Ask any random social worker on the street what the number one complaint in social work is and they’ll say it’s the money (or, rather, the lack thereof).
This is not a new complaint and not likely one to go away in the next several years. Social work has long been associated with volunteerism and poverty and it seems that the more good we try to do, the harder it is to make a living doing it.
And if it wasn’t hard enough for those of us who work in the field, it’s even worse for many of our clients. Ironically because of often limited resources those of us who are trained to do more just aren’t financially empowered to do so.
But why is that? Why aren’t more social workers making more money? Better yet, what are rich social workers doing that the rest of us are not?
Suzy, Steadman + Brené
A while back I wrote about three amazingly wealthy social workers and outlined how they had built their enormous wealth.
Besides all being linked to Oprah in some way (which never hurts), they all share the common variable in that they each created unique products or services that they then sell to those who want and can afford them. In turn they’re able to not only take better care of themselves, but they also create more time to do more of the things they love.
Not only is this a good strategy to create wealth, but it allows you to serve many more people than you could one-on-one.
That’s Not Social Work, Is It?
The universally accepted definition of social work is that:
Social work is a practice-based profession and an academic discipline that promotes social change and development, social cohesion, and the empowerment and liberation of people. Principles of social justice, human rights, collective responsibility and respect for diversities are central to social work. Underpinned by theories of social work, social sciences, humanities and indigenous knowledge, social work engages people and structures to address life challenges and enhance wellbeing. – International Federation of Social Work 2014
Basically, we help people grow and cooperate with their environment to reach their maximum potential.
Traditionally, the methods to do this have been through providing services such as community programs, case conferences, home visits, counseling sessions, advocacy meetings, policy developments, administrative delegations and personal burnout (just kidding about that last part…kind of). And rightly so. In order for social work to work there must be practitioners on the ground to help clients meet their goals. Without them social work would cease to exist as we know it.
Now in the business world, these services are actually called products and services and they’re no different from the products and services that rich social workers create, except that in the traditional social service work-world social workers don’t create the product, they are the product.
I call that getting swindled and pimped. ~ (Macklemore’s words, not mine.)
Now stay with me. We’re going to look more closely at Brené Brown: a tri-degreed social worker (I just made that word up and I like it), a research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work, and a rich social worker. Brené offers a great opportunity to take a closer look at the idea of how a social worker might create wealth through offering his or her own products and services while still working within a social work system.
I got a chance to hear Mrs. Brown speak at the National Association of Social Worker’s Conference in 2014. She was every bit the engaging presenter that you’d expect her to be. As mentioned in the above-referenced article, Brené has managed to expand her social work efforts to the masses and in the process she’s become very, very rich.
So how did she do it? She created products.
Not only has Brené published several books for the commercial market (not just for academics) – two of which are New York Times’ #1 Best Sellers – but she has a blog, has authored several CD’s, she’s created online classes, and she speaks at various events. So even though she has a salaried position as a university research professor, she still finds time to create products and offer high-priced services.
In short, Brené is a product creation machine. And you know what she does with those products, don’t you? She sells them and creates for herself multiple pay days per year.
Motivation For Creation
So why would a social worker go “off the grid” and create multiple products and services, and what does this mean for you?
Well, one reason obviously is to have a way to make more money, but if your only motivation for creation is to make more money I guarantee you’re doing it wrong.
As social workers we often hear about the magical, mystical legend called “self-care.” Sadly, far too many of us continue to ignore its routine practice until we find ourselves so far down the rabbit hole of burnout that the only choice we have left is to cut our losses and run.
That’s sad and should not be (yes, I used the “s” word).
But the act of creation has it’s own kind of magic in it too. Studies show (here’s one) that when you take the time to focus your energy in a way that is creatively stimulating in order to bring a new thing into existence it can have tremendous benefits on your mental, emotional, and even physical health.
But I’m sure you knew that already.
The Missing Piece
What you probably didn’t know is that most social workers have no idea how to create a product or service that they might sell to someone and generally, unless we’re talking private practice, it’s a wildly foreign idea.
In the upcoming weeks I’ll share with you the process of what it takes to use your creativity and package it into a sellable product or service, but in the meantime why not schedule some time to reconnect with your inner creative? Write, paint, sing, read, connect, ski, cook, draw, climb, dance; pretty much do anything that pulls out the creative side of you and try to see if you can assess your level of prowess compared with someone else not as skilled. Those gaps may provide the very clues you need to identify where your opportunity for product development may lie.
