Social Entrepreneur Index Nominee: Media Savvy CIC
Dan Makaveli, Managing Director of Media Savvy CIC, talks to us about how they are impacting the lives of marginalised groups through free courses in digital arts and media and health, fitness and wellbeing. We find out what inspires Dan and the challenges he faces as a social entrepreneur.
What does your social enterprise do?
We are a multi-award winning social enterprise based in the North-East, primarily offering free courses to some of the most marginalised groups in our society. We specialise in the areas of digital arts and media and health, fitness and wellbeing. We were established in 2010 and as of Spring 2018, we have successfully delivered over 250 courses and worked with over 2,000 (hard-to-reach) learners.
We pride ourselves on the diversity of our groups. We often have very mixed levels of experience and abilities, which encourages positive peer explaining and can result in new meaningful, long-lasting friendships and a range of increased softer skills. We also regularly have cohorts with very high levels of diversity in age, race, and economic standing amongst many other protected characteristics. Our two primary beneficiary groups are offenders and individuals with mental/physical disabilities.
Our courses are professional, but also informal, fun/social and tailored to each individual’s needs/interests. We can be as basic as teaching learners how to use a laptop and work digitally, to complex animations and professional design. Our health provision adopts very much the same technique, allowing learners to work at a level they are comfortable with, whilst always encouraging them to progress further.
We also deliver commercial training/projects linked to video production, animation, graphic design, web design, illustration. We also have qualified fitness instructors and first aid trainers.
What made you start your business up?
The truthful answer is that I simply fell into it. I collaborated with a colleague in our shared office space at the time, on a project which happened to be very much aligned to the types of themes you’d associate with a social enterprise (social inclusion, cultural awareness etc.) Long story short ... the project was a huge success and that colleague (Mark McKenna) became the co-founder of Media Savvy CIC, alongside me. We both came from relatively deprived up-bringings and we got a huge amount of satisfaction working with young people from similar backgrounds. We’d also both grown tired of undertaking purely commercial work for our respective sole trader operations. Obviously Media Savvy has evolved a lot over the years, but it’s a bit crazy now to think back that a single, fairly ‘chance’ project, sparked this journey that we’ve now been on for 8.5 years and counting …
How do you measure your impact?
We have an excel document which we refer to as our ‘bible’. It contains a huge amount of data linked to our courses and learners. However, we could always do better in our analysis and evaluation of this data. We are currently developing our Theory of Change and social impact measurement techniques. What we currently do really well is capturing success stories via creative case studies, with plenty of (moving or still) visuals added to the mix.
What help did you have to start your social enterprise?
Starting up in 2010 was such a daunting task, especially as at that time I was coming from very limited knowledge in running a business of any kind. In fact, I’d only had a couple of years of experience as a sole trader, running my company, Makaveli Productions at that point. We accessed a lot of assistance provided by the University of Sunderland, who offered specialist advice and free office space. Sunderland City Council and UnLtd supported us with funding in the very early days, which was a huge help to get off the ground. Finally, Sustainable Enterprise Strategies (SES) was also a massively important piece of the puzzle, as they were able to take away a lot of the ‘scary stuff’ linked to creating our memorandum and articles, registering with Companies House etc. It’s very sad that SES had to go into liquidation last year, but heartening to see the BIC are now stepping into the chasm that was left post-SES.
How did you decide on what legal form would work best for your business?
Again, SES was crucial here. When we set-up in 2010, community interest companies were a relatively new idea. Once all of the options were outlined to us, it was crystal clear to me that what we wanted to do was a perfect match to be a CIC limited by guarantee. Nearly 9 years on and I am very happy that we made the correct choice, especially as CICs limited by share seem to be becoming less recognised as being eligible by funders.
What’s the best thing about being a social entrepreneur?
Almost everything. However bad any day, week or even month is, there’s always something in our work during that time that brings me a massive smile and a huge amount of pride, joy and satisfaction. This could be in the form of one of our long-standing learners getting their first job in a decade after gaining their confidence back on our courses, or someone losing weight, stopping smoking ... even getting their lives back on track enough to be allowed to see their kids again. These are just a few examples of the stories that unfold each and every week for us. For me, it’s all about the impact we help make to individuals, families, the wider community and society in general … in our own small way.
What has been your biggest challenge when setting up and running your social enterprise?
Hands down, it was ‘the first 2 years’ generally. It took us a little over 2 years to become sustainable, even to the extent of just receiving a regular, albeit very small, salary. Although I knew we were nearly there, in term of becoming viable as a business, I was within weeks of having to quit. I had a fairly recent mortgage to make payments against and I kept thinking I wasn’t getting any younger and needed to get my act together, and if I had to ditch Media Savvy and the ambitions I had for it, then that’s how it had to be. Luckily this wasn’t the case, though I’ve seen a lot of other businesses (of all types) over the years that had a huge amount of potential, but just simply ran out of time in reaching that magic milestone of becoming sustainable.
What advice would you give to aspiring social entrepreneurs?
There’s so much advice, but some things jump out more than others, largely as they link directly to difficulties I faced myself. Firstly, you’ve got to be resilient; resilient, determined and dogged. Unless you’re fortunate enough to be in the right place at the right time or know the right people. You must have 100% faith and belief in yourself and your idea. If you don’t, you can’t expect anyone else to; funders, contractors or even your friends and family. In your early days of development, you need to ensure you have things in place to give you every chance of success. This includes having the right balance between your work and personal life and that you are in a stable financial position to carry you through any difficult financial periods during your early days.
What information sources would you recommend to help someone just starting their social enterprise journey?
I can comfortably say that there’s no chance we would have made it, even past the first year, without a range of support we’ve received over the years. UnLtd and SSE are excellent examples of funders who will also offer additional support, which can often be much more valuable than just the money. To be completely honest, I never really found the time to do background reading (books or websites) linked to social enterprise or even business, more generally. I was much more inclined to throw myself into it and learn ‘on the job’, finding my own way – though I’m not saying this is the best and most effective approach. We did carry out a lot of networking in the early days and although much of it didn’t come to any direct fruition, I believe that over the years it has certainly helped solidify our name and brand. It’s also worth mentioning that you can end up with amazing connections which originate from very obscure situations, so if you’re ever 50-50 about attending an event, for example, I’d recommend taking the punt and going for it.
What are your plans for the next 2-5 years?
As things stand, the next 2-5 years will hopefully materialise into the most exciting times in the organisation’s history. We have so many inspiring projects and ideas in the pipeline and things are looking very bright, encouraging and positive.