Tag Archives: training

Thinking big

My dear old mum used to say that if all the money put into probation and prisons was invested in nurseries, after a generation prisons wouldn’t be needed. I was reminded of this when learning recently about a social enterprise that I think is simply brilliant.

70% of toddlers and infants aged up to four years in Brazil have no access to nurseries. A 27-year old entrepreneur has set out to change this by organising ‘community mothers’ to provide home-based daycare centres.  Like all the best social enterprises, Elisa Mansur’s initiative MOPI (The Movement for Education) is a simple idea that works at so many levels:

  • It trains community mothers of all ages in best-practice childhood education through play
  • It creates employment for those traditionally disadvantaged in the Brazilian jobs market
  • It provides accessible and affordable nursery places to free-up family members for additional purposeful activity
  • Above all, it gives the next generation the enriched start in life they deserve and need for a fulfilling future and for the wider benefit of society

Whenever I see what I think is a simply brilliant idea, I can’t resist imagining it being replicated in the UK. The need for accessible and affordable quality nursery spaces is real, as is the undeniable benefit of providing training and employment for people who might run them. But I’m afraid I can only see the heavy hand of bureaucracy spouting all sorts about safeguarding, quality assurance, and limited resources. But, given the reward of success, it doesn’t stop me speculating.

And my mother might well have been right about the long-term impact of investing in nurseries, but we’ll never know of course; politicians think they can only think-and-do short term – operating with five-year horizons. But we can dream, can’t we?

Here’s a short film about Elisa Mansur’s vision http://www.bbc.com/capital/story/20190307-the-27-year-old-protecting-brazils-hidden-job-economy

Advertisements

In praise of praise

standing-ovation-croppedA decade ago I was on a 12-week train-the-trainer course. The tutor was brilliant and I hope and believe I’ve applied what I learnt from him in a number of teaching roles over the past 10 years. He told us there are very few hard and fast rules about how to inspire learning in the classroom, but he stressed one; “Praising your learners will achieve more than any amount of negative criticism”.

We were then asked to describe a bad learning experience to the class; mine was singing in a choir. At that time, I’d been one of ten tenors for five years and I said I didn’t feel my signing technique had improved much since joining. I was asked to describe a typical rehearsal – “We turn up every Tuesday evening, our choirmaster shouts at us, particularly the female singers, and we go home two hours later.” The tutor didn’t need to say a thing – I’d made his point for him. “But our concerts go well” I added, out of loyalty to our choirmaster.

Fast forward to the present and a new choirmaster has, as reported in an earlier blog, transformed the choir over the 12 months. I feel he’s also improved (‘transformed’ would be an exaggeration at this stage in my singing career) my technique. A typical rehearsal now is one I relish –  singing technique is part of each two-hour session alongside note-bashing and attention to our diction. We are encouraged by frequent praise (although I’m not sure we always deserve it…) making any criticism more effective when it comes. Being harangued under the old regime meant we tended to simply switch off and stop listening; a few people voted with their feet and left the choir altogether.

Our new choirmaster’s impact was almost instantaneous. Unlike the arrival of a new football manager (reference my earlier blog) he raised our game and we have sustained it.

I was reminded of the motivational power of praise when reading a fascinating ‘pop psychology’ book by Claudia Hammond – ‘Mind Over Money’. The author reports on research showing that praise is more motivational that money – increasing both commitment to the task in hand and, it would seem, the pleasure in undertaking that task.

These lessons have stood me in good stead in a new role – working with young people who live complicated lives and, where possible, I support their efforts to start viable businesses. Our four-day enterprise course talks about passion and profit in equal measure. Both are important but I suspect that, in the long term, job satisfaction and the approval of others will ultimately out-motivate the understandable desire right now to make money.

