Social Innovation Programme: The Impact on Community and Corporate Partners

Posted on: 11 April 2022

As many students begin to think about their careers and graduating this summer, we wanted to share a case study of our flagship skilled placement programme, the Social Innovation Programme. This is a three part series, with this blog covering the programme’s impact on the community partners we work with at our Hubs and the corporate partners who provide mentors as part of the programme.

The first blog in the series shares more about the programme’s beginnings, its impact on universities and the students it supports. The final blog in the series is a piece written by one of our University of Cambridge students, reflecting on their experience of taking part in the programme itself. If you want to see more about the programme itself and how it works, we would recommend reading the first blog in the series as well. 

The Social Innovation Programme benefits local organisations

It can be challenging for local organisations, particularly smaller charities and social enterprises, to find ways to connect with students and their town’s universities. Volunteering may not be what they require to support their work, or they may lack the capacity to support student volunteers effectively. Therefore, a project like the Social Innovation Programme (SIP) offers many advantages. It is a short-term project, with a clear start, middle and end point. There is a clear set of commitments for a community partner, and a distinct outcome in the solutions which the students will present to the organisation’s brief/challenge, which is discussed and finalised with the Hub staff to make the most of the students’ energy and capacity. They also get to engage with a highly motivated group of students, without the need to source the students, do any vetting or training associated with volunteering, and see first hand what students can bring to their organisation, all with no cost to them. 

In our 2020-21 Impact Report, 81% of SIP community partners agreed they has benefited/will benefit from working with students specifically, and 99% of students agreed that they produced work that will positively impact the organisation they consulted for. 

“I also found it very enriching communicating with people across the Bristol community, both via communication with charities and community centres in Bristol. I think that the knowledge you are contributing your time to helping people will drastically improve your well-being.” – Social Innovation Programme student in 2020-21

There is also a clear benefit for community cohesion. Where there might be little interaction between students and community members, projects like SIP enable the community to connect with students and the university in a meaningful way, see their skills in action, and educate students on the social issues and challenges locally.

“The report that the student team created will have a huge benefit to our organisation – it will inform our social media, blog content and marketing materials, in addition to help refine our strategic direction for 2021 and beyond. Having spoken with a number of leading academics, the student team has allowed us to forge connections with these people who may become ambassadors and key supporters moving forward.” – Lewis, CEO of Hullo, community partner in our Autumn 2020 cycle of the Social Innovation Programme at our Bristol Hub 

This in turn may influence the students to feel more connected to their community and to these organisations: we have had several experiences in the past where students who took part in a SIP project continued to work with or engage that partner organisation in a voluntary capacity once the project was over, as they liked the organisation and believed in their work.   

“I have also made lots of new friends throughout this experience, and I am dedicated to staying connected with my community partner FDCK and helping them continue to champion social deprivation in Bristol. I genuinely believe that SIP has helped me feel more connected to the Bristol community, and I hope to work with Bristol Hub on another project in the future.” – Social Innovation Programme student in 2020-21

The Social Innovation Programme benefits corporate organisations

Through the programme, mentors provide additional support for students. Our Social Innovation Programme in Bristol collaborates with Burges Salmon, a local law firm. Burges Salmon provides mentors for each SIP team, helping them by acting as a soundboard, encouraging them to push themselves and through providing constructive feedback along their journey. 

In 2020-21, 100% of students agreed that their mentor provided them with the support they needed, and 93% agreed that their mentors’ skills and expertise improved the quality of their report and presentation. 97% of students also agreed that their mentor was motivating in helping them to complete the project.

One student commented that: “I feel that I have developed my consultation skills throughout this process. The large-scale email campaign we conducted enabled me to improve my written communication skills, and I am now more confident liaising with companies and charities. Furthermore, Bristol Hub and Burges Salmon hosted a range of training sessions on a range of skills from ‘how to present’ to research methods. These sessions were incredibly valuable, and I hope to use these skills in future projects.”

There is also a strong benefit for mentors, who develop skills and confidence through volunteering. Mentors in Bristol Hub reported getting involved to offer their support to others; to do something charitable; increase their confidence in mentoring; and learn about corporate social responsibility. 

“[There are] three fold benefits, the charity gains from engaging with the students who may be able to give a different and fresh perspective, the students gain new skills, team work, co-operation, leadership, analytically, communication of results etc. The mentors are able to gain and/or enhance coaching skills, listening skills, communication skills and motivational skills.” – Burges Salmon Mentor, Autumn cohort 2021

By volunteering as mentors, Burges Salmon are investing in their people. Mentoring has shown strong development in leadership and management skills, provided their employees with a greater awareness of local social issues and builds opportunities for them to use their skills to benefit the local community. It is also a fantastic way for mentors to reflect on their own impact.

“SIP encouraged me to do more work within our community as I genuinely enjoyed it and saw practically the power you can have to drive improvements just by engaging with different organisations. I have taken up a voluntary role with the police as part of the Black Police Association following the project.” – Burges Salmon Mentor, Spring cohort 2021

 Another mentor commented: “This was the first time I had worked on a project like this and it was so rewarding, the feedback from the students and seeing the result of the project made me realise that this was actually a good skill of mine and encouraged me to get more involved leading in other areas of my role.” 

Conclusion

This, combined with our drive to include everyone in the development of the Social Innovation Programme, results in a project that has consistently demonstrated that student voices can bring high-quality benefits to its community. By providing a structured approach for engagement, we can ensure that students, community groups and mentors can all benefit from the Social Innovation Programme. Our collaborative method means that the perspectives and added capacity that students can provide whilst they also grow is not wasted. 

To learn more about the Social Innovation Programme, read the first blog in our series highlighting its benefits towards student development. Also, watch out for the final blog in our series, written by a student from their perspective of taking part in the project, launching next week. You can also read about our other skilled placement opportunities, Climate Action Bristol and Engage for Change.

If you would like more information about bringing the Social Innovation Programme or Student Hubs’ experience to your university, you can get in touch with Partnerships and Development Director, Fiona Walsh, at fiona.walsh@studenthubs.org.

Fiona Walsh and Sorcha Young

Fiona is Student Hubs' Partnerships and Development Director. She leads on university sales, alumni and corporate fundraising, marketing strategy and external relations. Sorcha Young is our Bristol Hub Manager and delivers the Social Innovation Programme in Bristol.

Tags: Community, Higher Education, Skilled Placements, Social Action, Third Sector


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