Building Better Social Enterprises: Empowering Youth Voices
Lauren Oliver, Senior Advisor – Youth Engagement, Kayla Smith, Y-Change Team Member from Berry Street and project mentor Claudia Lajeunesse, Head of Digital Technology at Australia Post, share the journey they’ve taken through Social Traders’ Crunch Accelerator program to develop ‘Momentum’, a new social enterprise of Berry Street that empowers youth voices.
1. How did the idea for Momentum develop?
LO: It came out of a program called Y-Change that we piloted where we’d recruit, train and then employ a group of young people who have a lived experienced of disadvantage across a range of different areas. We had to fundraise to support the program every year, so we started to look at how we could make it sustainable and thought that there were elements that could be sold, and so we started to talk about a social enterprise model.
This all coincided with a frustration that was coming out of the Y-Change team at the time that people didn’t take them seriously because they were young people. There was a sense that you could disregard some of their knowledge and expertise because they didn’t have the same experience as the grown-ups who have been working in the sector forever, so we wanted to look at how we could overcome that barrier and get people to recognise the quality of the expertise that young people could bring to the table and through a social enterprise we could professionalise their skills.
2. What social impact are you hoping to see Momentum create?
LO: Primarily we want the impact to be in changing organisations and their systemic culture. We’re interested in shifting that prejudice around young people’s expertise and creating an understanding that if you’re going to develop policy, programs and services that support and care for young people, than it is negligent to not involve the young people in the process. You would never do it as a business – you would never create a product without consulting with your potential customers, so why would you create programs and services for young people and children without understanding where they’re coming from?
KS: As a greater impact across the sector, we want to create a culture where young people are viewed as experts and to set the bar that young people can be professional. We want to bring young people to a table that they would never have otherwise been allowed to sit at. That was where Y-Change started, and over time it definitely pushed passed a youth empowerment program to be a focus on how young people should be respected and treated as equals. As other people start to see young people as equals, they are then forced to see themselves in that way and become more confident in their abilities.
3. What made you look to an accelerator program to assist with the transition from the Y-Change program to developing Momentum?
LO: I had no idea how to do this on my own. I’ve never had to apply any of the skills and knowledge I have in a business sense and to me business is this big mystical being that I don’t know how to operate. I find that some of the thinking I can do relatively naturally but translating that thinking into a business model, a business case and into finance and numbers is something I struggle with.
4. What are some of the main insights you’ve been able to provide as a mentor?
CL: We did a massive internal pivot six months ago to change the traditional approach of a head of a level or department telling the digital software development team exactly what to build, to giving the teams problems to solve and getting them involved in the customer research. A big part of that change was a cultural shift and what Lauren is trying bring to life is exactly the change that we’ve brought in our organisation, which is giving those young people an equal voice. I’ve been spending time with Lauren to understand her passion and where exactly she wants Momentum to go, the step change from the Y-Change Program and then just bringing the experience of writing business cases and using lean start up methodology to address the questions of ‘How do you bring that to life?’, ‘How will that work in a business sense?’ and ‘What does that really mean?’.
LO: One thing that Claudia brings to the process is a real granularity in thinking. In the ST Crunch workshops, we get an overview of the next step in the process. Then when I sit down with Claudia, she can outline the thinking that I need to go through and the process in more detail, teasing out the questions that need to be addressed. She can bring in real live examples of the process on the ground.
5. What was the most valuable or challenging that you’ve learnt?
LO: The welfare sector has an incredibly creative workforce, but we don’t have a tradition of testing our ideas until we’ve got funding and we’re making them happen anyway, there isn’t a design process that happens where you prototype, test and then pivot. The most valuable thing has been the emphasis on the process of testing the idea and having to talk to people about it, identifying challenges and working out how you deal with it. That’s been really revealing and really good.
The bit that I’ve found the hardest is the finance. I find putting a financial value to a process challenging – I’d like a database where I can find out where things cost, but you have to do the research and that’s a hard process too. Thinking about seasonality of figures and variable costs – language that I never regularly have to use, is the stuff I need to get my head around.
Momentum took part in Social Traders’ Crunch Start-Up Accelerator in 2017