Young people are becoming increasingly aware of the environmental challenges the world faces: wildlife is under threat, the climate is changing, and our seas and oceans are swamped with plastic pollution to name a few. That’s where the Social Business Challenge comes in.
It is a new initiative being launched for secondary schools by Green Schools Project, an organisation that I set up with support from the RSA to help young people to take action in their community on environmental issues. We are now crowdfunding for the pilot in order to minimise costs for participating schools and looking for schools to run the challenge.
The young people taking part will learn about the power and potential of social business models. Working in groups, students will then design their own social business idea to help solve a key environmental problem. The ideas will be judged by a panel of social business people, and thanks to support from Social Enterprise UK, the winning group will win the chance to present their idea to MPs at the Houses of Parliament.
I set up Green Schools Project in 2015 to assist schools on their journey to becoming greener and in 2016 was joined by Morgan Phillips, former head of the national Eco-Schools programme, and together we came up with the Social Business Challenge.
We believe that business has a vital role to play in solving environmental problems, but new business models are key. I’m sure that anyone involved with the RSA will agree that businesses that focus solely on profit making often end up contributing to social and environmental problems. They don’t do it on purpose: it is usually just an unfortunate side effect.
Social Businesses are the way forward. They operate and make a profit, but are mindful of the impacts they are having and seek to minimise them as far as possible. Profit making is important, but it is not pursued with an ‘at any cost’ mindset; social justice, human rights, equality and environment are part of the DNA of these companies and the people who work for them.
Social businesses and enterprises can go even further than this. For some, it is not just about minimising the impact of a conventional business like a brewery or a cleaning company, many are set up with an expressed purpose to solve or ease a problem.
Green Schools Project is an example of this: we are not a charity and are quite proud of that. We recognised that schools are not getting the support they need to teach about sustainability and to make their schools more environmentally friendly. As a result, the environmental impact of our schools is unnecessarily high and children are not developing the environmental knowledge and skills we need in society. That is the problem we are trying to solve, and we are doing it as a business that stands on its own two feet.
What bonds social businesses is that they have purposes beyond pure profit making. In fact, as social businesses, they are willing to forego some profit if it helps lower their impact on the planet or achieve their purpose more effectively. It is this profit, purpose, planet thinking that Green Schools Project want to introduce pupils to through the Social Business Challenge.
Young professionals are being drawn towards careers in social business as they want to achieve more than just a pay package at the end of a month’s work; they want another reason to get out of bed in the morning − a purpose. They are drawn to the values underpinning businesses like Yemzi, Pedals and Speak Street. These businesses are changing the way people think about the world of work and what companies can aspire to.
The Social Business Challenge will help young people develop the skills that are required in the workplace and it will help students to think differently about the careers that lie ahead of them and the sort of business they would like to work for.
We would be really grateful for pledges to support our crowdfunder by 15 March, and please get in touch if you work at a school that might be interested in taking part.