On 24th September Green Schools Project launched the Social Business Challenge to inspire young people to look at business in a new way.

Green Schools Project is the brainchild of former secondary school Maths teacher Henry Greenwood and enables students to learn about and take action on a range of environmental issues. Earlier this year, Henry teamed up with the former head of Eco-Schools England, Morgan Phillips, to create the Social Business Challenge and last month they co-delivered their first challenge day with 25 year 9 and 10 pupils at Kelmscott School in Waltham Forest, London.

Students put up their views about businessesThe challenge is simple: develop a social business idea to solve, or ease, an environmental problem. Each team is required to come up with a product or service that has a clear environmental purpose and explain how their business will operate.

Green Schools Project is a social business itself, it was set up to help address the lack of environmental education in UK schools. That is its purpose and as a social business, any profit generated will not be transferred to its owners, but will go back into helping the organisation and its social impact to grow.

Morgan receives an elevator pitchHaving been introduced to the concepts of social business through case studies including Hiut Denim, Pedals Delivery and the work of Muhammad Yunus, the pupils were given exercises to help them generate ideas. Then, in groups of three, they came up with their own idea to give an ‘elevator pitch’ to Morgan.

Importantly, they also had the task of developing a three year budget, showing how an initial start up loan would be spent and eventually repaid. At the end of the session the groups were then given a template to help them develop a brand, logo, vision and mission for their business. Working in their own time, they had two weeks to create a four minute presentation to pitch to Green Schools Project and a ‘Dragons Den’ style panel of senior school leaders.

Students watch case studies of social businessesWhen Morgan and Henry arrived for the pitches the students were excitedly putting their finishing touches to their presentations in a neighbouring room and one at a time came to deliver their pitches in the library. The standard was extremely high, with each idea having real merit. The students spoke with passion and were able to coherently answer the probing questions on their ideas from the ‘dragons’.

The judges consulted at the end and chose their two favourite ideas as winners. One was an idea to collect plastic from beaches to be used for community art projects with the pieces of art being sold to provide funding. This tackled the pressing issue of plastic pollution with an innovative approach that would also provide opportunities for creativity and community cohesion.

The second winning idea was to use food waste from restaurants to make into pet food. This was another innovative solution, this time to the issue of food waste and any profit generated would be used to provide pet food for homeless people.

At the start of the challenge students had a clear idea of what a business was, but by the end they could see the power of business to be part of the solution to the pressing social and environmental problems that society is facing, and this was something that clearly resonated with them. Interestingly, some of the groups, including the two winners found that more than one problem could be tackled with a single business model.

The dragons make notes on the first pitchSocial Enterprise UK, the biggest network of social enterprises in the UK, are supporting the challenge. They are helping to secure a slot at a meeting of the All Party Parliamentary Group for social enterprise at the Houses of Parliament for the winning group of students to present their idea in summer 2019.

Green Schools Project are now looking for more schools to run the challenge during this academic year and for business sponsors to help schools to take part.

Morgan summarised his thoughts on the launch: ‘Social Business was a new concept to most of the children at Kelmscott. The most striking thing we observed was the enthusiasm for the concept. The idea that a business could have a purpose greater than just profit making energised them more than we ever expected.

This shows, perhaps, that a clear and genuine purpose is attractive to young people as consumers, and as future potential employees. It seems that businesses have a fantastic opportunity to engage young people in tackling environmental challenges when they are purpose led.’

Find out more about how the challenge works and get in touch if you would like to run it in a school. Or get in touch if you are interested in supporting us to work with more schools to help students to build social enterprise skills and to raise awareness of this exciting and growing sector.

Social Business Challenge Launch

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