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Saturday, 24th February 2024


1. What motivated you to start a social enterprise?

I started a web based business that brought huge benefits to very small charities in 1998. In looking to secure finance for this venture I was persuaded by a potential investor to set up the venture as a charity. I was keen to launch the enterprise as I saw it as a good way of bringing benefits to very small but effective charities for free as the support would come from the employees of big business who would pay for enabling this interaction. I had a vague idea that if it made money for me that was good but that was not the primary driver. I agreed to set up the charity, called Smartchange. I was later told that what I had started was a social enterprise. Working in Smartchange with a wide variety of charities convinced me that social enterprise provided the best way forward for achieving social change and staying true to ones principles. A few years later I established Red Ochre to bring best business practice to the sector – something that is still in short supply. Red Ochre is itself a social enterprise, we are employee owned, and we work as a consultancy and training support organisation for social enterprises, voluntary and community organisations, charities, refugee organisations, faith bodies and ethical businesses.

2. How has Red Ochre made a difference?

Red Ochre’s strap line is “Creating change by supporting change”. I believe we have lived up to this vision. We have run a number of projects working in some of the most deprived housing estates and helped create jobs, social and community businesses. Often where others have given up or where there was supposedly no inclination to break out of a cycle of deprivation and dependency. We have inspired over 500 enterprise or organisational start ups, over 10,000 people have attended our workshops/seminars and training. We have also collected a few awards along the way. Many of the large membership and umbrella/support organisations in the Third Sector use our services. The demand for our support and services is growing – we are struggling to meet the demand. This indicates to me that we are having a very positive effect on people and communities and that there is a lot yet to be done.

3. Many ethnic people have difficulty getting jobs so they start a business to make ends meet. There are also others who want to improve society, and are not obsessed by profit or material reward. How can the social enterprise model help them?

I have found that the social enterprise model is particularly appealing to people from minority ethnic communities. They want to do something to help their communities. The social good these people want to do gives them the passion and motivation that commercial businesses do not. Social enterprise is hard to succeed at – getting the balance between social innovation and financial sustainability is very demanding. People who are marginalized and often told that they will never amount to anything can create social and community businesses against the odds and prove that they have the skills and the passion to succeed. What has previously been lacking is a cultural motivation to succeed in the capitalist mainstream – where success is only measured by profits and often at the expense of other people. Social enterprise brings out the best in people and is a pathway to success that is more meaningful and better for the world than any other form of enterprise.

4. Where do you see Red Ochre in ten years time?

I want Red Ochre to be a national presence in 10 years time. I want it to be working in the developing world – taking best practice to other countries and bringing best practice back to the UK. I want Red Ochre to be the touchstone of professionally delivered and ethical community development and support. I want it to be an exemplar to others of what can be done. I expect to be taking more of a back seat within Red Ochre as the current team takes over managing and growing Red Ochre.

Article added on 10th May 2010 at 9:59am
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