – I send the social entrepreneurs a series of questions to chose from, and they answer the ones they find most interesting or most relevant to what they do. In taking part in On the Beanbag, social entrepreneurs are encouraged to imagine they’re a trendy, central London-based entrepreneur taking a break from their hot desk (whatever that is) to sit on a beanbag and answer the questions.

Fittingly on the day the Social Enterprise Ambassadors hold an event to celebrate the work of the programme (report tomorrow), our first interviewee is one of those Ambassadors – as well being one of the people I admire most in my own field, social enterprise media:

On the Beanbag #1:

Name: Tokunbo Ajasa-Oluwa

Social Enterprise Name: Catch 22

Website: http://www.catch22mag.com

Where are you based?: Tottenham, London

What is your annual turnover?: 180k

How many staff do you employ?: 5

Define ‘social enterprise’ in 50 words or less: A business with the agenda of making a social impact and addressing a social problem at its core.

What does you social enterprise do? We engage, train and champion excluded young talent (18-30) – i.e. those that want experience and a career within the media industry but can’t get experience due to their lack of experience and social profile…hence our name. We achieve this through our journalism training academy, youth lifestyle magazine and communications agency. These three pillars provide a sturdy bridge into the media industry for diverse talent that would not make it in without our support.

What is your social enterprise’s greatest achievement? Securing partnerships with some of the leading media organisations in the country and also securing our trainees permanent jobs within these organisations.

How is your social enterprise a bit like The Big Issue or The Eden Project? Catch 22 is like the BI because the people it aims to support are built into the fabric of what makes the business work. Like BI we work with a community of individuals that might be deemed as negatives in society “sponging off the government etc”. By working with them we transform a perceived negative into a positive that is contributing to the media industry and society at large.

Why did you start a social enterprise and not a charity? I identified becoming a charity as having some limitations that would compromise us as a creative industry organisation. I felt becoming a social enterprise would provide more flexibility regarding the manner in which we function and do business.

Which other social entrepreneur/social enterprise do you admire most and why? Fifteen was a great inspiration to me when I was getting Catch 22 off the ground (and still is to this day actually!). I think it is amazing the way they can turn around a young person’s life. A true reflection of the nature versus nurture argument.

What’s your advice for someone who’s thinking of starting a new social enterprise? Make sure you have a strong business model as your foundation and not just a cute idea. Without a strong foundation, it’s unlikely your social enterprise will stand the test of time.

Thanks a lot to Tokunbo for this. Comments on any of the points raised in this interview are, as always, much appreciated. The next top social entrepreneur On the Beanbag will be Craig Dearden-Phillips.

If you’re a social entrepreneur and you’d like to do an interview, send me an email and I’ll send you the relevant info.


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