But for now, answer this question:
How would my life change if I were able to create and package my expertise and passion that others could then purchase to improve their lives?
The more clearly you can describe this, the better.
Finally, if you you know someone that could benefit from this, please pass it on!
Brick and Mortar Stores and Their Potential Demise
Earlier this year, Business Insider reported almost 4,000 stores in the United States will close. Among those were giant corporate retailers — Toys R Us, Walgreens, and Gap. If the stores with the most competitive prices and widest spread are having trouble, imagine those with a smaller safety net. Imagine your local mom-and-pop shop.
Across the board, technology and e-shopping are often blamed for this decline in sales for physical stores. According to an infographic from Villanova University, Americans in the current day spend around 5 hours a day on their smartphones and compare prices and reviews for products while shopping in a store, sometimes only to buy them later from Amazon!
It’s no wonder people are more hesitant to become entrepreneurs now. But fear not, aspiring entrepreneurs! The story’s not over yet, and there are a few reasons to believe the physical shopping experience is still alive — and will continue to be that way. But you have to adapt to the changing world as well.
Oh, the Humanity!
According to multiple studies, the majority of shoppers still prefer physical, on-location shopping. This is largely due to the experience of it. People appreciate the experience, and guess what? Your customers are people. It’s different than going to a chain store in which people know what they’re going to get. A brick-and-mortar store has its own personality, typically representative of the owner’s personality, aka their personal brand.
People enjoy going out to shop because there’s an experience to be had with it. The atmosphere of the store, the aspect of leaving their home to travel somewhere, and of course (and this may be the biggest one), the opportunity to feel and touch the product in person. Activating a customer’s senses help them to build an emotional and personal relationship with your brand in this way. It’s this human connection which will get people shopping and keep them coming back.
The Millennial Conscience
Millennials surprised the world a few years ago by proving large amounts of them are not lazy and spoiled. Instead, we’ve learned many of them are very socially conscious and full of moral conviction. It’s this moral consciousness which has led droves of them against big business and extreme capitalism. As a small business owner, this puts you in a pretty good spot with them as potential customers.
From this angle, it’s a good idea to get involved in your local community and give back to people like you. If you plan on running a small business, plan on participating in Small Business Saturday. Think about binding together with some other local businesses as well. Hold events benefiting people and communities around you who need help, or that simply bring people together. Not only will you build brand loyalty, but you’ll be doing something worthwhile that moves far beyond you and your business.
Technology Is Compatible
There are ways to keep up with technology and run a physical storefront. First of all, we live in the app age. People own smartphones — portable computers that fit in their hands and have many functions. Owning an app which is compatible with your store location gives them a reason to shop with you consistently. Primarily, this app should bring customers to your business through special discounts, but it could also make them aware of new products you have.
To further indulge in this intersection of technology and physicality, having a physical storefront does not mean you should not have an online presence or your foot in the e-commerce game! You can have a website and an online store as well as a physical storefront. You can promote your brand through SEO and social media. Technology does not necessarily mean the demise of brick and mortar — it means the changing of it. Be proactive.
The Entrepreneurial Spirit
The acceptance and help of humans are important, but we can’t forget that entrepreneurs have kept hopeless industries alive for years by innovating on what was already there before. It requires intelligence, risk-taking, and drive, as well as the ability to adapt to the present time. The choices surrounding products stocked, inventory ordered, marketing methods, and purchasing or leasing commercial spaces have changed over time with new technology and a new economy. But brick and mortar stores have been around for a long time and they haven’t actually left us, despite losing prevalence in some cases. They are still relevant even with the game-changing.
See, there have always been threats to mom-and-pop shops. The Walmarts of the world moving into communities and taking sales from hard-working small businesses, thus destroying the strength of local communities, come to mind first. Legal restrictions and defamation from competitors have been known to happen in their own form of small business drama. But as long as entrepreneurs have the right resources available to them and there are small communities who care about what they’re doing, they will survive.
What has your experience been running a physical storefront in the internet age been like? What are your reservations about starting one? Let us know in the comments below!