Further reading:

Something to sing about: https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/2015/12/22/something-to-sing-about/

Mind over Money: http://www.hive.co.uk/Product/Claudia-Hammond/Mind-Over-Money–The-Psychology-of-Money-and-How-to-Use-it-Better/20322471

From tabletop to laptop – Recover

Latest in the More Expert by Experience series. For other profiles, see http://bit.ly/1rd75hZ

Recover logoWhen I last spoke to Ian Block about his business plan, he’d three years to achieve self-funding from sales of quality upcycled pre-loved furniture. At that time (February 2014) Recover – the social enterprise he leads in Welwyn Garden City – was one year old. I wondered how the three year plan had progressed over the previous two years.

“Our mission has remained the same throughout” confirms Ian “It’s about helping people reintegrate and get themselves worthwhile employment that will stay with them, and help them to be the best they can be; that they feel fulfilled and their lives are worthwhile.”

I asked whether there had been any surprises – good or bad. Continuing the theme of benefiting the volunteers, Ian points to success at the rate at which people have gained and used new skills. Recover has helped raise expectations to the stage where, says Ian, most volunteers are keen to progress.

Looking back, Recover have learnt some hard lessons about the reality of working with people who are furthest from the jobs market. One lesson is a well-known ‘problem of success’ for many social enterprises – that the most capable and productive unemployed volunteers move to paid jobs – an occupational hazard! And for those that remain…

Recover people and products

“There are a broader range of issues facing our volunteers than we anticipated. Their lives are complicated and it takes more time and support for people to move on and stay moved on, particularly when they are older or have lower self-esteem.”

“We thought that the majority of volunteers would progress relatively quickly and then help run Recover. But once out of treatment, when they come to us, the original problems may resurface; they need a lot of hand-holding to develop a sense of self-worth.”   

The first step, of what is often a long journey, is turning up on a regular basis – establishing some structure and routine. Recover offers work and life skills development through refurbishing quality, high-end furniture and Ian doesn’t underestimate the challenge.

“We’re not making sandwiches here – the work takes skill, concentration, focus, practice creativity, Recover recoveringtechnique. We’ve developed methods, systems and processes to keep it as simple as possible, but it still takes a lot of time to teach and embed the learning.”

The intensity of the hands-on support for volunteers means that Ian is finding it harder to balance the books from sales than he’d anticipated. Recover is currently aiming for 50% of income from sales and 50% from funding.

The biggest single development over the past 12 months has been the transition to independence from Recover’s parent charity. Recover is now a Company Limited by Guarantee and Registered Charity in its own right. This means more paperwork as back office functions are taken in-house, including insurance, funding applications, and reporting to the new directors.

Despite the increased demands on his time, Ian is clear about what matters “My priorities are supporting our team and making money. The backroom work has to be fitted in around that. Reporting alone could become a fulltime job if you let it – I started out working on dining tables, now I spend a lot of time on computerised tables!”

Looking ahead, it’s about finding the right balance between growth and consolidation. For Ian the books must balance to keep the doors open. Recover aspires to raise their 50:50 funding/earning ratio to 100% income from trading, but wisely he doesn’t set a date for this.

In the meantime, Recover are getting to grips with pricing – an issue for many social enterprises and an area where Ian is learning fast ‘what works’.

                                                                     Ian gets hands on

“We’re educating people about value – the quality and cost of our work. We’ve been  able to reduce prices as we’ve got better  and faster at refurbishment. The pieces   that we turn into ‘artisan one-of- kind items’ are well-priced compared with mass produced generic flat pack furniture from economy high street chain stores. Items     we don’t refurbish are sold at considerably lower prices than charity shops. Sometimes, we just ask people on low income for a donation that suits their budget.”

Another ‘problem of success’ – in addition to losing the most capable volunteers – relates to Recover’s high profile (“done without any paid advertising” adds Ian proudly).  The two staff members are finding increased demands on their time – from media people, businesses (all support welcome!) and statutory sector staff.

A timely reminder that I’ve taken over an hour of Ian’s time. As I leave, he joins his team for lunch which, he tells me, will be a main meal of the day for some. Yes – two years on from our original meeting, the strengths and values of Recover are still very much in evidence.

