To celebrate yesterday’s International Youth Day, we wanted to highlight people and organisations using the power of social enterprise to expand opportunities for young people. The social enterprise model is often particularly relevant for youth-oriented organisations because it ties in well with the aim of empowering beneficiaries, as well as improving organisational resilience in an ever-shifting environment for not-for-profit organisations.

Among well-established youth enterprise models, Brathay Trust has long combined a ‘people development’ offer for corporates with its ‘people development’ offer for young people in tough situations. Badged as the UK’s largest skatepark, Rampworx has been going for twenty years, combining retail sales and major competitions with discounted entry and personal development programmes for local disadvantaged young people.

Newer entrants include Market Street, a social enterprise restaurant in the heart of Newton Abbot set up by Young Devon with support from River Cottage. The restaurant offers traineeships and apprenticeships to 30 young people a year while also reinvesting its profits to support Young Devon.

Then there’s Cracked It – described by the Evening Standard as ‘London’s best iPhone fixers.’ Cracked It started life as a pilot phone repair programme run by an East London youth centre, aimed at helping ‘at risk’ young people grow their skills and confidence to make ‘clean’ money.  The skills young people learned were highly marketable and, as they say, ‘the rest is history.’  The enterprise now combines a phone repair ‘boot camp’ – a 5 day crash course in phone repair and enterprise geared to helping 16-24 year olds into work – with workplace-based phone repair clinics.

So what are the secrets of success for social enterprises in the youth sector? Eastside Primetimers youth enterprise specialists Kevin Davey and Helen Nott offer some reflections.

Youth involvement in service design

For social enterprises that involve young people, it makes absolute sense to involve them up front. Rampworx and Cracked It are great examples because at the heart of the idea is something that young people have an interest in.

But it is not just about the idea and its ‘fit’ to young people. Social enterprises that thrive usually do so because all stakeholders are involved. From the beginning of the enterprise development process, young people should be involved in shaping the enterprise, on the board and involved in making decisions. There is tremendous value in the insights that young people bring to product and service design based on their own experiences – and these can inherently serve as weather vanes for the market. Encouraging constant challenge and questioning from young people is vital fuel for research and development, making step improvements and piloting new ways of working.

Impact vs. profit: getting the balance right

One of the biggest challenges is getting the balance between a business that delivers social impact and a business that generates profit which can be reinvested in social action. Generally boards want to do both, but there is always a trade-off and getting this clear up front can really help decision making as the business plan develops. In youth-focused social enterprises, this can be a difficult decision as there can be a temptation to see every activity as an opportunity to involve young people and give them skills and confidence. However, thinking broadly about impact can help to unlock enterprise opportunities. Eastside Primetimers’ work with Chilypep helped them to develop a business model for expanding the mental health awareness training that they already deliver as a commercial offer. This delivery doesn’t involve young people directly, but with more people trained there is still a real benefit for young people as well as the potential to recycle profits.

Thorough financial planning

A robust financial model is critical and needs to account for start-up costs and the lead time between investment and the start of trading. Most small businesses that fail do so because of cash flow, and social enterprises are no different. Developing a financial plan, stress-testing it with different scenarios and reviewing it regularly as the enterprise develops are as critical for social enterprises as they are for any other business, whether they involve young people or not.

Access Foundation will soon be launching a new development programme, Access Enterprise. The programme is aimed specifically at youth services and homelessness organisations and will provide funding for a broad range of development needs. Please call us on 0207 250 8334 or email to discuss how we can help your enterprise to thrive. 

Eastside Primetimers

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