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On Purpose are pleased to announce that Chris Underhill, Founder Director of BasicNeeds has been awarded the esteemed Skoll Award for Social Entrepreneurship 2013.
The Skoll Award marks the significant contribution made by Chris to the field of global mental health through BasicNeeds, an international development charity that he founded in 1999. BasicNeeds works with mentally ill people across 12 countries through a holistic model to address community mental health, poverty and stigma. BasicNeeds has served more than 530,000 primary (mentally ill, caregivers) and secondary (other family members) beneficiaries.
Each year from hundreds of applicants the Skoll Foundation, one of the leading foundations in the field of social entrepreneurship, presents the Skoll Award for Social Entrepreneurship to a handful of social entrepreneurs after a rigorous and thorough application procedure. The award will be presented to Chris and the others honoured during the Skoll World Forum in April 2013 in Oxford.
Why do you do the job you do?
I was shocked to see how little was being done for mentally ill people in developing countries. I resolved to start an organisation called BasicNeeds with strap line “mental health is a right not a privilege”.
What are you most proud of?
The fact that BasicNeeds has prospered and developed over the years since I founded it in 1999.
What keeps you awake at night?
Fundraising is always extremely hard in the fields of mental illness and in third world development. So, an organisation like BasicNeeds is always “hand to mouth” and we are constantly seeking to develop new financial friends and partners.
What were you doing 5 years ago?
We had far less people in our programme five years ago and we have steadily built from then to now to an aggregate of 558,272 beneficiaries in the programme worldwide.
What do you expect to be doing in 5 years’ time?
I would like to reach a further million beneficiaries in the next five years taking me to December 2018.
If you were Prime Minister for the day, what would you do?
Ensure that mentally ill people and people with epilepsy have a reasonable slice of the international development aid cake… at the moment they get almost nothing and yet there are approximately 360 million mentally ill people in low and middle income countries.
Why are you involved with On Purpose? Or if you are not involved in On Purpose, why do you think it is important to have a social enterprise leadership programme?
I am a social entrepreneur and have started three organisations which I have lead over many years as well as helping to start a further six which I have either been a Chairman of or have supported in the initial stages. It’s important for social enterprise and its leadership to be properly recognised.
What would you say are the 3 greatest challenges that social entrepreneurs or social enterprises face today?
Keeping focused, being entrepreneurial, funding.
How have you managed these challenges with the organisations that you have led, could you share your learning and wisdom?
Not easy and at times being opportunistic can be at variance to being focused.
What would be your pearls of wisdom for any aspiring social entrepreneurs?
Pearl: Believe in yourself.
Congratulations on your Skoll award for 2013, could you please let us know what this award means for you and Basic Needs?
Thanks – helps us to go to scale – an important feature of the Skoll Foundation mandate and very much part of our current plan.
Dry January, where you don’t consume any alcohol for the month of January, is becoming more and more popular. For those who have a consumed a little too much over Christmas, January off the sauce could never be a bad thing. However, if you celebrate on the 1st of Feb with a personal bottle of JD and the belief that you can now drink whatever you like, guilt-free, for the next 11 months then really what was the point?
Unfortunately, this is the same way that many companies are thinking about CSR. These limited initiatives in themselves are not a bad thing, it’s good that these companies give all their employees 1 paid CSR day a year or recycle or give X amount to charity. But if this then means they feel that their duty is done and they can now act however they like, guilt-free, then really what was the point?
Don’t get me wrong, all these things are great and the companies shouldn’t stop doing them. But on their own, they are simply not enough – these initiatives should be the icing on the CSR cake, not the cake itself. If these businesses are using environmentally or socially unethical suppliers or using large amounts of natural resources or energy that could be avoided then this 1 day out of 252 working days a year, painting local primary schools doesn’t sound so great.
CSR, whether we call it that or something else, needs to be fully incorporated into the daily fibre of the business. Some examples of businesses making real changes to how they work and their role in society are:
The best thing about all of these examples is that these companies are actually making more money out of them, for example, Plan A is said to have led to £70million of profit for M&S in 2010. While some of the initiatives started as CSR, they were quickly integrated into the business as soon as the savings became clear. The other initiatives have never been CSR but were seen as better ways of doing business both financially and socially. Other companies who are paying lip service to CSR need to think about how they change their business for the better, better for the people and environment they work in and better for the business. To quote Paul Polman, CEO of Unilever “it’s a no-brainer”.