Work Together to Prepare for the Next Big Storm
Year by year, hurricanes are growing stronger and more frequent. We are witness to these changes as we watch two catastrophic storms devastate the southeastern United States in as many weeks.
This month, Hurricane Michael slammed the Florida Panhandle, southern Virginia, and the Carolinas. The massive storm killed at least 16 people, flooded cities, highways, and rivers, and reduced much of the region to rubble.
Barely two weeks ago, Hurricane Florence killed at least 36 people in three states, forced thousands to evacuate their homes, dumped record floodwaters on North Carolina, created power outages for hundreds of thousands, and killed millions of farm animals. The most recent damage estimates put the economic toll at a staggering $100 billion, once accounting for property damage, medical costs, and lost wages.
Natural forces emboldened by climate change continue to overwhelm our outdated stormwater management practices and inadequate urban planning, putting us in a precarious position. Short-term economics have often driven development where considering long-term environmental impact was needed instead. When it comes to handling the effects of more storms, we’re not as prepared as we think.
As we assess the damage done by Michael, Florence, and other storms, the shrewdest move is to prepare for the next big storm — and the one after that. Municipalities, businesses, and individuals can brace for the next storms by focusing on the following areas:
Additional Pollution Prevention
Florence and Michael disrupted two of North Carolina’s biggest industries: coal power and hog farming. This created environmental trouble and the potential for health problems. Duke Energy officials in North Carolina said slope and landfill erosion caused stormwater with coal ash — containing heavy metals such as arsenic, lead, and mercury — to spill into Sutton Lake. Watchdog groups have expressed concern about the effect on water quality.
Floodwaters also breached multiple hog lagoons, designed to keep solid waste from polluting sources of drinking water, in at least two North Carolina counties, causing varying degrees of damage. The North Carolina Pork Council says the state’s other 3,000 hog lagoons are holding up, but the state’s Department of Environmental Quality will have to perform inspections.
The landfills, dams, and lagoons containing pollutants need to be stabilized and reinforced. Cities can reduce landfill washout by using gravel stabilizers, terracing, drainage diversions, and other measures to safeguard their slopes against erosion. To avert overflow of detention ponds like hog lagoons, companies can add pond depth, secure the perimeters, and place impervious barriers around the site.
Adjusted Damage Estimates
Because of climate change, we can count on heavier rain and shorter intervals between storms increasing flooding risk. Data is still being gathered for Michael, but we know that for Florence, greenhouse gas emissions and warmer weather made for more intense rainfall. When Hurricane Harvey hit Houston last year, the city matched its annual rainfall (typically 50 inches) in a matter of days.
Cities, businesses, and infrastructure planners need to set new damage expectations, as “500-year storms” arise with increasing regularity. Adequate planning and preparation may seem expensive overall, but it’s more expensive to deal with damage in the aftermath of flooding. It’s important to remember there’s no immediate fix or silver bullet. Instead, we need long-term solutions first acknowledging the problem and then planning for it.
Broader Public Education
Weathering the next storm requires a public education process that touches all sectors on the solutions available to help protect communities against floodwater. In my hometown of Houston, the community has come together with a discussion on the web, in public forums, and in community meetings.
The Houston Green Building Resource Center provides a public resource at the permitting building, providing engineers, architects, contractors, and homeowners with techniques on how to reduce flooding on the macro and micro levels, including information on building codes, permeable and sustainable materials, and engineering technologies to incorporate. Examples include elevated construction, or raising buildings above the rising floodplain, and permeable paving techniques that can reduce the extreme weather’s impact on the earth’s surface. Both are cost-effective improvements worthy of broader public education.
The intensity of storms like Michael and Florence raise the bar for planning and preparation. Governments, businesses, and communities must plan ahead and work together during the quiet times before the storm returns.
Three Mobile Marketing Strategies to Raise Awareness
Today, mobile marketing is one of the most powerful forms of digital marketing. Social media, email and video marketing are other channels for digital marketing, but none of them is quite as efficient as mobile marketing. Mobile marketing entails providing mobile phone users with personalized info which promotes goods and services.
It has an extensive reach. Billions of people around the world actively use mobile devices. The audience is there to be harnessed. With mobile marketing, you can send time sensitive information and personalized deals via push notifications, mobile applications, text messages, QR codes, Bluetooth, and multimedia messages.
