What does your social enterprise do?
SOS Project was founded in 2006 and provides tailor-made support to young people aged 15-30 who are at risk of involvement in gang-related activity and negative lifestyle choices. Critically the support is from staff who have been there and are best placed to help and give advice.
We have achieved some incredible outcomes, smashing re-offending rates for our clients down from an average of 75% to just 12%!
Why are you passionate about this cause?
Whilst I was in prison I could see systemic failures in the penal system. I had a cellmate who had become so institutionalised that he seemed to enjoy prison. He was repeatedly serving short sentences and it seemed that the underlying issues for his troubles were ignored by the authorities. I couldn’t understand why I was the only one to see this and I started to think about what would be needed in order to break the cycle.
I am motivated by the young people I work with and their cause, pure and simple. I never want to be distant from their plight as I like to be hands-on and practical in the way I deal with things. I remember reading about the life of Mahatma Gandhi in prison and my favourite quote of his was ‘be the change you want to see in the world’. Every day gives me an opportunity to make a positive difference to others.
What was your biggest challenge in starting your social enterprise?
It was the lack of belief that ex-offenders could be used to support other offenders. People said we would fail and that it shouldn’t be done. My dream was for ex-offenders to be seen as professionals. Despite it being an ongoing struggle, we now find ourselves welcomed around tables where key decisions are made.
How has the School for Social Entrepreneurs supported you?
The School for Social Entrepreneurs was a great learning experience for me. When I first came to SSE I had a very limited understanding of how businesses and charities worked. Due to my previous life experiences I also had very constrained ideas about my own leadership ability and what could be possible.
Having previously dropped out of formal education I had felt education was not for me, but SSE’s atypical approach to learning really worked for me. It also brought me together with other social entrepreneurs who I could listen to and understand their difficulties and learning experiences, as well as who I could bounce my own ideas off.
What are your plans for the future?
I want to live in a future where young people’s lives are not needlessly taken away through a weapon or by making a choice that means they end up exploited or worse still in custody. We have plans to scale the project up as one of the key areas is to pursue the gangs as they grow and proliferate out of London and provide services which support young people who will become at risk of their exploitative recruitment tactics. We hope to reach more young people than ever before.
What would your advice be to a budding social entrepreneur?
Go ahead and do it – what’s stopping you?
Watch: Junior Smart talks about how he was inspired to change his life and the lives of others from within his prison cell.
Find out more about SOS Project.
If you’ve been inspired by Junior’s story take a look at our courses and see how we can help make your idea a reality.