Tag Archives: social return on investment

GAP Learning – a growing family

Latest in the new More Expert by Experience series

Teresa and AmandaNearly 18 months after graduating from the School for Social Entrepreneurs in Ipswich, I discover that fellow fellows Amanda Page and Teresa Crickmar are sisters. Well I only studied alongside them for 12 months… There has also been a wedding, but more about that later.

When I first interviewed the two sisters separately, almost exactly two years ago, they were developing two different social enterprises – FullSpoon (Amanda) and Craftworks (Teresa). I hadn’t a clue they planned to work so closely together to launch GAP Learning, but then I’ve discovered there’s a lot I didn’t know about them.

The Craftworks and FullSpoon courses are still happy and healthy* but they have now been gathered under one roof – GAP Learning (a Community Interest Company) with a new upstart moving in – She Loves Him Tho’. GAP stands for Generating Alternative Possibilities with a mission to reach out and get people at biggest disadvantage into education, training and employment through volunteering and learning.

As Amanda explains, that learning includes “a free five-week ‘Healthy Eating on a Budget’ FullSpoon course which includes food safety, budgeting, reducing food waste and cooking.” In comparison, Teresa describes Craftwork’s training as “A mini product design course, getting people talking, thinking about a stress-free life, thinking about learning and gaining new skills by making beautiful products to sell, with an option to set up in business.”

gap logo

Working with ‘hard to motivate’ learners can be exhausting but, for both sisters, this makes the small and large breakthroughs all the more rewarding. “It’s the elation of anything from a learner eventually ‘getting it’, to prising someone out of bed in the morning!”

Like nervous parents with fast-growing children, Amanda and Teresa don’t like to see their learners leave when the courses come to an end, so they offer them lots of progression routes instead. And, like teenagers who don’t really want to leave the comfort of home, some of the learners are only too happy to stay on!

Teresa explains “Once a course has finished, around 20% of graduates sign up to stay on for work experience with, for example, our partners at the local Love Food, Hate Waste project. Some graduates progress to paid roles for a few hours a week and also volunteer with GAP Learning.” Amanda elaborates “Two learners are now tutors, having been trained at Cambridge Regional College. Other part-time roles include administration, design and social media. Then there are one-off volunteering opportunities like event management.”

GAP learning 1Craftworks Rocks is their latest innovation, with young men being trained to make stylish pallet-wood boxes to store and display crafted magnets made by other learners and sold to the public. The plan is to locate the boxes in coffee shops and retail outlets nationally with income being used to pay the producers for more magnets, and to subsidise the courses to keep them free to learners.  Craftworks Rocks was the focus for a recent crowdfunding campaign which raised enough to launch the initiative to meet early demand for the boxes and magnets.

She loves him tho picIt was a ‘Social Venture Weekend’ at Cambridge Judge Business School and a wedding that sparked the latest addition to the GAP Learning family. Amanda was getting married and as she recalls     “I realised there was nowhere that creative people could have the fun of crafting their own wedding items – making rings and other jewellery, designing and printing invitations and menus, decorating shoes.” ‘She loves him tho’ was conceived “It’s a programme of workshops for brides, grooms and their relatives to create a bespoke ethical wedding range that helps make someone else’s life better.”

Amid such change and growth, has Amanda and Teresa’s mission also changed?

“No” says Teresa (like all close sisters, I realise one often speaks on behalf of them both) “Our mission has stayed the same – we want clear positive change through group learning for people with challenges. We’ve put some boundaries on who we work with and, even if we can’t really afford to, we’ll sometimes say  ‘no’ because of our strong values.” 

Building the team has also meant that Teresa and Amanda have had to learn how to manage – both people and processes. “Because we’re now paying people we have to equate our own time and theirs when costing items. We have to set targets and deadlines and it helps them that we’re clearer about expectations. We’re training them for the world of work so time management and good discipline are important.”

“For our part we have to be more realistic about how long things take, get a grip on cash-flow (were learning how payments can lag behind sales) and remind ourselves that unlike the understanding between the two of us, other people can’t read our minds!

