I consider myself an entrepreneur with a social conscience so when I decided to change the landscape for teenage girls in the UK by creating and facilitating intervention programmes to raise their aspirations, the social enterprise route felt like the perfect fit, however, I have been surprised at the lack of understanding and/or recognition of this business model and seriously frustrated at times!
I founded Girls Out Loud CIC over 2 years ago now and cannot tell you how many times I have had to explain what a Community Interest Company is and what social enterprise is not!
Is it a charity? Not for profit? Co-operative? Business? consortium?
No, no, no, yes and possibly!
First of all my main bug bear – I hate the term not for profit! As an entrepreneur I am pretty driven by a profit and make no apologies for it. The word profit is seen by many in the third sector as a dirty word and this is a mistake. In reality if social enterprise does not make a profit how will it ever be sustainable? Making money is the lifeblood of any enterprise and for me, a profit motive gives me more influence, more opportunities to change the community I am passionate about serving and most importantly allows me the freedom to improve my offer and create and develop new products and services. This is the fundamental reason I disregarded creating a charity. The bureaucracy and Trustee set up is too cumbersome and limits my entrepreneurial freedom to innovate and move at the speed of the market.
After all, the sector is defined as social enterprise so for me the emphasis here is on the word ENTERPRISE. If we want to encourage more entrepreneurs to engage in social enterprise and believe me we need to! We need to make this sector more attractive and entrepreneurs by nature are risk takers, innovative and motivated by profits.
We chose the Community Interest Company route for Girls Out Loud because our niche is raising the aspirations of young girls and this is a social mission in need of financial commitment from organisations far and wide. In reality, teenage girls cannot afford to pay for their own interventions, so we needed a model that would appeal to many and satisfy the myriad of funding organisations that we were not going to pocket any donations in order to support our annual 6 week holiday in The Maldives – dream on Jane!
However, this is a business and the same rules apply as in any other venture – know your niche, create a brand that taps into your WHY, develop a sustainable business model, nurture sound relationships, innovate, deliver value for money in all things and lead the way with passion and energy.
We are all about community engagement and tend to take a stakeholder approach to funding our programmes – eg. who has a vested interest in ensuring that the teenage girls in your community have aspiration, self belief and emotional resilience? Schools, 6th forms, Universities, parents, the local authority, NHS, police and probation services, local employers, Housing Associations, local supermarkets, social care providers, other charities and so on…… The social enterprise model is perfect for harnessing these organisations and beyond.
However, a word of warning. Do your research before you embark on this route. It is not an ideal option for many entrepreneurs as it is impossible to extract any profit, dividend or end game (exit return) from the business. 100% of profits go back into the business, dividends are capped at 10% of share up capital and there is a total asset lock. This enterprise must be totally aligned to your passion as the key reward is influence, contribution and the opportunity to make a difference in your chosen field.
Make sure you make your millions elsewhere! In my opinion, the incentives here are not financial, they are far more frame breaking than that!
For more information about Girls Out Loud and to get involved as a mentor or help us bring our magic to your school or community visit www.girlsoutloud.org.uk