Mobile marketing can be vital for enhancing brand loyalty. It also increases the chances of gaining new customers while simultaneously making sure that existing ones return to patronize your business.
Like other forms of digital marketing, there are various mobile marketing strategies out there. The trick is to choose an approach that works with your audience; an approach that increases brand engagement, awareness, and customer participation.
Below is a list of mobile marketing strategies that are guaranteed to drive up engagement rates and conversions for your business:
Make the best use of micro-moments
Micro-moments is a term coined by Google. It primarily refers to moments in time when people use their phones to get advice or information. The unprecedented accessibility to the world wide web mobile devices grant conditions many users to seek immediate answers, as quickly as possible, preferably without extraneous data. Extraneous data includes charts, PDF files, and graphs.
There are four major micro-moments you should take advantage of repeatedly. They are:
- “I want to know” moments, e.g., “Who invented the mobile phone?”
- “I want to go” moments, e.g., “Where can I see a movie?”
- “I want to do” moments, e.g., “How do I upgrade my personal computer?”
- “I want to buy” moments, e.g., “Buy Samsung Galaxy S9.”
Optimizing these micro-moments can make all the difference for your business.
You have to research and anticipate the most common searches and needs of your target audience. The next step is to go on to create actionable content that addresses those needs.
Take proper care to make sure that your content is straight to the point.
Mobile marketing truly shines when you promote your brand while providing answers to these micro-moments.
Take for example a clothing company. While answering a query about tying a necktie knot, you could provide a hyperlink to a page on your website with a collection of ties for sale.
You can also get creative by including suggestions and information about shopping deals and discounts as a part of your content. Just makes sure that you include these links and deals without compromising the brevity and quality of the information you are providing.
Use QR codes to improve user experience
Most mobile phone users are now aware of the fact that scanning QR codes with smartphones is an accessible source of information. A considerable percentage of shoppers have confessed to using smartphones to scan QR codes to compare prices.
Use QR codes to provide a seamless information to your target audience.
Remember that everyone wants information as quickly and as directly as possible. When scanned, your QR codes should lead directly to a specific, valuable and useful information. View them as a shortcut for your customer base to get the answers they need.
Make sure that your QR codes do one of the following:
- Take users to a page with detailed information about a product
- Offer users deals, promos, or a coupon
- Allow users to follow your brand on social media.
Utilize SMS to connect with your customers quickly and on the go
According to statistics gleaned from Venture Beat, the open rate for promotions and campaigns sent via text messages is 98%. This represents the highest open rate among the available forms of digital marketing.
On the other hand, the number of mobile coupons users is projected to reach 1.05 billion by 2019. Text messages are a great way to engage with your customers by offering special deals and personalized promotions, among other things.
Since text messages are almost always opened, you must make sure that your customers are ready to add their numbers to your messaging lists.
You can do this by offering compensation in the form of discounts for customers that sign up with their phone numbers. Furthermore, you can use text messages to publicize sales, send reminders for appointment-based businesses, conduct customer surveys, and check up on reluctant customers.
There are many other ways mobile marketing can empower a brand and increase its reach, but the strategies listed above are tested and work admirably if incorporated accurately.
Study your audience, understand their needs and play the strengths of your brand through some inobrtusive, yet engaging mobile marketing.
Women Have Fundamentally Different Journeys to Financial Wellness, Merrill Lynch Study Reveals
A new Merrill Lynch study conducted in partnership with Age Wave, “Women and Financial Wellness: Beyond the Bottom Line,” celebrates the progress made by women while examining the financial challenges women still face throughout their lives, and offers potential solutions. The study finds that 70 percent of women believe that men and women have a fundamentally different life journey, reinforcing the need to better understand women’s financial concerns and opportunities. The study is based on a nationally representative sample of 3,707 respondents, including 2,638 women and 1,069 men.
“Women’s life journeys are not only different than men’s, they’re different than the life journeys of our mothers and grandmothers.”
“Women have come a long way both personally and professionally, but when it comes to their finances, there is still a trail left to blaze,” said Lorna Sabbia, head of Retirement and Personal Wealth Solutions for Bank of America Merrill Lynch. “As women are at a tipping point to achieve greater financial empowerment and independence, it is even more essential that we support women in helping them pursue financial security for life. This includes encouraging women to invest more of their assets, save earlier for retirement, and pursue financial solutions that closely align to their personal values and life paths.”
