This blog comes from Body & Soul’s Business Development Manager, Ethan Ohs.
It feels like social enterprise is discussed, promoted and analysed in the news on a daily basis, but maybe I see it because I’m looking for it. I became a social entrepreneur about a year ago when I joined the team at Body & Soul. Like an increasing number of charities, Body & Soul decided to launch its own social enterprise to diversify its income stream and achieve an element of self-reliance. Body & Soul’s Director Emma told me on my first day that my objective was to make money ‘via any ethically sound (and legal) channel’.
The journey so far has been educational. I don’t think we realised quite how beneficial this process would be to the organisation and in how many ways. Starting a responsible and strategically sound social enterprise is by no means an endeavour to take on lightly, but if you choose to do it, income is not the only benefit to starting a profit-generating business to support your non-profit.
Business is ultimately about the relationships you build. I knew that coming into the role and since then have dedicated significant hours to cultivating as many relationships as I can. I have spent time listening to the way organisations have interacted with us in the past and how they would like to work with us in the future. Their feedback is beginning to influence how we communicate and how we work with them as well as how we share contacts internally. In addition to improving our interactions with businesses with which we have established relationships, the social enterprise provides a new conduit to approach new businesses. In the last year we have improved our ability to engage businesses on a variety of levels, creating new opportunities.
I was fortunate that Body & Soul has an established, strong brand and an appreciation of the importance of brand identity. The process of establishing a consultancy business has necessitated a new awareness of the way we view, value and communicate our work. I have worked for a few charities over the years and encouraging colleagues and workforces to understand the value of their knowledge and experience feels like a constant challenge. We often undervalue our services, our impact, and our intellectual property.
Body & Soul’s current venture is causing real reflection on our value. We’re learning to find the fine line between improving our services, being generous and ensuring that partnerships are mutually beneficial and we are credited appropriately for the work we develop. In placing a financial value on our work we’re forced to consider the time, effort, energy and ultimately money spent creating something new, impactful and innovative
Launching a profit-making enterprise has also provided a unique opportunity to involve Body & Soul’s board of trustees. We can utilise the skills they apply in their careers and we are asking them to help us network. In the context of business, we are something they can recommend to friends and colleagues. We provide a service they believe in and when they pass a recommendation on it is not a charity asking for money, it is a business proposing to solve a problem for another business.
My final epiphany has been more personal. Since moving to London I have found myself struggling to measure my own success. In my struggle to measure my own success I have also measured myself against others using superficial judgements. Body & Soul has taken extreme pride in its facilities, ensuring that they are a welcoming and inspiring place for our members as well as for the staff and volunteers who work here. It’s important that our members are proud of our space and take care of it. That pride has inspired me. The inspiration has reminded me that professionalism has to do with the pride we take in our work.
Body & Soul’s social enterprise is still in its initial stages. It has potential to help us grow significantly, forge mutually beneficial new relationships and take one step closer to that holy grail of small charity management – self-sufficiency – or at least reduced reliance on increasingly competitive and volatile funding streams. It’s obviously important that we measure the monetary value of the social enterprise to the organisation but also the added benefits of new ways of thinking, stronger relationships and new opportunities.
We’d like to know which outcomes you’ve been surprised by from your own social enterprises. Leave your comments below!
To find out more about Body & Soul’s Social Enterprise, get in touch with firstname.lastname@example.org