Social Entrepreneur Index Nominee: Invisible Cities
Zakia Moulaoui, founder of Invisible Cities, discusses the business that is tackling homelessness - how they got started, the challenges they've faced and where they hope to be in the future.
What does your social enterprise do?
Invisible Cities trains people who have been affected by homelessness to become walking tour guides of their own city. We offer alternative walking tours of Edinburgh, Glasgow and Manchester and soon will have tours in York.
What made you start your business up?
Working with people affected by homelessness I realised what a negative stigma there is around it and the reasons why people become homeless. I wanted to create an opportunity to support people while breaking down this stigma. We offer training and development opportunities while showcasing our cities in a unique way. Everything we do is based on our guides' stories and we focus our work on giving everyone a voice.
How do you measure your impact?
Our impact can be divided into three:
Training and development of our guides. To date, we have trained 36 people across all cities. Training includes workshops on public speaking, self confidence and customer service. We also work with our guides on a 121 basis to find opportunities for them to grow. Our guide in Manchester Danny, is currently working on publishing his first book of poetry.
Changing perceptions of homelessness. Through our walking tours, we want to educate the public and showcase that people even if they have had a rough background have a lot to offer. We survey groups of travellers after their tours, asking them if taking part has changed their perception of the city they are in but also their perception of homelessness. 92% of people say it has.
With the profit generated from our tours, we organise events for the wider homeless community. In Edinburgh, we run our street barber events and provide free haircuts and shaves directly from the streets. So far 100 men have benefitted. Since November 2018, we also run Sparkle Sister events- head to toe pampering experiences for homeless women. In total 42 women took part so far.
What help did you have to start your social enterprise?
The first organisation to support us was Edinburgh Airport, through their community Board. We also received financial support from Unltd to start up the social enterprise.
Invisible Cities is nothing but a group effort. We work with local contractors and freelancers to make it all happen- from our branding and design to our website.
We also work with a network of other not-for-profit organisations to recruit our guides in each city.
How did you decide on what legal form would work best for your business?
We started by being a company limited by guarantee- as this was the simplest and most straightforward way to start- or so I felt in 2016. We are now in the process of converting to a CIC. We have always had an asset lock in our constitution so we are only changing the legal form.
What’s the best thing about being a social entrepreneur?
Working with so many different people all the time- from our guides who are so inspiring but can be really challenging at times, to sponsors, to people in the tourism industry, etc.
What has been your biggest challenge when setting up and running your social enterprise?
Learning along the way! We have had peaks of publicity/interest, especially as we now start replicating what we do in other cities and sometimes it has been hard following up with everything.
We have learnt to always do what is right by our guides, even if it means letting them go when we would like them to stay and deliver more tours.
What advice would you give to aspiring social entrepreneurs?
It can feel quite scary starting up, or you may not know what to do to start. I think the simplest and quickest thing you can do is where you should start. Before setting up a whole structure/organisation, there must be things, events, or anything you can do RIGHT NOW. If there is, then this is where you should start and take it from there.
The most important thing I have learnt is everything changes and evolves. Nothing stays the same. Maybe it is your idea itself, maybe it is your team...be ready to adapt.
What information sources would you recommend to help someone just starting their social enterprise journey?
Speak to people who are in the sector, people who are running social enterprises. That is the BEST learning material you can ever find.
What are your plans for the next 2-5 years?
We want to have Invisible Cities tours in more locations across the globe and we are currently working on our social franchise model for that.
Find out more about Invisible Cities here: www.invisible-cities.org