Women look beyond the bottom line
While they definitely care about the performance of investments, women view money as a way to finance the lives they want. Seventy-seven percent say they see money in terms of what it can do for themselves and their families. Eighty-four percent say that understanding their finances is key to greater career flexibility. When it comes to investing, about two-thirds of women look to invest in causes that matter to them.1
Longevity needs to be a factor in everyone’s financial strategy, but more so for women, who on average, live five years longer than men. Eighty-one percent of centenarians are women.2 While 64 percent of women say they would like to live to 100, few feel financially prepared, with 44 percent of women stating they worry they will run out of money by age 80.
Confidence in all but investing
The study finds that women are confident in most financial tasks, such as paying bills (90 percent) and budgeting (84 percent). However, when it comes to managing investments, their confidence drops significantly; only 52 percent of women say they are confident in managing investments, versus 68 percent of men. Millennial women were the least confident at 46 percent. Of women who do invest, their financial confidence soars; 77 percent of women who invest feel they will be able to accumulate enough money to support themselves for life.
A trail left to blaze
The study also finds how important understanding the gender wealth gap (as opposed to the wage gap) and wealth escalators are to women’s financial wellness. Women experience a gender wealth gap – the difference between men’s and women’s financial resources across their lifetimes, including earnings, investments, retirement savings and additional assets. This wealth gap can translate to a woman at retirement age having accumulated as much as $1,055,000 less than her male counterparts.3Contributing factors include:
- Temporary interruption, permanent impact: Many women experience lasting effects when they take time away from the workforce to provide care, including for aging parents, their own spouses, and their own children. One in three mothers who returned to the workforce after caring for children says she took on less demanding work, which resulted in lower pay. Twenty-one percent say they were paid less for the same work they did previously.
- Greater lifetime health and care costs: The average woman is likely to have higher health costs than the average man in retirement – paying an additional $195,000 on average4 – due to living longer and having to rely on formal long-term care in later years.
“Women’s life journeys are not only different than men’s, they’re different than the life journeys of our mothers and grandmothers,” said Maddy Dychtwald, co-founder and senior vice president of Age Wave. “We have more opportunities and choices when it comes to family, education and careers, but we’re so busy taking care of other people and other priorities, we often don’t take the time to invest in ourselves and our future financial wellness. If more women can actively take control of their financial future all along the way, it would not only benefit them, but also their families and our society overall.”
Doing more to promote financial wellness
Bank of America’s Global Wealth and Investment Management business serves affluent and wealthy clients through two leading brands in wealth management: Merrill Lynch and U.S. Trust. Advisors specialize in goals-based wealth management, including planning for retirement, education, legacy, and other life goals through investment, cash and credit management.
“In a period of remarkable advances for women in society, a remaining frontier is financial well-being,” said Andy Sieg, head of Merrill Lynch Wealth Management. “It’s a basic component in the quality of life. This report lays out a blueprint for helping to achieve it – and we at Merrill Lynch relish the opportunity to provide women everywhere with advice and support that can make a meaningful difference at every stage of their lives.”
Through its advisors, educational offerings and other resources, Bank of America is positioned to help clients overcome the common challenges presented in the study by:
- Addressing women’s top financial regret: not investing more. Forty-one percent of women say not investing more is their biggest regret. Women cite lack of knowledge (60 percent) and confidence (34 percent) as top barriers.
- Focusing on disparities in wealth, not just income. Women’s financial security is about more than closing today’s pay gap. It’s about accumulating assets or wealth at all income levels, and increasing women’s access to wealth escalators (e.g., employee benefits such as paid time off and pretax savings opportunities).
- Breaking the silence about money. Sixty-one percent of women say they would rather discuss details about their own death than talk about their money. Forty-five percent of women report they don’t have a financial role model.
To learn more about women’s financial wellness, read “Women and Financial Wellness: Beyond the Bottom Line.”
Top Apps and Tools Recommended for Every Entrepreneur
Running a small business takes a lot of work. Today there’s technology that will help you with this. This technology won’t only help you stay on top of what you’re doing but it will also help you free up time so you’re not always chained to your office.
