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This is a guest blog by Asma Shah who received funding for You Make It project from RSA Catalyst.

In spring 2011 I set up You Make It, a not for profit company with the express mission to support young people to gain the confidence, skills, professional networks and experiences needed in life to really unlock their earning potential. I realised I was doing a lot of complaining about the government and their lack of love for those not born into economic comfort and obvious opportunities, and that I had a lot of knowledge and networks I could open up to young people that could be crucial in helping them in what is a very tough climate, a super competitive city (London) and one in which the gap between rich and poor seems to just grow and grow…

You Make It’s flagship programme, Ladies Who L-EARN (which is what we received RSA Catalyst funding for), is the company’s first effort at creating a model of engagement that genuinely shifts the mindset and life chances of the young people who take part. It consists of a 6 month long programme which includes workshops not only focusing on issues around securing paid work and setting up businesses, but also more explorative workshops led by diverse, inspiring and out-of-the-box-thinkers which allow participants the space and support to think through what’s really important to them and what they could and should be doing to earn a living that reflects their values and well-being.  As well as the workshops, the participants get 1-1 mentoring through which they identify goals (some of which naturally shift over the course of the 6 months) that they then put into action to make a reality.

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The programme attracts a mix of women, some who design and make their own products, some who toy with the idea of one day becoming business owners, and some who quite straightforwardly want to get paid.  All of these women start the programme with a few things in common: firstly, not quite enough self-belief to dream big and to turn these dreams into a reality; secondly, they know very few people in their personal lives’, or have had very few if any previous practical experiences, which together have inspired and guided them to achieve professional success.

Along with the workshops and mentoring, inspiration and focus gets sparked with expenses paid work placements in some of London’s leading creative and cultural organisations, through ‘Trading Places’ - which enables those who make their own craft products to test selling them at Old Spitalfields Market, and through a business pitch competition in which those clear budding business women on Ladies Who L-EARN have a chance to pitch for small cash investment and business coaching from YMI.  Then there’s the finale – a party at which graduates of the programme take to the stage and speak to a big and networked audience with confidence and authenticity about themselves and where they see themselves going.

it’s amazing how much a person who others have written off, suddenly wants more from life and of themselves because they’re believed in.

Where do these women go?  Well, over 90% of them to date have gone into paid work, taken real steps to set up their own business ventures, or have won places in Higher Education.  The success of the model is unusual not only because of the outcomes for the women and what they use their experiences of Ladies Who L-EARN to then achieve, but also because of the retention – we start with 20 women and by the end of it, they’ve all stuck it out. Why? It sounds corny, but basically the women on it can tell this is all the real deal with exciting people to meet and places to be, and they know that they’re cared for – it’s amazing how much a person who others have written off, suddenly wants more from life and of themselves because they’re believed in.  Ladies Who L-EARN isn’t just about “this is how you write a CV, this is what a business plan is”, it’s about “you’re important and so claim your right to a better life.”

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The 3-month long pilot in 2011 worked with young women from Tower Hamlets, and the first full programme after that recruited women from Hackney as well – this ran from 2012/13.  You Make It are now happily in the position of being able to run it all again in the East End, and are developing plans for replication in West London come 2014/15 and one other UK city (mulling over Bristol). Thank you RSA for being one of our very first investors back in 2011 and then again for the 2012/13 programme.  But of course, it’s not just about the cash – the RSA have hosted work placements for the women on Ladies Who L-EARN, and I’ve also benefitted from other Fellows who run initiatives that have grown into sustainable business models – the next challenge for You Make It!

The network of Ladies Who L-EARN graduates is set to grow further, not just in numbers but geographically as well, and so it should! There are lots of opportunities for you to get involved including as mentors and work placements hosts, and let’s not forget as financial investors.

For further information email me: asma@you-make-it.org

To get help from RSA Catalyst for your social venture visit www.thersa.org/catalyst

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