Recently we were asked to attend a local school’s careers day for children aged 11-14 years. It was comprised of businesses ranging from marketing companies, food producers, construction firms, the Fire Service and me - a director of a social enterprise business support provider. I think we could be best described as ‘niche.’
All the other stalls had flashy pop up banners and plenty to hand out: pens, biscuits and lots of random shiny things that would probably end up in the bin quicker than it took to make them, but that is another blog for another day.
Eventually a few kids started to wander over to my underprepared, slightly underwhelming and ultimately sparely populated stall. I was curious to find out if they felt sorry for me or maybe because the other stalls were so busy the quieter kids saw me as a place of refuge from the hustle and bustle.
The majority looked at me slightly confused: “So why are you here?” I explained badly at first, but by the third and fourth brave adventurer I had honed my spiel: “I am here to talk about social enterprise; do you know what social enterprise is?” This was met by, mostly, blank faces mixed with a few valiant attempts to describe it. I smiled and explained: “A social enterprise is a business with a good cause,” and presented a poorly printed document (of course the printer ink was running out when I was rushing to print in advance of the event) showcasing social enterprises from around the world.
I talked about the social enterprise (Alive and Kicking)that makes footballs and provides jobs and education for communities in Africa. I talked about an Australian social enterprise (Who Gives a Crap?) that produces colourful toilet roll and donates profits to water aid projects in Africa. I explained about a new café (Moments) in Plymouth that will help people with dementia. What was their response you ask…well it was brilliant! The penny dropped for most of the young people who waded through the chaos to speak me and the look of interest and intrigue was amazing!
“Oh that is really good” said one.
“So I get something and people get help?” said another.
Then controversy: “It seems better than charity….” said one young girl aged about 12.
But the best response was simple and concise:
“Why aren’t all businesses like that?”
Indeed, why aren’t they? I couldn’t give her a concise reply, but I could say: “maybe one day.”
Hopefully she will get to see it and live in a world where businesses profits benefit communities, the environment and we talk about social impact rather than the bonuses people are receiving.
I think the kids are alright and I look forward to my next school careers seminar.Next time I’ll be slightly better prepared with social enterprise chocolate and chutney to hand then I will surely be the most popular stall in the room!