Are you killing it at work but secretly yearn to pursue something more meaningful? Get inspired by these entrepreneurs who discovered their purpose and went on to set up successful social enterprises, proving beyond doubt that profit doesn’t have to come before purpose.

Cemal Ezel was earning a six-figure sum in his dream job as a commodities trader in the City when he was struck by a thought: there must be more to a job than this. Despite earning a high salary and living the good life, he found himself constantly wondering, how can we live in this world and do good at the same time?

The answer didn’t come to him straight away, but after a stint of soul-searching in Southeast Asia, followed by an aborted launch of a silent tea house in Clapham, Ezel struck gold. A passing encounter outside Paddington station with a homeless man who was holding up a sign that said “Change please” was the catalyst for Ezel’s business lifting people out of homelessness through coffee.

Today, Change Please is a social enterprise that trains homeless people to be baristas at coffee carts dotted around the city and in offices. It gives workers the London Living Wage, as well as accommodation, a bank account and therapy support. Change Please wants to disrupt traditional coffee houses by offering customers great-quality coffee that can change lives.

Ezel says, “It’s a massive change in perception, going from begging on the street and asking someone for money, to someone asking you for coffee.”

 
A Change Please coffee cart and barista

The time is now

Ezel is one of a growing force of social entrepreneurs. The UK has around 99,000 social enterprises, employing almost one and a half million people, a figure that is rising as a third of new start-ups pursue social good.

This can be explained by a generational shift in attitudes, says Danny Witter, CEO at social enterprise Work for Good. A former investment banker, Witter found his true purpose lay in giving back. After years of juggling work in the City alongside mentoring and writing cheques, he co- founded Work for Good, which helps businesses give to worthy causes.

Witter explains, “I think it’s a cultural thing. Millennials and Generation Z are brought up with more social consciousness than my generation, which was about being successful, making money and then donating to charities.

“Right now, it’s much more about how we think about this from an early age as individuals, and how that permeates into a business context. Do well by doing good. It’s something you do as a matter of commercial common sense.”

Put purpose front and centre

One social enterprise that is trying to tap into Generation Z is Workspace customer Elbi, based at Club Workspace Fleet Street in Blackfriars. It’s an app that encourages good deeds; users can donate to charity projects by hitting a “LoveButton”. In return, they are rewarded with LoveCoins that can be spent in Elbi’s LoveShop on high-end brands like Louis Vuitton and Supreme.

Co-founded by rags-to-riches Russian supermodel Natalia “Supernova” Vodianova, Elbi is her second big charitable venture. At the tender age of 21, she found herself questioning her fame and fortune and came to the realisation that her true purpose in life was philanthropy.

 

Natalia Vodianova and Timon Afinsky, Co-founders at Elbi
The deaths of 314 people (of which 186 were children) in the Beslan school terrorist attack in 2004 was the catalyst for Vodianova to set up her first charitable venture, Naked Heart Foundation, which helps children with special needs. However, despite the success of her foundation and her emerging fame as a social media superstar, she felt moved to do more to encourage altruism among the social media generation.

Adam Askew, Director of Philanthropy at Elbi, says, “Natalia took a look at the number of ‘likes’ people were receiving on platforms like Facebook and, with the help of her Elbi Co-founder (Timon Afinsky), they were inspired to see how she could turn the simple act of liking content on social media into a quick and easy way to donate to causes that really matter, turning ‘like’ into ‘love’”.

 

 

Elbi app users can donate to Walkabout Foundation, which provides wheelchairs and rehab in the developing world
Reaching out to a digitally native audience with the Elbi app was the answer. The app’s LoveButton makes it easy to donate with a simple tap using Apple Pay, and the ElbiLoop gives users video updates on the impact of their donations. The app has raised more than £50,000 in the six months since its launch in January 2018, but this is just the beginning.

Power couple and business partners Jo and James Hands have also put purpose at the heart of their social enterprise, a sustainable shopping app called Giki. Based at Club Workspace China Works in Vauxhall, they made sure to get Giki certified with support network, Social Enterprise UK, and would advise other social enterprises to do the same.

Co-founder Jo Hands says, “Social enterprise doesn’t have a legal descriptor in its own right; it’s not a legal entity like a charity. This [certification] makes it very clear, very quickly, that we’re a social enterprise without reading the company articles, and also that our purpose is social rather than commercial. That can be really valuable in building partnerships with other organisations like Oxfam, which has a representative on our advisory board.”

 
Power couple Jo and James Hands, Co-founders at Giki

Show me the money
 

Social entrepreneurs can tap into a growing base of social-impact investors. The Angel Investment Network, the world’s largest network of angel investors and entrepreneurs, is the latest to pursue social- impact investing with the UK launch of crowdfunding platform, Seedtribe. Olivia Sibony, Head of Impact Crowdfunding, took over the reins after selling her own business, Grubclub, a pop-up restaurant service that connected talented chefs with underused spaces. “It got to a stage where I realised [Grubclub] wasn’t as impactful as I wanted it to be; to make it properly work you needed to do mass volume and scale. I felt like the more we did that, the less opportunity we had to work individually with people. It wasn’t going in the direction where my heart was going.”

Seedtribe wants to help connect the increasing number of impact-conscious businesses and investors, citing a global impact investment market that is growing 18% year-on-year to be worth an estimated £236 billion in 2020. Big Issue Invest was one of the first to spot the nascent trend. The UK’s first “social merchant bank”, it has financed hundreds of sustainable social enterprises; in July it launched a brand new £5 million lending scheme targeted at social enterprises and charities in England.

Big Issue Invest’s Investment Director, Danny Wilson-Dodd, says, “Consumers want to know where products are coming from. That’s why social enterprises are doing well. They are offering something the market wants.”

 

Danny Witter, CEO at Work for Good
The government is on board with the idea too; in 2016 it set up an advisory group to make socially themed investments more easily available to the individual investor. Its ensuing report called on regulators and professional bodies to better recognise social-impact investing and promote professional qualifications.

Nevertheless, despite government grants, generous tax benefits and VAT exemptions for social enterprises, there is a funding gap once businesses try to scale up. For formal investment, businesses need a track record, which they might not have, and a clear future plan. Moreover, giving away equity doesn’t suit all social entrepreneurs.

Askew says, “There is lots of money available for social enterprise start-ups – small money to get you going and get you on the road – but once on the road there is a gap in terms of taking your product to scale.”

Sibony advises social entrepreneurs to persist in finding the right investor by attending every single possible networking event related to your field and “shamelessly talking to everybody”. Find companies
that support your cause and see if they can offer funding for your idea. In the end, your persistence can pay off and your dream can become a reality.

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