For struggling social entrepreneurs, the smooth passage so far of vInspired’s ‘Task Squad’ must be galling. But let them take heart. Good ideas, even in this age of austerity and public expenditure cuts, can achieve traction. Like many successful programmes, the idea was simple and could not be more appropriate for the times. Task Squad’s goal is to create an income-generating digital programme, that helps young people to find jobs, while at the same time raising funds for vInspired voluntary and community programmes.
The aim is to put organisations in need of short-term staffing in touch with experienced young volunteers eager to undertake paid work. No job will be deemed too small. The prospective employers include start-ups, event managers, and small businesses in need of extra hands for short and sometimes unpredictable periods. The prototype – unveiled in London this past April – will pay the London living wage of £8 an hour plus a fee on top for the project. The price will be considerably below what most temp agencies charge,which typically starts at £17 an hour. The target workers will be able to find and apply for the work from their mobile phones as a first step to full employment. The employers will have access of their proven voluntary experience.
The two key drivers of the project are Hannah Mitchell and Samantha Sparrow, both in their early 30s. Sam is in charge of getting the prototype launched, while Hannah will oversee the crucial scaling up process. Both already have impressive records of social innovation, which is perhaps why they have received three significant ‘windfalls’ so far. The first was to win one of four places at the Sidekick School, set up to provide an incubator service to help the voluntary sector build new income-generating projects. The second was to secure a place on The Young Foundation’s Accelerator programme, designed to help small social enterprises expand their projects on to a much larger scale. And the third was the winning of a £100,000 Google Global Impact award in June to help finance the launch.
Sam was born into a family of volunteers. Both her parents were scout leaders and she became an assistant guide leader on leaving university. Her first job with the Citizen Foundation involved recruiting professionals from insurance and legal firms to participate in citizenship projects in schools. Her programme grew from two firms to 25 in three years culminating it the “Chance to be a Chancellor” project. After that, she worked at London law firm Herbert Smith, where she acted as corporate responsibility co-ordinator. The projects included school-based programmes, pro bono legal programmes, and a five year scholarship scheme for aspiring lawyers from local schools. While carrying out these projects, she observed some of the advantages of small voluntary organisations have over big corporates. ‘New ideas can be developed much more easily in the first, rather than the second. They are more ready to take risks, more nimble in innovation,’ she observes.
When Sam arrived at vInspired, she began by launching Igniter, the UK’s first youth crowd-funding platform. From there she was ideally placed to launch Task Squad. Hannah has an equally impressive CV documenting early entrepreneurial talent. With two other sixth formers at her Cardiff school, she took over the school tuck shop, extended its hours and made a profit. The intrepid three ended up with £500 profit each. Her most life-changing experience came three years after graduating from Sussex University in social psychology.
She had already chalked up two years as a research officer for the Institute of Employment when she went out to Guyana as a volunteer under VSO. It was meant to be a one year assignment, but she found herself, at the age of 24, as the research co-ordinator of a national commission on disability. Disabled people were hidden from public view, suffering severe discrimination. It became clear to her the assignment was going to need more than a year. She took the initiative to raise the funds to expand the project from diplomats and foreign aid programmes, then recruited the expanded team and put together the report, all within two years. She presented the report to the Minister of Health and on her final day of her two-year stay she met and was thanked by the President. She described the experience as ‘life transforming’, given the huge responsibilities she was given, the high profile nature of her job and the satisfaction with the end product.
Returning to the UK, she became a VSO trainer; the research manager of ‘v’ (the forerunner of vInspired) where she measured the impact of volunteering on young people, their communities and wider society. She moved on to become chief executive of Read International, a charity providing voluntary programmes across the UK and Tanzania. She returned to vInspired in November 2012 to team up with Sam as co-leaders of the Task Squad project.
Both women recognise the importance of the Task Squad succeeding. In Hannah’s words: ‘Charities have to become more creative in raising money. In this new world they are increasingly going to have to earn their funding, rather than putting out their hands to others.’ With the help of the YF Accelerator programme, they have drawn up an impressive detailed plan for Task Squad’s growth. This will be presented to investors at two forthcoming events. A further £300,000 is needed. They are not looking for charity, but for investors in a financially viable social innovation programme.