Accounting and Expenses
One of the most important parts of your business has to do with accounting and expenses. When you don’t properly manage this area of your business you probably won’t be in business for long. Although you can clearly see how this could take up a lot of your time, it doesn’t have to be this way. Some apps that will help you stay in control in less time include:
OneWorld is a completely scalable enterprise resource planning (ERP) system that helps you manage expense reports, purchase orders, business dashboards, and security records. Many business owners have made this their one-stop shop for managing their business when they’re away from their computer.
is a general ledger accounting software. This is a browser-based tool that lets you access your accounting data from any device that has an internet connection – including a downloadable iOS or Android app. You can enter time cards, run expense reports, and enter purchase orders from the app.
is an expense report software for use on your mobile device. With its app, you can upload receipts through OCR SmartScan. It does a great job at accurately processing scanned data, which will save you and your employees time when it comes to inputting and processing expenses.
is a mobile app that lets you clock in or out and track time even if you don’t have cell coverage. As a manager, you can clock team members individually or all at the same time. You can also see who’s at work and where they’re working from. Additionally, you can create, edit, and publish scheduled jobs or shifts, automate timesheet alerts, and track paid time off, sick days, and holidays.
is still a solid accounting tool that will help you track and manage your finances. While the app isn’t a fully featured, mobile version of the desktop application it still lets you track sales, send out invoices, and review recent payments while away from the office.
Collaboration and Communication
There are some other great communication and collaboration tools you should also check out. These include:
lets you see what’s going on with your customers and employees – something that’s crucial for a business of any size today. Simply create a survey that people can create and participate in from their mobile device. You can then analyze the data from your mobile device once the poll ends.
is very helpful when it comes to email marketing, which is a 24/7 job. They’re on suite tools make it easy for you to launch a campaign from your mobile device. All it takes is a few taps and you can recreate the same campaign that you would have created from your desktop. From there you can also monitor the campaign’s progress, edit subscriber profiles, and run multivariate reports.
is a marketing automation tool that provides you with a robust iOS and Android app. From there you can manage contacts between your marketing, sales, and service teams while on the go. You can also monitor leads as they move through your sales funnel, communicate with partners who are members of other teams and evaluate campaign metrics to decide if you need to make any wholesale changes.
Scannable is a great mobile scanning app that quickly and automatically scans business cards, documents, meeting notes, and other files for you. It also connects to LinkedIn and offers you a great text-parsing tool so that you can clean up any docs that turn out jumbled.
for online meetings. Another important area of your business lies in communicating with your customers and collaborating with your employees. It’s a solid video conferencing app that allows you to meet remotely with employees and clients. The platform is flexible, allowing you to connect with users on any device. This is a great way to virtually drop into a staff meeting while you’re away from the office.
Although collaboration, communication, and accounting lie at the heart of your business, there are other important work-related tasks you can probably think of as well. There are some business management tools that are helpful here, including:
Sales Cloud Professional is a CRM software tool that gives you access to customer and sales data. You can then use this data to improve your business’ operations. This comprehensive and flexible platform helps you stay in step with your competition. that there’s a free extension that you can add on to this app. It encompasses your service’s Chatter, CRM, apps, and processes within your Android smartphone. This allows you to customize these apps so that they’re more functional and you can stay up-to-date with any notifications and alerts.
Social offers you help in creating and maintaining a solid social media strategy. It also provides the best social media management and analytics tools that you can access directly from your mobile device without sacrificing any functionality. Through these apps, you can identify influencers, ideal moments for customer engagement, and have data that back all these things up.
offers a mature, complete set of social media management and analytics tools in a nicely designed hub. This lets you conduct comprehensive monitoring, influencer identification, and publish to social media channels.
As you look through these tools, remember that your company is only as good as the tools it uses. With so many tools available, the selection process can become quite daunting. However, you can’t ignore the fact that you need these tools so your business can run 24/7 while you only work weekdays from 9 – 5.
When Business and Social Good Intersects Communities Benefit
Annually, London Borough hosts the Camden’s Business Awards where a range of local companies, large and small, were up for recognition for their contribution to innovation, the local economy, design and the creation of new job opportunities.
I was there to support the Accessible Environments team of the design and engineering company Arup who over several years have worked tirelessly to support our work as a small local charity – we were initially approached by this team because they were interested in doing some fundraising for a local charity that supported disabled people.
