June O’Sullivan MBE, CEO of London Early Years Foundation, was recently shortlisted for the Veuve Cliquot Social Purpose Award. UK Fundraising asked her about her success in establishing the social enterprise and in generating income.
Q. What was your reaction to being one of the finalists for the Veuve Clicquot Social Purpose Award this year?
I was delighted to be nominated as a Veuve Clicquot finalist. What’s more, it was particularly important that both social enterprises and childcare businesses are finally being recognised.
Q. Growing a new organisation is often one of the biggest fundraising challenges, how did you approach that?
We don’t fundraise in the traditional way. We have built a business model that enables us to use the fee strategy and cost controls to subsidise nearly 40% of children who come from poor and disadvantaged homes. We also ensure our model drives not just through our fee approach but also because we run nurseries in poor neighbourhoods as well as managing local authority contracts where we actively support children with additional learning needs or those subject to child protection concerns.
Q. What helped you choose the social enterprise model against the traditional charity format for your organisation?
I chose a social enterprise model because I realised that supporting children to access nursery education should be a business and not a charity. This needed to give me the ability to plan and innovate. I thought the dependency on an old-fashioned funding model would not work.
Q. Did you have a clear fundraising strategy at the beginning?
I wanted to build a model which had a core business model that delivered a triple bottom line; economic, social and environmental. I wanted us to have this as core to our business model. I wanted that approach rather than trying to make profit that could be used to support charitable projects.
That was too dependent on the annual profit, how people wanted to use it and more short term than an actual model where the purpose was core and profit would be used to strengthen the existing model.
Q. It’s interesting that you use the phrase “profitable” about a charity. Do you think that this focus has contributed to you and your organisation’s success?
Many charities, I’ve found, tend not to speak of being profitable. For me it’s all about adding value to the core. Profit is the word that drives business.
Without it I can’t deliver improvement, pay for research, test new ideas, give staff pay rises etc. It’s what you do with profit that matters and I ensure we use it to our best advantage. Profit is central to actually delivering and growing the service. I did not
want to run the risk of a charity approach dependent on fundraising where you run the risk of mission drift where so many charities have to chase the funds – putting them at risk.
Q. Given the financial challenges faced by many charities, do you expect to see more social enterprises formed?
Absolutely! Social enterprises do great work – whether it’s tackling social problems, improving people’s life chances, providing education, supporting communities or helping the environment. More must be done to shed light on this as many social
enterprises are often overlooked.
Q. If you were setting up a new organisation now would you opt for the social enterprise model or the charity?
I’d most certainly opt for a social enterprise. This year, LEYF celebrates 10 years as a social enterprise and a forward thinking, progressive organisation that is proud to be doing business differently.
We currently provide a service for 4,600 children, employing 680 staff locally – along with 50 apprentices across 11 London boroughs so hopefully we are doing something right.
Q. What’s next for LEYF?
Embracing our core values, LEYF will be pioneering some major initiatives during 2018 including:
• A partnership with Bikeworks, a social enterprise based in Bethnal Green, who will be generously donating 88 bikes for nursery children as part of a joint initiative to get children active and help curb the Capital’s escalating childhood obesity epidemic. With statistics showing that one in five children in the UK start school either overweight or obese and experts warning of an ‘absolute
crisis’ in child health leading to future heart disease, cancer and diabetes, the bike donation will be spread across 16 of LEYF’s 37 nurseries. LEYF’s long-term ambition for this initiative is for Sadiq Khan to follow Boris Johnson’s legacy but, this time, give every London child access to a bike whilst at nursery.
• Continuing the successful partnership with Drag Queen Story Time (DQST) to connect children and drag queens through the art of storytelling and fun interactive events. The project aims to teach children of all ages to spread a message of tolerance and kindness whilst providing fun and inclusive book reading for children –especially at a time when many children’s educational
development is being dominated by digital culture such as iPads and Smartphones.
• To look at building a school where we can extend our social enterprise model and pedagogy.
• Create the LEYF International Institute of Pedagogy.
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