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On Tuesday we held our first RSA Catalyst Winners’ Workshop, bringing together nearly 30 leaders of the new social ventures we have awarded grants to. It was the first opportunity for the initiatives we have supported to come together and learn from each other. There were also presentations and workshops facilitated by experts we had assembled from the RSA’s Social Entrepreneurs and Profit with Purpose Networks as well as the RSA Skills Bank, where Fellows register to give their expertise to Fellow-led projects.

Adam Lent kicked off the day by setting out Catalyst and the progress it has made to date in delivering an RSA deeply engaged in its communities. As one Catalyst grant winner tweeted; “Just found out that I'm part of the Catalyst 'SAS' thanks Adam Lent #RSACatalyst

Colin Crooks, registered in the Skills Bank, reminded Catalyst winners that successful social ventures can start with humble beginnings. He described how GreenWorks, which has provided low-cost furniture to 16,000 organisations and 800 young people with training and employment in the process, started "with me, a rented van, and £300." Colin spoke of exemplifying sweat equity, since he picked up furniture in a van, changed into a suit in the van to "go into a meeting [with a potential investor] as if I haven't been lumping furniture around for the last four hours."

It started with me, a rented van, and £300 – Colin Crooks FRSA, Founder of GreenWorks

There were some reassuring messages to those Catalyst winners who have faced a challenging start. Dan Snell, a leading member of the Social Entrepreneurs Network, recalled the first pilots for his educational social enterprise: "Most of the time I got my ass kicked in those classrooms, to be honest." Arrival Education has grown substantially and recently was a winner of the prestigious Big Venture Challenge on the basis of programmes for inner-city youth that had 90% of participants agreeing the course had given them more confidence to take on their lives.

The Catalyst winners heard an inspiring talk from this year’s Albert Medal recipient Albina Ruiz. Albina mobilised street-waste-pickers in Lima to form micro-enterprises, who then went on to persuade local residents to sort their waste and pay for its collection. She described one tactic to encourage people to contribute towards the rubbish collection by likening it to the cost of one beer a month. Albina’s energy has over the course of 25 years’ hard work and in the face of not-inconsiderable vested interests seen her micro-entrepreneurial movement take off across Latin America and now to slums in India. Most attendees went on to listen to her full lecture after collecting the medal in the Great Room.

Albina Ruiz at #RSACatalyst is inspiring, entertaining, insightful, charming, challenging – Catherine Shovlin FRSA, Catalyst winner

Matthew Taylor wrapped up the day by reiterating that Catalyst ventures have been not only a powerful catalyst for change within the Fellowship but are also inspiring other areas of RSA activity. One Catalyst winner tweeted the next day “Matthew Taylor's assertion at #RSACatalyst yesterday that nexus of social values, innovation & enterprise is place to be, still resonating.”

I’m really grateful to all who participated and helped make what I found an energetic and inspiring afternoon.

You can find out more about RSA Catalyst and apply for grants and support at www.thersa.org/catalyst

Alex Watson is Networks Manager responsible for RSA Catalyst, RSA

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