There are some other great examples out there, but there needs to be more! Virgin Unite, where I am currently on placement, has been working to create the B-team, a group of business leaders who are coming together to work towards a better way of doing business in the world and I look forward to seeing the innovative solutions that they come up with.
So, if you only remember two things, remember: 1) don’t operate in a silo – look at your day to day business and work out how to make this process socially and environmentally better; and 2) if you work on this principle it will be good for business!
Lani is a trainee Occupational Psychologist interested in leadership development, career management, and the selection and identification of high potential employees. Following her MSc in Occupational Psychology she worked in Talent Management for an international financial services company, focusing on junior and senior leadership development. She joined On Purpose as Assistant Programme Manager in 2013.
Why do you do the job you do?
In order to make a positive difference in the world we need clever people to work hard at it. I like working with people who thrive on challenge and have the intelligence and drive to engage with complex problems and affect real change.
What are you most proud of?
Self-funding three years of full time post-graduate study while working to support myself at the same time.
What keeps you awake at night?
DVD box sets.
What were you doing 5 years ago?
I was completing a post graduate conversion diploma in Psychology in preparation for an MSc in Occupational Psychology. At the same time I worked as a play therapist for children with autism and did my fair share of waitressing.
What do you expect to be doing in 5 years’ time?
By then I will have qualified as a Chartered Occupational Psychologist and I hope to be working in leadership development, both on the design and delivery side.
If you were Prime Minister for the day, what would you do?
I would take all members of parliament to a natural place of beauty, probably a mountain top, to sit for a while.
Why are you involved with On Purpose?
This is an exciting time for social enterprise, with an increasing number of people realising that business can succeed while at the same time considering and managing their impact on society/the environment. There are also a lot of very clever people out there who want to use their skills to work in these businesses. It’s hard work, fun, and exciting.
As we know, social enterprise is taking an increasing role in helping us to tackle some of the world’s major social and environmental challenges. Social enterprise is now growing out of its infancy and in this transition some of the focus needs to shift away from generating new ideas towards scaling and replicating existing proven models.
One of the most effective methods emerging to help social enterprises replicate their efforts and multiply their impact has been to develop a franchise approach – what has become known as social franchising. This method has been especially successful as it allows the spread of a tried and tested model, whilst leaving room for adapting to local need. Franchises in general have a much higher success rate, with around 90% still operating after 5 years from launch, compared to 30% of other types of business start-ups.
Social franchises are found in many places around the world: examples of success stories include Foodbank and Care and Share Associates in the UK, CAP supermarkets in Germany, Husk Power Systems in India, Healthstore in Kenya, and PSI, a global social franchise.
The strength of the social franchising model allows social enterprises to benefit from the scale of a larger organisation as well as the flexibility and knowledge that come with being a local organisation. The diagram below highlights some of the major benefits of this structure.
There is a lot of excitement around social franchising but, as with any other method to scale or replicate an organisation, it is far from being a silver bullet. There are other options available (e.g. partnership, licensing, joint venture) and every individual situation requires careful assessment before selection of an appropriate strategy. Systematic selection of an unsuitable approach to growth may not only result in individual failures but, arguably worse, the undermining of what could be a powerful model for social change.
Even for those social organisations for which a franchising model would be suitable, success is often dependent on years of testing and perfecting the model to make sure it is ready for rapid scaling. Forcing the pace of replication and being ill-prepared to manage the challenges are the principal reasons that attempts at social franchising can fail.
Social franchising, if used effectively, can be critical to driving social change at a pace that has not yet been realised. It is our responsibility to ensure that this happens.
Having read Agustina’s insightful blog shortly after I completed mine, I wondered whether I should still go ahead and publish my take on the experience with Crisis over Christmas. After some deliberation, I concluded that perhaps it’s good that so much detail on homelessness and the organisation itself has already been provided so that, at least for once, I won’t have a word count problem!
Most importantly, each of us took away a slightly different message from our time spent with Crisis as we volunteered at different centres, on different days and helped different guests.
The price of avoiding the system
Six months without a job, four months with no money and three months living on the street. Have you ever wondered what it would feel like to be alone over Christmas in the UK when you can barely introduce yourself in English?