As our conversation comes to an end, I ask what’s on the horizon. I admire social entrepreneurs who are self-aware and confident enough to admit their weaknesses alongside trumpeting their successes. Amanda and Teresa are upfront about their needs; funding and financial management are next on their to-do list.  Sounds like a good topic for a new GAP Learning course…

*The health of Craftworks is shown by a recent Social Return on Investment (SROI) calculation showing that for every £1 invested, the service creates £60 in social value. More at http://www.gaplearning.co.uk/documents/SRoI_Report.pdf

Further reading:

https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/2014/03/03/putting-a-price-on-hidden-talent (Craftworks, February 2014)

https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/2014/03/25/fast-food-for-hungry-learners (Full Spoon, March 2014)

Follow Amanda and Teresa on Twitter: @GAPlearning, Facebook: GAPLearningCIC , and at http://www.gaplearning.co.uk  and www.sheloveshim.co.uk

Measure what matters

IMG_3872In a recent blog, marketing guru Seth Godin observed… “Without a doubt, the ability to connect the dots is rare, prized and valuable. Connecting dots, solving the problem that hasn’t been solved before, seeing the pattern before it is made obvious, is more essential than ever before.

Why then, do we spend so much time collecting dots instead? More facts, more tests, more need for data, even when we have no clue (and no practice) in doing anything with it. Their big bag of dots isn’t worth nearly as much as your handful of insight, is it?”

In a world which is increasingly focused on measurement of impact (social, financial and environmental in the world of social enterprise) it’s easy to get sucked in to following the crowd.

A recent publicity blurb for a 2-day course on measuring social impact makes the case for it succinctly… As well as making your organisation more attractive to funders, being able to measure your social impact will enable you to measure the effectiveness of your organisation, to benchmark with your competition and allow you to see where improvements can be made.

Yes – it’s important to demonstrate how well you’re fulfilling your declared purpose/ mission, particularly if you’re spending someone else’s money. But often the record-keeping is for the (questionable) benefit of others and this can tie you in knots and take you away from the activity you’re spending so much time measuring!

We know that most impact is qualitative rather than quantitative and not easily measured. There’s a whole industry around giving such measurement scientific weight eg through social audits and financial calculations that aim to put a figure on the social return on investment – SROI – in organisations. But the people I know who have had this done for their organisations have been disarmingly honest about the dubious reliability of the figures they fed into the process. As they say about computer analysis – ‘rubbish in, rubbish out’.

A wonderful ‘bubble-bursting’ piece by Jeremy Nicholls – a champion and authority on SROI – takes aim at the idea of measuring social impact. He says it assumes we make rational decisions based on evidence (whereas we base them more on preconceptions) and that we have a belief that a shared view is, by definition, correct. Then there are the limitations of predicting the future based on the past.

I bow to Nicholls’ knowledge about the science behind the SROI process (he’s Chief Executive of the SROI Network after all) but I’m not as confident that we don’t sometimes misplace our trust in science and wilfully or otherwise select so-called facts and figures to suit our narrative.

It’s easy to knock the whole process of measurement and counting – and many people do (I suspect because they consider it unnecessary extra work) – but it may not be a matter of all or nothing.

Squawkpoint blogger James Lawther advises caution when counting (mushy peas is his example) but, in a linked blog, he has suggestions for interpreting the figures once gathered. He recommends looking at the bigger picture – patterns and trends over time – and putting your energy into making sense of the biggest and smallest changes over a period.  And in a ‘seeing-wood-for-the-trees’ attempt at making sense of all the figures available – use the 80:20 rule to identify which numbers you really need to worry about.

Many years ago, the New Economics Foundation was influential in my thinking about appropriate measurement. They advocate that you decide what measurement is relevant, meaningful, and achievable in your particular community or organisation. So if dog poo in a public park is a measure of a community’s respect for public spaces, put flags in the poo each month and take photos and compare the numbers of flags over a year. That was in the days before hefty fines and public disapproval – an updated version of this measure might be the number of poo-filled bags left hanging on branches or the number of bags strewn around overflowing bins.

Returning to the ever insightful Seth Godin, he sums up for me the importance of cultivating a healthy scepticism, or at least a questioning attitude, towards measurement in another recent blog.

“We keep coming up with new things to measure (like processor speed, heat output, column inches) but it’s pretty rare that those measurements are actually a proxy for the impact or quality we care about. It takes a lot of guts to stop measuring things that are measurable, and even more guts to create things that don’t measure well by conventional means.”

When measuring to satisfy outside rather than internal interests, at least be bold enough to ask them why?

References:

Seth on dots  http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/2014/04/connecting-dots-or-collecting-dots.html

Jeremy Nicholls takes aim at social impact measurement  www.pioneerspost.com/comment/20140404/the-wild-wild-west-of-social-impact

James Lawther on counting mushy peas www.squawkpoint.com/2014/01/operational- and the limits to counting www.squawkpoint.com/2013/06/management-information

Seth on ‘measuring nothing with great accuracy http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/2014/01/measuring-nothing-with-great-accuracy.html

For an excellent ‘Prove and Improve’ toolkit from the New Economics Foundation, go to www.proveandimprove.org