John Bishop, managing director of social enterprise Evolve writes about being a social – and systems – entrepreneur. He also shares how social investment helped to scale up Evolve’s activities and the value of a mentor who helped him stay focused on the mission.
Social enterprise is more than a legal structure of type of business. Social enterprise is how you choose to contribute to society during your working life. Some people have to work to earn enough money to pay the rent whilst others need to make enough money to buy a new yacht. Either way, people make choices about where their income comes from and these decisions are harder for some than others.
The role of careers education to teach young people about this type of decision-making should not be undervalued. When we eventually look beyond exam grades and focus more on our educational system or more robust outcomes such as wellbeing and life satisfaction, we may see the long awaited arrival of social enterprise to the mainstream business world.
I was fortunate to not have to make that difficult financial decision about salary versus societal contribution. My social enterprise evolved from part time work I used to do in schools to fund my time spent at university. Although this was the era before student loans, I still had accommodation and a social life to pay for. But I was able to earn some pocket money whilst helping children within the local community.
What Evolve does
John Bishop speaking about Evolve
Evolve is a multi-award winning social enterprise that recruits, trains and develops its Health Mentor workforce to enable all children to achieve their potential. This is done through a range of innovative programmes that help children succeed by improving their physical, emotional, cognitive health and wellbeing within school settings.
This leads to short-term benefits for headteachers in terms of improved attendance, learning behaviours and academic results. However, the programme also delivers longer term benefits to other stakeholders such as the NHS, Ministry of Justice and Department for Work and Pensions who all benefit from a healthy, reflective and purposeful population.
We’re also currently working with partners in the USA and Australia who share Evolve’s mission to help give children the best possible start in life.
Being sustainable and social investment as a way to scale up
Theory of change, impact investment and social return on investment (SROI) were all concepts that were alien to Evolve when it became an early adopter of social enterprise status. Its roots were that of a traditional business where it had to have a strong value proposition that was commercially attractive to clients and was able to deliver exceptional service to ensure revenue growth and new client acquisition.
Evolve has never relied on grant funding or external investment to deliver its mission. And this sustainability has meant that it has been able to remain focussed on its core objectives whilst many other charities and social enterprises have had to pivot to remain relevant and current with fluid funding priorities and short investment cycles.
However, we realised that the scaling challenge Evolve faced in order to improve the lives of thousands more UK children was similar to that of other social enterprises.
Evolve doesn’t receive the full value for its work or the impact that it is able to demonstrate. This led to us developing a new model for commissioning our services called a “Full Value Contract”. It involves multiple stakeholders sharing the investment cost whilst still achieving the full range of outcomes that we would ordinarily have paid significantly more for on an independent basis.
This model is of interest to social investors who are prepared to de-risk the initial investment by commissioners before seeing generous returns on their investment when pre-agreed outcomes have been delivered.
The value of having a mentor
Being a social entrepreneur is a challenging pursuit and one that does not lend itself to everyone’s circumstance and philosophical persuasion. Being a systems entrepreneur (where the mission is about creating change on a systemic scale) is an even more consuming way of trading one’s working hours for a sense of purpose and achievement.
The role requires tremendous levels of resilience and there are many times when you consider throwing the towel in for the easy life of a big salary and bonus scheme, unlimited expense account and first class travel.
It is at times like this when a mentor can be your salvation and I have been fortunate enough to receive support through the GET INFORMED mentoring scheme where I was introduced to Danielle Lovell-Jones from Altruist Partners. As my mentor, Danielle provided a unique perspective that allowed me to reflect on my own beliefs and thought processes. She has also been instrumental in Evolve’s recent developments.
I would like to thank my mentor and GET INFORMED for their support through the mentoring scheme. And I would recommend that any social or systems entrepreneur should consider something similar if any of the tribulations of my journey resonates with them.
Find out how you could GET INFORMED and get a mentor
GET INFORMED – Social Investment for Boards offers free practical support and guidance – including mentoring – to help social enterprise and charity board members understand the opportunities and risks of social investment.
If you think you could do with a free mentor to help you understand how social investment could help your social enterprise be more sustainable or scale up, complete your mentee profile. This will help GET INFORMED find you a suitable mentor.