- A group of primary school pupils in a primary school in West Lothian set up a food co-operative and cafe which has grown to serve the surrounding community.
- Recognising that some families cannot afford to replace worn or grown out of school uniforms a recycling project is created in another primary school.
- The income from a Nail Bar set up in Glasgow High school serving teachers and pupils is used to provide the same service free to elderly ladies in the local care home.
Jay Lamb from the Social Enterprise Academy (SEA) shares these stories coming from the Academy’s Schools’ Programme.
According to the SEA’s website “Social enterprise is the business model of the future and young people often make the most inspirational and innovative social entrepreneurs” and according to Jay there are many examples of how that is true. He tells of how he has seen children at primary school age stepping up and saying “I’ll give that a go” when a challenge arises in a Social Enterprise project regardless of how much it will take them outside their comfort zone. Or when the “cheeky chappy” – who is often not a high academic achiever – takes on a role that the more “compliant” students might find more difficult giving them a chance to stand out positively for once.
As a concept Social Enterprise might be new to some people but a quote from MSP John Swinney , Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Employment and Sustainable Growth, sums this up as “…employing business skills but doing it for the benefit of others.”
To encourage Social Enterprise in schools a SEA team member will work with key teachers providing training and support. In his role Jay meets with pupils – he says for just about an hour – to generate interest and ideas. Although phone advice is available what happens next is up to the young people.
Going back to the first story mentioned in the introduction Principal Teacher, Janice Nisbet, of Peel Primary School in West Lothian was inspired to try something in her school after attending an SEA training session inviting “ job applications from those who were shy and reluctant to volunteer” or who would be unlikely to be picked “because they usually kept their heads down”. After little more than a year the resultant food co-operative and cafe had grown to serve parents, teachers and the wider community in which the school is located.
Jay thinks that working in the primary school environment really helps children flourish as they are more used to working across curriculum areas in one project and they have not yet learned to rein in their responses amongst their peers. He says “ask primary school children who can sing and they will all say the can – ask High School pupils and only a few will”
In addition, and in line with the quote from John Swinney above, he says “they have no problem working hard and making profit to be shared by others in a socially worthwhile activity”.
Which brings us to the theme of the second example in the introduction. The children of Our Lady of Peace Primary School in Linwood near Glasgow set up a shop selling recycled school uniforms. Aimed at providing good quality school uniforms for pupils whose families could not afford to buy new this also helped the school achieve other targets ie being an Eco school and the pupils learning how to reduce their carbon footprint.
And lastly the students who set up the Nail Bar in Paisley Grammar School not only provided services to teachers and pupils but they also taught local primary school pupils the techniques to support their own social enterprise projects. Using their technical – and personal – skills they then provided nail services free to the elderly ladies at the local nursing home .
Jay mentioned that one of the students went on to get a college place based on the experience she had gained during the project.
Jay has many more stories to tell about individual and group work in projects that shows how young people work in an enterprising way using – negotiations, planning, creating. Of how they have brought in business partners – getting deals and advice from established firms. In his view – just like you don’t learn to swim from a book but by getting into the water – getting into social enterprise and just doing it is the way to learn.
He finished with this quote which he says captures how the SEA engages with schools and young people.
“Do not try to satisfy your vanity by teaching a great many things. Awaken people’s curiosity. It is enough to open minds, do not overload them. Put there just a spark. If there is some good inflammable stuff, it will catch fire. “ – Anatole France
Maybe these young social entrepreneurs could teach us something about making our inflammable stuff catch fire!