By Tracey Ford, JAGS Foundation
One year ago I sat nervously in the offices of School for Social Entrepreneurs – applying for a place on the first ‘Power Up’ course for social entrepreneurs. I had no idea what was meant by ‘social change makers’, I just knew that I wanted to be part of this exciting new programme.
This six-month leadership programme would enable me to develop JAGS – a social enterprise that changes the trajectory of disadvantaged young women’s lives by building their confidence and self-esteem to grasp the endless opportunities for ‘Young Women and Information Technology- “Y – W.A.I.T.’’ .
Along with the CEO’s and founders from the other nine other social enterprises we were about to embark upon a journey of exponential learning, training and development that would resemble something completely different to when we first started on the programme.
As we enter our 6th company anniversary, I wanted to reflect on some of the many challenges and successes of the past year.
Learning from being on ‘Power Up’
Being accepted onto the ‘Power Up’ programme was one of the best things that has ever happened to me. Having someone really believe in you and your idea enough to give you a fully funded bursary is very humbling and also very motivating. I was able to share some of my biggest fears, test the viability of my idea and more importantly build relationships with like-minded social change activists.
Over the six months, we were well informed of the methodologies, highlights and pitfalls of other social entrepreneurs, being versed about basic fundamentals not to overlook and spent time learning about the importance of business acumen, developing a clear business model and action learning. I was able to test three key hypotheses – can we progress young women into digital technology careers, can young women influence change within their local communities using social media and could we provide businesses with work ready, digital savvy young women and fill a gap in the unemployment crisis faced by young people
Finding a business model through trial and error
When we started JAGS we were convinced that our financial skills training business model would be offered to schools and colleges and that they would pay for students to gain an industry qualification, access employment within the financial services industry and that we would then use this money from placing students into employment to give free training to young people who were not in education, training or employment. But this was not to be. We had to try different pilot projects, test different ways of engaging with young women and girls and after years of listening to our users want, we have finally found what we think will work – Digitial and IT Skills Training for young women ‘Y WaIT’ (Young Women and Information Technology)
Fundraising and running out of cash
When JAGS started, the issues of girls and gangs, personal safety and providing routes out of poverty would have Governments, Trusts and Foundations queuing up to fund our work. The truth of the matter is, we’ve run out of cash on more than one occasion, making payroll for our small team was a real issue and even though we have grown as an organisation, we are still faced with the challenges of securing enough funds to sustain our work.
We’ve recently pitched at The Funding Network, live crowdfunding and raised over £8,000 on the night – yippee!) but writing funding bids for the past six years has been one of the most painful processes of my life – it’s time consuming, often disheartening and it’s a tough arena – when faced with trying to convince others of the concept that social impact organisations also need investment, expertise and funding to make their ideas work.
Need and Sustainability
Some of our greatest pitfalls have been to do with retaining quality staff. As we rely heavily on volunteers and are only able to recruit freelance and contract staff, many organisation’s greatest asset is permanent team members, but also the quickest depletion on your limited resources. Our team structure needs to change and my aim is to have a permanent staff team, fulfilling their individual roles and will allow organic growth to help us to dictate where we need to plough our resources to sustain our business.
The Final Hurdle….
Power Up allowed me to understand that personal challenges are not setbacks and hearing personal testimonies made me really understand the challenges social change organisations face. I also realised that in reality most grassroots organisations take a few years to find their feet. And I think that for many not for profit ventures trying to solve some of society’s biggest problems, it’s going to take time to shift mindsets and build momentum towards the varying social issues we face.
Despite the challenges these last few years has brought, it’s been an experience I would not change. Waking up every morning and knowing what you are doing can actually change another person’s life and future is worth the long days and sleepless nights. I look back with no regrets.