I’ve had a very interesting week and met many wonderful and inspiring people, young and old who are trying to achieve great things with social enterprise. I’m also about to go to a ‘dragons den’ style meeting where we’ve secured some business pro bono support for local social enterprise who are going to pitch for what they need, so this post may come as a bit of a side ball, but hey it’s time to reflect.
Although it’s been an interesting week It has also been a week that has made me question a few things, particularly what seems to be exploitation of young people. When I say exploitation I’m not talking about the extremes, but the fact that young people need experience in order to get on. This need has seen a pro bono group of students offering their services out to charities and social enterprises to help with their business development, all good you may say, and on the face of things I might agree, but not when you delve a little.
For example I met a young student this week who had been linked (by the wider student pro bono support group) with a social enterprise to help with their business and growth development plans. This is the same group that recently asked me to mentor a number of their students to support the pro bono work they are doing I.e. asking me to provide free support to enable their students to learn and provide free support to others.
Now I’m all for helping students (many of you will know of my past work supporting unemployed people gain paid work experience, which supported over 250 young people a year achieve) and we (development in social enterprise) offer an amount of free support to start up’s which is where we decide to invest our profit for social good, but his is something different.
The student I met was clearly struggling with the task that the social enterprise had asked them to get on with and needed some advice from me. All good you may say, but then (in order to help properly) I asked about the organisation and what it was trying to achieve and was told of the enormous task that the student had been given.
I then did a bit of checking into the organisation (which shall remain nameless) and found that it’s quite a well established social enterprise that quite frankly should be paying for business advice and guidance and at the very least should be offering students paid internship rather than trying to get high level work done for nothing.
Now this leads me to my point really. I understand the strains and pressures on charities and social enterprises now that the glory days of endless free business support programmes have all but gone. But those of you who were lucky recipients of that free business support should also realise that it’s those people providing that service (like ourselves and many others) who have struggled and worked to get that resource to provide you with the free support in the first place!
So now that we are in a position where we can’t find all that support resource for you, should you be trying to find free support from elsewhere or, should you be considering business support (when needed) as an essential element to your business growth?
When preparing our budgets for the next year or so, none of us think twice about putting in a few grand for our accountant and auditing fees, the health and safety consultant, HR consultant, solicitor etc… Is it not time we considered our business development needs for the year in this way too and make provision in our budgets, whether that’s to pay a student intern or a higher level business consultant, or appropriate training for our staff etc.
Now don’t get me wrong I’m all for maximising resources and getting what you can at a good price (after all that’s business) and will continue to work hard to secure resources to provide social enterprises with quality free (at point of use ) support. But if ‘we’ are a reasonably successful organisation and need support with our business development and growth, we shouldn’t expect it for nothing, should we?