 Further information and contact:

http://www.recoverteam.co.uk https://www.facebook.com/recoverteam.co.uk https://twitter.com/RecoverTeam

https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/2014/02/19/the-art-of-adding-value (February 2014)

 

 

The Feed – a recipe for resilience

Latest in the new ‘More Expert by Experience’ series

Barry AllardThe Feed is a trading arm of Community Interest Company LEAP (www.norwichleap.co.uk)  providing fine food, catering services and more, in and around Norwich. They’re passionate about food and people – well, that’s what it says on their website – and nothing The Feed’s founder Barry Allard, a Fellow of the School for Social Entrepreneurs in Ipswich, tells me makes me think otherwise.                                                                                                                                                                                    I’m re-interviewing Barry 18 months on from our first chat about what starting a social enterprise demands and how he and his growing team have overcome the challenges.

The ‘social’ part of the enterprise is about providing work experience and training in hospitality and catering for those who, for a variety of reasons, are furthest from the job market.

The academy that Barry talked about in September 2014 has now supported three cohorts of learners through a 12-week course. The Flourish Employment Academy involves formal training working in the business and day workshops at local food producers.

When I ask about the intention 18 months ago to source ingredients locally, Barry is upfront about current considerations,

“We aim to use local producers wherever possible, and the Norfolk Food & Drink Festival community have helped us with this, but increasingly we also have to be aware about the cost of buying local.”

Balancing the ‘social’ and the ‘enterprise’ – principle and profit – is nothing new amongst businesses like The Feed that set out to bring business solutions to social problems. Barry is honest but positive about how they’ve been getting their house in order in recent months.

“I was realising that the hours I was putting into setting up The Feed [and LEAP – also founded by Barry] were not sustainable, and I required people with the necessary experience in the catering and hospitality industry.”

Feed logoThe solution was to take the big step of employing an experienced chef and adding to the staff team another recruit with relevant catering and retailing skills. Barry believes that they are now getting on top of the figures with better costings and the ability to make more informed decisions about which events to attend to make money and/or raise their profile. This has also enabled The Feed to make more contacts in the industry.

Another major development is the relocation of The Feed to Open – a multi-purpose arts and entertainment venue in central Norwich working with and for young people. Access to bigger kitchens, and opportunities to cater for conferences and other events on-site, has demonstrated the benefits of The Feed’s willingness to work in partnership with others.

18 months ago Barry Allard was aware that the catering and hospitality industry was not easy sector to work in. It seems his opinion hasn’t changed,

“It’s a difficult business; there’s the upfront expenditure with no guaranteed return and the potential for waste. A lot of behind-the-scenes work goes into putting food on the plate with associated costs, and success is often weather-dependent.”

Barry hasn’t yet worked out how to control the weather, but I’m left with the impression that he and his team are getting a firm grip on the financials and also seeing reward in preparing learners well for the world of work wherever their careers take them.   

Further reading:

Fast Food, Lifelong Learning https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/2014/09/23/fast-food-lifelong-learning (September 2014)

Follow The Feed at http://the-feed.co.uk Twitter: @TheFeedCIC   Facebook: thefeedCIC

Will my smartphone make me smarter?

DumbphoneToday is special for me in my relationship with social media – tweet number 10,000 – and I’m proud to say that all were sent from my laptop.

One reason for this is that the first and only mobile I’ve ever owned (until recently…) couldn’t connect online. My dear old Nokia was good for making phone calls and I took some pictures when I first bought it over a decade ago, but the novelty soon wore off. I didn’t demand much of it and (to the annoyance of my daughter) I had it switched off much of the time, which is probably why it served me so well for so long.

Which is the other reason I’m proud not to have had the facility to tweet anything, anytime, anywhere. I don’t believe my life is so important that I should have Twitter, or any other social media, at my fingertips 24 hours a day; particularly when I’m at conferences, as regular readers of this blog will know.

Now all that could change. My faithful and functional phone is knocking on heaven’s door as I can’t switch it on. I’ve had to dump my dumbphone and replaced it with what I think they call a ‘smartphone’.

