Not business (or youth work) as usual!

Not business (or youth work) as usual!

By Tim Evans - 21 March 2018

My journey with social enterprise started with a young person and a youth worker.

Before I met these wonderful people I'd been a bit sceptical about whether business had anything to do with the work I'd done for many years with young people and was suspicious of the profit motive. 

  • My mate Rob was a youth worker running a project on an estate but before he had become a youth worker he'd been a landscape gardener. So he decided to utilise his gifts of youth work, running his own business and landscape gardening to start a social enterprise as a key part of his work that employed local young people. 
  • Stewart was a young person Worth Unlimited met at a time in his life when he was drifting, out of college, not having enjoyed formal education. He got involved with our youth work and eventually came on our annual bike challenge. Discovering a previously unseen passion for cycling combined with coming on our entrepreneurial programme, resulted in him wanting to start his own bike social enterprise with us and Gear Up was born and is still going strong.

So now faced with two examples of a young person starting something with his passions and skills, and a youth worker creating a social business to create opportunities for other young people, and both doing it so that both the service they provided and the income they generated could be transformative, I had to decide what to do and Worth Enterprises our trading arm was born!  

Of course practical questions quickly arise; business plans, marketing, asset mapping, market research, staff skills, infrastructure, investment etc and I'm not pretending we have managed to yet answer all of these. But a vision was born of 3 forms of dividend from this new way of thinking; business, opportunity, community. These translate into being able to make money for our work, giving skills, confidence, aspiration to young people especially those on the margins of economic life for example those coming out of prison, and developing products and services that would serve local communities and the local economy.

But what did this have to do with our vision, mission and values as an organisation. The 3 dividends partly answered this but I wanted to go deeper and some theological reflections came to mind. 

  1. We are made in the image of our creator and therefore are intrinsically creative and skilled as human beings. Our role as youth workers is to unlock the creative passions, skills, gifts and talents in young people rather than treat them as deficits to be fixed. Social enterprise can play a part in this.
  2. We were passionate about seeking the shalom (welfare) of the communities we were called to as per Jeremiah 29:7 and so that must mean economically as well as everything else and loving our neighbour meant engaging with the social, economic, cultural, environmental issues in their lives
  3. We are connectors and community builders, this can happen through economic activity done well, as well as other work. 
  4. A need to inspire young people into ethical business practices as a small prophetic contribution to the need for the renewal and redemption of the way we do economic life. The vision of God is Isaiah for example was that people should enjoy the fruit of their labour and we could make this a reality for some young people.
  5. The people we work with need incarnational long term support not short term fixes and so our funding model needed to change to reflect this as the current models were squeezed and very target and outcome driven. 

So now we have a Social Enterprise Development Manager, tried a couple of different social enterprises and learnt some painful lessons, developed clear vision and values, developed structure and infrastructure to serve a vision of social enterprise being a clear part of the 'why' of Worth Unlimited, the reason we are here, which is to enable marginalised young people to be agents of change in the world. 

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