THE solution to rioting? Start an enterprise. Be creative, disruptive and ground-breaking. That’s what Boris Johnson, the mayor of London told the BBC on the anniversary of the London riots in early August.
For The Small Business Consultancy (TSBC), a social enterprise based in London, the riots did not come as a surprise. It has been working with delinquents and marginalised youth for several years, helping them weave themselves back into society. TSBC’s cure for disruptive behaviour? Entrepreneurship.
Amar Lodhia, the firm’s chief executive and founder, believes that young people of difficult backgrounds can turn into “income-generating assets” for the economy. But to do so, they need a lot of mentoring, at least in the beginning.
TSBC’s approach is four-pronged: provide a stable environment for entrepreneurs; grant them mentoring in their area of interest; reward them for work so that they leave their wayward ways behind; and build on their own aspirations.
Iris Lapinski, boss of Apps for Good, another social enterprise, which gives technical training to youth of difficult backgrounds in more than 100 schools in Britain, agrees that entrepreneurship is a way out from financial and personal struggles. It is a much more dynamic approach to creating social change than mere charity, she says.
Her students seem to agree. “Don’t treat us as charity cases. We hate it!” participants of Ms Lapinski’s first course in South London told her in 2010. Not only did they not want to be classified as unemployed, poor, or marginalised, but they wanted to show their talents—and compete just like everyone else, she explains.
To do this, both TSBC and Apps for Good organise competitions that push young entrepreneurs to develop ideas quickly and test them. TSBC calls its programme E=MC2. It puts entrepreneurs through a 10-week grind, during which they craft their own venture and then present it to a Dragon’s Den style judging panel. Similarly, Apps for Good takes early-stage ideas from students as young as 15 years and asks technology experts from companies, ranging from Dell to Research in Motion, to judge them.
For TSBC this approach has worked. More than 400 ex-offenders have gone through their programmes; the re-offending rate of participants is only a few percent. Wrap and Roll London is one of the start-ups that came out of the E=MC2 programme. Founded by an ex-offender, the company now hires others who have led similar lives, putting them to work in its kitchen. TSBC’s Mr Lodhia served as a role model for the founder. Simon Brencher, Gordon Ramsey’s restaurant manager, offered advice on how to run a food business in a competitive marketplace like London.
When working with youth of difficult backgrounds, organisations and companies should not segregate them based, for instance, on income or criminal history, argues Ms Lapinski and Mr Lodhia agrees. Instead, they should expose them to success stories and people with other backgrounds so they can pick up new ideas. Says Ms Lapinski, quoting from the Disney movie Ratatouille: “not everyone has great talent, but great talent can come from anywhere.”