How do you measure SROI at a social enterprise garden party?

July 10th 2011

On Friday, 1st July, over 200 LEYF staff – now spread across Barking & Dagenham, Camden, Tower Hamlets and Westminster – came together in the beautiful garden of our Carlton Hill community nursery to celebrate our achievements in building a better future for London’s children, by providing excellent childcare to 1500 children each year.  It was a heartening experience and, with some clever planning and budgeting, staff were provided with great food and drink to go with a very happy and positive atmosphere.

Rewarding staff and celebrating success within a reasonable budget is not to be sneezed at.  Like all sensible organisations, we are always looking for more effective ways to extend what we do more quickly and efficiently; too many children remain in poverty in London and we know that good childcare can actually make both an immediate and a long-term difference to their lives and the lives of their children.

Our own research into the social return on investing in LEYF actually shows a minimum value of £13,392 over the working lifetime of every child coming to a LEYF nursery from a high income family, a figure more than doubling to £29,401 for those children who come to us from more disadvantaged backgrounds (both figures over and above the accepted impact for early intervention reported across the sector).  Even more interestingly, the vast majority of this impact in each cases comes from LEYF’s role in addressing the weaknesses of the Home Environment (83%).  As a leader with the power to roll this out beyond our current 22 nurseries, I have no choice but to shape the organisation to this end.

As Frank Martin and Marcus Thompson say in their book Social Enterprise (2010),

No matter how talented the entrepreneur, businesses only grow when they have the right top team and the spread of passion and vision of the founder throughout the workforce.”

Back at Carlton Hill, and in the true spirit of Jane Austen, I took a turn around the garden with a number of staff.  Whilst they may have been on the look out for Mr Darcy, I was keener to take the temperature of the organisation from as many perspectives as possible – and was delighted by the entrepreneurial and responsive attitudes of so many staff; all wanting to reassure me how they were on top of key business issues such as occupancy, debt and fee collection, whilst still very much focused on providing a quality service to children and parents.  But my heart really soared after a conversation with three LEYF apprentices – Sade, Kelly-Anne and Rebecca.

Many of our apprentices could be described as NEETS (not in education, employment or training) and as such have come to us with a history of poor experience in schools and at home.  The result can be young people coming to us demonstrating a range of attitudes – from a combination of defensive, surly and wary to those delighted to be given a chance to prove their worth.  However, what our CRLD team (Mine, Gill and Gary) soon find is that using the LEYF enrichment programme to prepare the apprentices for life at LEYF and beyond, the majority want to, can and indeed do very well.

The three apprentices I spoke with were definitely on the road to success: they were lively, positive and informed.  They talked to me with confidence about childcare quality, brain development, Early Year’s pioneers and occupancy.  More inspiring still, they had ideas about new ways of doing things to make our service even better.  It was clear they liked children and wanted to ensure they would improve the lives of every child they met everyday.  As such, they were the epitome of the culture and attitude we continue to enjoy at LEYF and was inevidence all around me that evening.  I left the event feeling absolutely determined to extend the service we offer, not only to more children but to more 16 to 18 year olds who also need the right intervention to crack the second line of disadvantage.

So here is the shout out for Sade, Kelly-Anne and Rebecca, who not only represent our current cohort of LEYF apprentices, but have the real potential to be future entrepreneurial leaders in the sector.  In our experience, apprentices need to be nurtured and praised, and not only across LEYF.  So let’s add them to our list of things to celebrate.

Here at LEYF, they want to be known as BEETS: Bright, Engaged, Educated Trainees, and so they should.  Go guys, and make us proud.