This is part of a new series of blogs commissioned by The Young Foundation Ventures Network. In this series, we will explore the journeys of a different social entrepreneur each month- what inspires them, how they got their start, and what they’ve learned along the way. Our first social entrepreneur is Radhika Bynon, Director of The U.
For me, a social enterprise is fundamentally characterised by its value and I am only excited by initiatives that challenge inequality. I’ve never got over my outrage about the unfairness of poverty and exclusion, and every job and initiative I’ve been involved in has been about challenging that.
I currently work on The U, a wonderful Young Foundation venture that brings neighbours together to learn and laugh together. We focus on facilitating casual relationships, often characterised by a nod and a smile on the street, because the research demonstrates that those neighbourhoods where recognition is high and casual acquaintance levels are high are the communities where we feel safer, where civility is higher and where important information about new opportunities gets disseminated between groups quickly. The opportunities for friendships are plentiful, which leads to happier, healthier communities. What’s not to like? The U works in areas ranging from Brixton and Barking to Chesham and Sutton and we’ve found that when people from different social groups meet together everyone benefits, especially those who have less access to opportunities.
I got into this social enterprise thing through working in charities. A while ago I was running a mental health campaign and we realised we could meet our goals and generate significant income by producing films for other organisations including Channel 4. I’ve also set up my own social enterprise to support a particularly challenging community in Sri Lanka where families were living in housing constructed of cardboard and polythene and access to basics like water and toilets was appaling. We happened to visit it whilst on holiday, and the most extraordinary thing of all was meeting the three amazing community workers who were running a handful of impressive projects with almost no outside support. We set up Asha Trust to support that and similar communities in Sri Lanka and we raise support for the charity through Tuk Tuk, a social enterprise leading volunteering holidays out there in our summer holidays – over the past 8 years we’ve taken over 140 travellers, many of whom continue to support the work out there long after they return.
Like so many people in this sector, I’m involved in several social enterprises and the key asset they all share is an amazing team. I’ve been supremely fortunate to have worked in wonderful teams – never more so than the team at The U. Creative, innovative, extremely smart people, full of energy and commitment who constantly come up with fabulous ideas for refining and improving our venture. I would urge anyone starting out on a venture to seek out great people and select on potential over background. The projects I’ve been involved in have benefitted hugely from having people from diverse social groups, especially people who may not have got to this through very different life experiences.
This blog entry was part of the first Venture Network Newletter.