We soon found further common ground, and the relationship has since led to Arup training service users and staff to carry out access audits and providing placements for young people with a learning disability in their high-tech, high performance and yet awesomely inclusive work environment.
Our relationship with Arup really exemplifies a voluntary sector organisation and a business working together at its best. What I’ve learned is that when the corporate world engages with charities and voluntary sector organisations, some key elements determine the long-term value achieved. Below I identify 3 of them:
One is around the importance of shared values, in this case focusing on a genuine commitment to pursuing inclusion and community participation. The most effective outcomes come from working with businesses like Arup that embrace the same outcomes we care about and approach them with the same respect, rigour and commitment.
That attitude is also demonstrated by the staff of John Lewis, Oxford Street, when they take our students on work placements throughout the store. They have a genuine personal commitment to helping young people with a learning disability succeed. That’s shown wonderfully when we have events at the store to mark student achievements and staff from all departments flock to take part in the celebrations – not because they are told to or have to but because, like our supporters at Arup, they care about the lives and progress of the young people their company hosts.
Last year, I also spent an evening at the 15th birthday celebrations of The Front Yard Company a small social enterprise who share their beautifully designed building with a community of other makers and designers across the road from our offices. My invitation came about because, over the last few years, due to some wonderfully supportive and collaborative interactions with the Front Yard Company. They designed and supplied the plant lockers which decorate the road outside our building and provide places for cyclists to securely lock their bikes. Most importantly, they also worked with our students with a learning disability to place and fill them with bulbs and bushes.
The celebrations were a wonderfully warm and vibrant evening with the diverse guests and speakers showing how deeply embedded this little company is in their part of North London. The company chose to mark their place and story in the community by highlighting organisations nearby, including Elfrida Rathbone Camden (ERC). The company is so physically close to our location they see our young people, families, and staff coming in and out every single day. They value all our stakeholders as neighbours and contributors to the local community too.
Secondly, it is vital to have respect for the skills that exist on both sides of the relationship – the partnership has been about mutual learning and especially a recognition that we all learn from the experiences of service users. It’s important to state that this is a learning process that flows both ways too. Arup’s Accessible Environments team tell me that working with our service users have improved their understanding of some of the day-to-day barriers that the built environment presents.
Apparently, there is little in today’s building codes and standards which directly addresses the requirements of people with neuro-diverse needs. An added benefit of working with charities, it can help sharpen professional insights and skills on the side of the business partner too. Much as with the relationship with local authorities, it’s important that voluntary organisations and their service users are not just seen as absorbing resources. We want businesses to see their interactions with us as beneficialal opportunity as well.
Lastly, it has been really important for ERC that our corporate partners whose resources are so much greater understand the limitations and pressures on our side (such as having to prioritise the demands of service delivery over fundraising) to make sure the support offered is pragmatic and enables real change. Ongoing access to work placements like those described above has helped our learners build their self-esteem, and overcome barriers around access to academic qualifications, role models and confidence in the workplace.
Practical support can come in other ways too like that given to us by Bikes for Good Causes (BGC) a Wood Green social enterprise that sells good quality, donated bikes and also provides a full bicycle repair and maintenance service.
When I and 3 ERC colleagues committed to do the London to Brighton Bike Ride in 2016 the manager of BGC, Sue Wade kindly agreed to support ERC by making sure our bikes were in good condition ahead of the ride. What struck me when I contacted Sue was how quickly she had said yes (which is not to say that BGC can always do this – they have to raise income and be sustainable to meet their own objectives).
Before my good fortune in coming across BGC I had been in contact with a national cycling chain with a Camden branch which two of us had actually bought our bikes from. That big company didn’t feel able to help us with our request which is, of course, their prerogative but I did think at the time that it was a slightly short-sighted decision on their part, bearing in mind all the local recognition and publicity we would have given them. But for BGC it was an automatic decision based on their community spirit and ethos regardless of whether it held any possible benefit for them.
I think there is something in our experiences about how voluntary organisations and businesses, whether either is big or small, that can create meaning and sustained relationships based simply on retaining a sense of generosity and respect in giving support and in working with each other. When that happens we all become community workers no matter who pays our wages.
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