Emil (name has been changed) is only 23 years old but things went terribly wrong for him in the split of a second. There was a fight at the building site where he worked, some alcohol was involved and as a result an employer got offended and a young man’s pride was hurt. As time passed by, it became difficult to turn things around; much of which was the result of something as simple as a missing ID.
Since the enlargement of the EU in 2004, Poles (along with nationals from the 7 other Central and Eastern Europe member states) can legally work and live in the UK; however, a staggering number of them are working unreported, due to the neglect of employers and the misinformation and carelessness of workers.
In 2008 the government became stricter about working illegally; imposing larger fines on businesses that hire people with no right to work in the UK and increasing checks on companies in an attempt to tackle illegal working. At the time I thought this was refreshing news which would benefit all. That was until I met Emil.
Emil was never issued a passport and he travelled to the UK on his national ID. As he later discovered, a copy of an ID can only be obtained from his hometown in Poland and to apply for a passport at the Polish embassy in London you need to have your national ID as a proof of identity along with almost £300. Of course, he had neither. He is therefore now unable to gain employment, claim any benefits and pay his bills. He is homeless.
Breaking the silence
On my first day with Crisis on the 23rd of December, I was asked whether I could speak Polish since there is high demand for a translator. Walking down the corridor I wondered who I would meet first. Emil was sat on a chair, his head was down and he clearly had no interest in looking at me. He was different from many other guests at the centre – he wasn’t confident and loud. His clothes were clean and his face was shaven. You wouldn’t be able to tell that he has been homeless for some time now.
As I approached him, I introduced myself and told him that I will wait with him until the dentist arrives, so that I can help him explain his painful tooth. Although I was eager to ask him a million questions, we sat in silence until he told me “Nothing will ever be the same, my life is over!”. My heart sank.
In London about 28% of rough sleepers come from Central and Eastern Europe and over 30% of them came from Poland (Broadway, 2012). Many of them are episodically homeless, often a result of a short term crisis (e.g. loss of a job, binge drinking) and this is where Crisis’ assistance is invaluable.
Without professionals offering their specialist advice to guests at Crisis (and offering referrals to other organisations) a first time rough sleeper like Emil would be unable to resolve his ID issues during the post-Christmas period.
The power of small gestures
After a visit to the dentist, two hours spent browsing passport information online, a TB scan, a trip to the hairdresser, lunch in the canteen and three games of Jenga, the communication between Emil and I finally became much easier. Nevertheless, I was still puzzled as to why Emil did not want to talk to any of the other Polish ‘guests’. I was also curious to know why he felt that he cannot trust Polish social workers and why he eventually chose to open up to me, a total stranger.
Giving the guest encouragement and hope is sometimes all that a volunteer can offer, but I have since discovered that this can go much further than one might think. Outsiders like myself who perhaps don’t know every single rule in the book, but can apply some common sense and offer a different take on a matter than a qualified adviser, can bring a much needed fresh perspective.
Emil didn’t want to cooperate with Polish speaking advisers because he believed that their primary motivation is to send homeless Poles back to Poland, as this is how they meet their targets and receive commission. I don’t know enough about this to confirm whether it is accurate or not. Emil was also reluctant to receive any help from his Polish-speaking friends as they were responsible for encouraging him to drink more and were the ones who he blamed for losing control of his life in the first place.
As a volunteer at Crisis you are not allowed to keep in touch with the guests (for security reasons) so I can only hope that the time we spent together and the notes that I prepared for him in both languages will open some doors and push him in the right direction going forward.
From a personal perspective, I am glad that I was able to do some work on the ground, meet some inspiring people and learn more about a wider Polish community in London. As a next step, I would like to explore how to engage at a slightly earlier stage with my fellow countrymen and how to make a bigger impact through prevention rather than just the treatment of homelessness.
Quite early last year I knew I was spending Christmas in London and not visiting my family back in Argentina. I saw it as an opportunity to give up my time in order to help Crisis’s crusade to end homelessness. Getting closer to the beneficiaries of social purpose organisations is an objective in my career change journey towards the social enterprise space. Getting to know those that our actions serve should help us keep accountable to them. I sometimes worry I will forget that my 9-5 job in a nice office in Kings Cross only makes sense because it has a social purpose.
