We’re a social business. This means that we set up to tackle something we saw as a social issue and we use trade to do that.
The issue that we were set up to address is the impacts of marginalisation on women who are refugees, or who experience the same issues as women who are refugees. By marginalisation we mean women who are, for various reasons, unable to engage in our society. They might not know about doctors, or benefits, or banking, or housing, or laws, or their rights. We also have a small capacity to work with women who are British but who did not go through the British education system – women who were taken out of school by parents complicit in abuse, for example. What underpins this is that we work with women who have had little opportunity in or who have had opportunity removed from them
We can work with women who have no literacy, no numeracy. We can give someone a useful, valuable job from day one with zero work experience. We like this. We have no entry requirement – though we have to work on that as with a waiting list of 75 it can hard to handle offering any new job fairly. Who do we offer it to? The person who has been on the list longest? The person who has knocked on the door five times? The most recent person who came to our door? The person who needs it most – or the person who can already sew and who could help us get faster, sooner?
We want to measure our social impact because if we can find out what we’re doing well, we can do more of it. And if we find out we’re doing something wildly awful we can stop it. In the words of impact measurement there are, broadly, four kinds of impact
- intended positive impact
- unintended positive impact
- intended negative impact (though no-one ever seems really sure what this means – I wonder if it’s included for symmetry of the argument!)
- unintended negative impact
We’re looking at ways of measuring all these but it’s *hard*.
We exist to empower marginalised women through work. It sounds very simple – and in some ways it is. We provide an opportunity and a supportive environment and we answer questions on anything – anything – we’re asked about and we believe that this good space, and wages, and training can pretty much only be a good thing. But actually it’s quite a complex thing. What is empowerment? Is it the same for me as you?
We don’t think that we can define what empowerment is. We can do some dry stuff about the Indicees of Multiple Deprivations and we can see what percentage of woman from BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic)backgrounds are economically engaged – or not – and compare that to other women in our area, the city, the county the country. We can report on how many hours of wages we pay into deprived communities, as defined by the above Indicees. But in terms of the basic aim – making lives better – we don’t probe and poke and ask intrusive questions about why women are refugees when they come to us so we can’t know, guess or plan what those women might want to get better. We don’t ask the women who come to us to explain what they’ve seen or who they left behind – who they worry may be alive or dead. Sometimes we get told things though.
‘What are those things, inside you, like sausage?’ *gestures at stomach*
‘Do you mean intestines, guts?’
‘Yes- they came down, out of the tree, after the bomb went off. My son, he is scared at night now’
And suddenly we know that a child of one of our team was 10 metres from an explosion, saw a man die and saw his body fall, broken apart, through a tree and to the ground and that child, though living in a different country now, is still scared.
There is no way we would presume – no way we would dare – to image we know what our team want or need. We might be able to ask – but right now we don’t as we don’t want to risk upsetting anyone.
We intend to be a good place to work. Much better than bare minimum legal. We model what UK employers should do – we have contracts, bits of paper about holiday, forms, processes. We respect each other. And when someone says, ‘ I love it here, it is my favourite place’ Or when we have a long, complex discussion – in English – about various interpretations of Islam; when we see someone smile wider, hear someone laugh louder – we know then what empowerment is. We might not be able to measure it – exactly – but we know that we’re doing it.
We’ll be talking more about impact measurement through the year – if you work for a social business and want to measure your impact we suggest you talk to the wonderful Intentionality CIC
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