Will this change my tweeting habits? Probably not. It’s not that I’m a Luddite (if you don’t know what one of those is, you’ve probably never known life without the internet – look it up via the link below). It’s just that I’m influenced by Richard Uridge at ACM Training who, leading a brilliant social media workshop almost exactly four years ago, suggested that Twitter, Facebook and newer kids on the block are simply communication tools – to be used if they do the job; not if they don’t. And before using them you need to know what that job is. “You wouldn’t get a saw out of your toolbox unless you had a job that needed one” said Richard at the time.

Now I have a smartphone, I can probably interact with the world far more than I will ever know (my daughter’s got me hitched up to WhatsApp – it’s brilliant…try it) because I don’t want to be available, worldwide, 24 hours a day. For me the smart move is to stay in control of my waking and sleeping hours and invest in real relationships.

Further reading:

My top tip for live tweeting… https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/2014/02/27/my-top-tip-for-live-tweeting-dont-do-it (February 2014)

On Luddites… http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/what-the-luddites-really-fought-against-264412/?no-ist

 

Men’s Sheds and lifelong learning

light-bulb-new-businessSomeone once observed that talk about social enterprise is never very far from a Gandhi quote. Here’s one on learning…

“Live like you’re going to die tomorrow, learn like you’re going to live forever.”

It’s well known that feeding our sense of curiosity and acquiring new skills at any age is a great way to sustain mental wellbeing. For older learners, it may also stave off the onset of degenerate diseases associated with ageing.

The University of the Third Age (U3A) recognises this, providing opportunities for retired and semi-retired people to come together to learn, in their words ‘not for qualifications but for its own reward: the sheer joy of discovery’. Another important element in the U3A model is the idea of everyone being able to share the life lessons that come with age. Members share specific skills, alongside professional and personal experiences: the learners teach and the teachers learn, with no distinction between them.

In the ‘lifelong learning’ sector, men are recognised as a ‘hard to reach’ group; the thirst for learning in later life is recognised as being more prevalent amongst women than men. This is reflected in Dacorum, south west Herts, where the U3A group have an impressive 1300 members, but with women in the majority.

Publicity for The Repair Shed* in the U3A Dacorum bulletin generated a response from four people. Interestingly, two were women keen to learn the sort of home maintenance skills – fixing fuses and dripping taps etc – that their husbands had always sorted when they were alive. One of the women and one of the men are due to join The Repair Shed in early 2015.

The Repair Shed, and Men’s Sheds more generally, aim to involve older men in informal learning with skill-sharing being a common strand in most programmes of activity, alongside making, mending and general ‘tinkering’.

Food for the body and brain

Within The Repair Shed, extended skill-sharing is promoted through a time banking facility which records and rewards the input of members (one hour earns one time-credit). Members can then use their time-credits to ‘buy support’ from other members of the time bank.

Cooking is a good example of how this can work. Older men living on their own tend to need to support when it comes to healthy eating. A Repair Shed member wanting to learn how to cook a favourite dish or gain other basic culinary skills can ‘buy cooking lessons’ from other members with relevant skills. In Australia – the home of the Men’s Shed movement, ‘learning by doing’ is a feature of cooking where meals are the outcome of experimentation rather than slavishly following recipes.  The same, incidentally, goes for health education; peer-to-peer encouragement to get professional advice about things like prostate problems being far more effective than bringing in a health professional.

Back in The Repair Shed the plan is to share skills within the group (learning about metal work is a common interest…) before going public to embrace the wider community – with workshops for all ages and abilities in DIY, repair and re-use. Exciting times and lots to learn!

* For more on The Repair Shed in Hemel Hempstead, go to https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/the-repair-shed

Enterprise essential – invest in your paid and unpaid staff

When times are hard, you may be tempted to cut back on training. A more sustainable approach could be to invest in ‘up-skilling’ your staff –increasing their productivity and reducing the need to buy-in some services. Also make the most of unpaid input from volunteers with private sector experience – as advisers, mentors, or directors.