I recently completed the Student Hubs Alumni Survey, which boldly asks:
‘Do you think one person can make a positive impact on the world?’
This question is followed by:
‘Do you think you can make a positive change in the world?’
Cue existential crisis. It was a Monday lunchtime and I was sitting in the trendy co-working space for creative entrepreneurs I currently share with 15 other Year Here Fellows. This was the first day of ‘incubator’, the final phase of our 9-month postgraduate course in social innovation. It gives us 8 weeks to start a business with real social impact.
Year Here’s aim is to train future leaders in social innovation, who then go on to start their own socially impactful business. Past ventures include Settle, which offers crucial support for vulnerable young people, and Birdsong, who provide appealing and ethical alternatives to fast fashion. It’s simultaneously an intimidating and inspirational environment, like the Student Hubs community I was part of at university.
Year Here starts on the frontline, with fellows taking up placements in GP surgeries, homeless hostels, pupil referral units, schools, housing associations and community centres. The experience is invaluable for anyone who wants to even begin to understand social problems in Britain today – a Theory of Change akin to Teach First, Frontline and the Lankelly Chase System Changers programme.
I spent the first 6 months at the Bromley by Bow Centre, an integrated health and community centre in east London. Being placed in the Digital Inclusion team wasn’t exactly what I had in mind when looking at the shiny Year Here website or daydreaming about future jobs in Social Policy lectures. I spent my days in a windowless IT room teaching Bengali grandmothers how to use a computer or crafting CVs with people who had just been moved from ESA onto JSA. It was humbling and frustrating, but ultimately satisfying.
After that came a stint as a consultant/stop-gap community worker at a community hub in west London, where I helped a group of mums set up a community cafe. Now I am back where we started. I am trying to forge a business out of insights into community cohesion and regeneration in east London, whilst questioning my own motivation to ‘make a positive difference in the world’.
Fundamentally, I agree. It’s a scary thing to admit aloud, or even in a survey. It can sound naive or idealistic. It’s a belief that I shared with many of my peers at Oxford Hub and one that I have carried into my graduate life. I feel hugely privileged to continue being part of a group of people who believe that, ‘yes, each one of us does have the power to change the society we live in’. Just a little bit. (And even better if that can be through social enterprise).
My peers are using these 8 weeks to reimagine social care, design an employment programme that is genuinely sensitive to people’s mental health state, or use tech to offer practical advice to unsupported young people living in hostels. I feel lucky to be surrounded by my fellow fellows – people who are unafraid to say ‘I care about this and I am going to try to do something about it’. I encourage you to do the same, in whatever form it takes.
To learn more about Year Here, visit their website.
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