The power of networks
Surprisingly, and reassuringly, I was just one of many that give up their time during Christmas to help out. Unfortunately this meant that there were not enough spaces available to join Crisis at Christmas. Not knowing how much of an early bird I needed to be almost meant that I would not be granted my wish of volunteering during the festive season. Thankfully, a quick email to the On Purpose network meant I was recommended more than a handful of alternative options. Belonging to a network such as On Purpose gave me other options: I had an issue/problem, and the network enabled me to find another solution.
The power of social-purpose organisations tackling homelessness
I finally got a place with Crisis due to the withdrawal of other volunteers. I was blessed to have company from a close friend, and we both embarked on the volunteer adventure in the East London Day Centre in Hackney.
While getting to know some of the hundreds of ‘guests’ (which is what we called the homeless attendants), I realised that in many cases the lack of a home is not the main reason for homelessness. The root causes are more complex, and solutions need to take various different perspectives into account.
“Crisis research looking at people’s turning points into homelessness in the UK found that reasons most often cited by male participants were relationship breakdown, substance misuse, and leaving an institution (prison, care, hospital etc.). For homeless women, the most common causes were physical or mental health problems and escaping a violent relationship.
There are also problems in wider society that can contribute towards homelessness. These structural causes might include a lack of affordable housing; high levels of poverty, unemployment or worklessness; the way in which the benefits system operates; or the way social housing is rationed.” (http://www.crisis.org.uk/pages/causes-consequences.html)
Despite this overwhelming reality, most of the guests were happy and grateful people that peacefully enjoyed and made the most of their time in the centre. The organisation of the event was impeccable, and a number of inspiring stories from the volunteers are available on the Crisis website. Click on the image below to see a video of Crisis at Christmas 2012.
There are many charities focused on solving this dehumanising problem. Just to name a couple, these include Crisis and Shelter. Another interesting approach is the case of ReVive – St Mungo’s and its social enterprise model to tackle homelessness.
The power of networks and willpower
The volunteering experience once again reminded me how immensely privileged I am for living the life I choose to live. One of the explanations for the difference between many of the guests and myself is that I have always benefited from the leveraging effect from being integrated in my ‘networks’: my family, my university, my jobs, my travels.
Many of the homeless people who I encountered this Christmas, some taking 2 hours to walk to the centre, had implacable willpower to move on. I wonder how organisations aiming to tackle homelessness could leverage the power of networks to benefit homeless people with options and solutions in order to end homelessness for good.
How would homeless people willing to move on be enabled by networking? What would homeless people networks look like? Would they need some preparation beforehand? Which ‘influential people’ should be part of it? How could the success of it potentially be measured?
Any ideas welcome!
The January 2012 cohort will finish the programme as Associates at the end of December. We wish them the best of luck in their future endeavours but know they will not be too far away due to the ever-growing strength of the On Purpose network and its Fellows. The On Purpose Christmas party was a great occasion to bid them farewell and reflect on all that has been achieved over the past year. Click on the image below to see a video of some of the January 2012 Associates trying to put together an On Purpose promotional video.
As an Associate from the October 2012 cohort, we are well into the programme having started just under three months ago. Alongside the work in our placements and the extensive one-on-one support, we have already benefited from an array of interesting and useful training sessions on Friday afternoons. Just some of these include sessions on productivity (or becoming a ‘Productivity Ninja’), interview techniques, and reading financial statements. The combination of motivated and experienced trainers and the opportunity to discuss and practise these skills amongst fellow Associates has helped us to understand and develop skills which will be useful for many years to come.
Over the past month, our Associates have been given an insight into social enterprise in other parts of the world. We were lucky to have a session from Niraj Varia, Chairman of On Purpose, on social enterprise in East Africa, and many of us were left inspired by a short evening talk from Tony Melato, founder of Gawad Malinga. Gawad Malinga’s community model, which originally started in the Philippines, has now spread to many different countries worldwide.
Associates and Fellows have attended a range of great events which provided useful opportunities to meet, learn from and network with like-minded individuals. A couple of these include the Emerge Conference in Oxford and a social enterprise debate at Hult Business School. Participants in the latter included On Purpose, the Clore Social Leadership Programme, Emerge Venture Lab, and students from Hult Business School doing a Masters in Social Entrepreneurship.
Some other notable highlights from the quarter include the On Purpose team for Movember (‘Mo Purpose’) valiantly managing to raise a total of £3,685, and the final round interviews for the next cohort of Associates. We look forward to welcoming the new Associates in April 2013.
Merry Christmas to one and all!