Stella Grant is a Year Here fellow and a recent philosophy graduate. Two months into her frontline placement at South London YMCA, she reflects on why enterprise is vital in a homelessness service.

As part of our Year Here Social innovation training, we have spent some time evaluating existing social enterprises. For the last two months I’ve been volunteering at South London YMCA, working closely with SLYMCA customers and aiming to improve quality and involvement within the services, but perhaps more importantly, gaining a real insight into homelessness. I was keen to find out just what kind of social enterprises exist in this sector and the impact that they have.

My instinct was to look no further than at what training and information was available to customers and see what was missing. But with every clever suggestion and 2am eureka moment, I got one and the same response: ‘We already have that!’

So why weren’t they engaging customers in the way that I thought they would? Or was I missing something completely? Turns out I was.

A couple of days later I got an email from one of our Year Here mentors, inviting us to an open rehearsal of The Choir with No Name – which runs choirs for homeless people and other men and women from the edges of society. This was when I saw first hand how effective a programme like this can be. By offering customers a safe environment that takes them away from ‘all the bad stuff’, they let individuals develop ownership over something and as a result build their inner confidence and prepare them to deal with challenges head on. A clear winner, I thought.

‘But surely resources could be better spent by providing the homeless with information and training rather than giving them a space where they can sing’ someone interestingly pointed out. This was when I realised my most valuable insight yet: it’s not the training but the confidence that is needed to empower individuals and that was the crucial detail I overlooked.

Imagine turning up to an interview not expecting to get the job. How do you think you would perform? It would not matter that you’ve read everything on the website and done a tonne of training – somehow you wouldn’t get the job. So before anyone can make use of the training and information available to them, they need to be empowered to take these resources on. They should be prepared to take a step outside of their comfort zone.

Just like organisations such as The Choir with No Name which nudge customers to organically develop self-confidence and as a result raise aspirations, other social enterprises within this sector should use other means to reach the same goal. With the Innovation Project deadline fast approaching, developing ideas that aim to offer solutions to this insight is going to be my main priority.

Finally, after poking my nose around the Enabling Enterprise website and seeing how they embed enterprise through education, I found a very insightful definition of entrepreneurship as a philosophy, as: ‘having people with the capacity to rise to challenges, invent new pathways and adapt to different scenarios.’

After engaging with some of the brilliant individuals at SLYMCA, I’ve seen that they show a great deal of resilience, determination and invaluable insight, which makes customers of SLYMCA very well placed to offer new and innovative solutions – especially in this sector. This is why these individuals have to be empowered; so they can empower others.

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