Social Entrepreneur Index Nominee: Storyteller
Bhavesh Patel of Storyteller, the travel accessory business directly funding educational programmes across the globe, tells us more about his business and how he got started.
What does your social enterprise do?
Storyteller is a purpose driven business with a direct social mission, which focuses on using its travel accessory products to make a global impact. 10% of every sale directly funds educational programmes and workshops for less privileged children and adults around the world.
Closer to home, we also do our bit by helping other start-ups in the UK create strategies to directly impact social issues that they are passionate about through their business. It is the Storyteller belief that you don’t have to be a multinational company to have a Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) strategy and that having a genuine commitment to making social change embedded in your strategy straight from its inception is just good business.
Education is the area that Storyteller wants to make its mark and encourage change: currently, over 750 million adults around the world are illiterate, and it is clear that this is a cycle that’s hard to break. This not only has a long-term consequence for the individuals affected, but also for the next generation who become part of a repeat cycle of inequality and poverty. Our aim is not only to raise awareness and funds for education, but also to help individuals create a better long future and build sustainable local communities.
In collaboration with international charities, the Storyteller team have helped run and fund educational workshops for both adults and children in Liberia, Tanzania and India, with projects in Nepal taking place in April 2019.
What made you start your business up?
Living in the UK, where education is free and accessible, we are incredibly privileged. Although most people know that there is a lack of access to education in many other parts of the world, it truly is hard to comprehend the human impact this has until you see it.
Travelling the world showed me some incredible sights, but it also opened my eyes to how many barriers there were for people to obtain access to a basic education. I saw this problem in Asia and South America, and decided I wanted to be part of the change. I pledged then that an integral part of any company I would start would be to help those less privileged obtain access to education.
With so many global issues, access to quality education can not only lead to individual growth, but also be the resolution to many other issues.
Storyteller was then started after trying to solve a personal problem. As an avid traveller, I love to collect my travel memories, and like many, the way I did this was through a travel journal. However, this was time-consuming and slowly became something I had lost the love for… This made me think: ‘there must be a better way of capturing these personal memories’ – enter the Storyteller FlagMate. This flagship product helped me combine the two things I love and was most passionate about; travel and giving back.
Storyteller brings together passionate travellers from around the world in unity with a mission to make a direct impact on the educational problem around the world.
How do you measure your impact?
We have helped run and fund projects in Liberia, Tanzania and India over the last eight months. Purchases of our travel accessories and the work of our team has helped us impact in the following ways:
Run and help fund workshops for adults focusing on solar infrastructure, micro-enterprise (small business skills) and environmental education
Covering school fees for 100 children in India for one year
Funding night schools helping children from rural villages access education
Fund literacy focused programmes helping children to read. Each book is written in local languages covering socio-economic issues such as gender equality and the environment
Provide school supplies including high quality educational content helping teachers in local communities
Funding life skill workshops and training courses such as hairdressing, crafts and computer use, allowing them to obtain paid employment
Providing access to education for individuals in rural communities using technology platforms such as Raspberry PI Devices and open source materials
As you can see, a little goes a long way, and by using funds from our travel accessories, we are able to make a direct impact to help both children and adults obtain access to education. It is a win-win.
Following the end of each educational project, we monitor/measure our impact by:
Performing qualitative and quantitative research methods, including questionnaires and feedback sessions to help us identify what worked well and where improvements can be made
Monitoring performance by liaising with local teachers to consider whether the objectives of the programme have been met
Performance/process evaluation- to assess whether any changes to the process are required
What help did you have to start your social enterprise?
I’m extremely grateful for my friends, family and the social entrepreneurs that I have connected with over the past few years, who have all helped me create the platform that is Storyteller today. Having a strong support system and team full of individuals on the same social mission has been integral to our success.
Our team of like-minded individuals known as the Storyteller Community now consists of over 25 individuals in 11 different countries, all with a mission to inspire people to ‘Travel More and Do Good’.
How did you decide on what legal form would work best for your business?
Although banks and investors only look at profit margins, we wanted Storyteller to do much more than focus on the bottom-line. We had a higher cause to bring individuals from around the world together to create a positive impact. Therefore, instead of having the pressure of shareholders, we decided on forming as a private limited company, and partnering with like-minded charities and individuals who all shared our mission to help less privileged individuals around the world obtain access to quality education. This not only allowed us to expand our reach and globalise quickly, but it combined our ethos with their knowledge, allowing us to be as productive as possible.
What’s the best thing about being a social entrepreneur?
The best thing about being a social entrepreneur is knowing that we could be always be helping and impacting individuals around the world. We know that the work will never be complete and while this is a daunting prospect, it is this sole mission that keeps us motivated to constantly do more and make as much of an impact as we can.
What has been your biggest challenge when setting up and running your social enterprise?
The biggest challenge for me was getting started. I was practising as a lawyer at the time of starting Storyteller, so balancing this with a new start-up was very difficult. At times I would leave a Court Hearing, and then immediately be on the phone to manufacturers! It was a bit of a whirlwind at the outset, but then once I had created the idea, flagship product and brand, it was time to take the leap of faith! From full time lawyer to full time social entrepreneur, I am finally in a position to give Storyteller the time I’ve always wanted to and the attention it deserves.
What advice would you give to aspiring social entrepreneurs?
Have a full-time job and work on starting your company in your spare time until you are ready to make the complete jump! By doing this, you will have the financial input to put in at the start and also income to fall back, as most companies won’t make profits immediately.
Pick the right team and business partners. If you are starting a business with a team or with a business partner, make sure that you complement each other’s strengths and weaknesses, rather than basing it on being good friends. Bringing different skills to the table in business is crucial and will set you up nicely in the long term. If you are starting a business as a solo entrepreneur, having positive people around is essential. They can help bounce ideas but also help out with marketing activities at the start which is when you could do with a first push in the right direction!
Travel! The most competitive companies today are global in nature, and to make your company, service or product relevant to new markets, you need to have a global mind-set. You can read about world markets and study analyst reports, but there’s no substitute for experiencing the world yourself and seeing it first-hand.
Create a company which is based on something that you are genuinely passionate about. If you have the fire in your belly to fight for the cause, you’ll be much more convincing when trying to recruit others to believe and invest in your product. Also, in the tough days and the long run, it will make getting out of bed much easier!
What information sources would you recommend (books, websites, organisations?) to help someone just starting their social enterprise journey?
Honestly, I think the best way is obtaining experience and in depth information of the problem you are trying to solve: to do this, volunteering both locally and in countries where your problem is a huge issue is key. By seeing the problem first-hand, you will be able to create direct resolution which will actually take into account the conditions of that particular country.
A mistake that I had made prior to starting Storyteller was to think about ways that I, personally thought would be helpful. In reality, after spending time volunteering in India, my resolutions had to be completely re-thought.
If your approach is to work with charities and local NGOs, do your research into organisations to ensure that their mission/ethics fit with your brand values. Unfortunately, there are still some charities who promise a lot but their delivery may not be what you would expect. Hand-picking and researching impact partners is imperative.
What are your plans for the next 2-5 years?
Our aim is to continue to grow and impact even more people around the world. We are also developing three programmes at the moment, which are:
Life Skill workshops, run by the Storyteller team and Community, where they share skills that they have learnt in their personal lives and whilst travelling with children and adults. This includes using a minimalistic approach, using existing resources effectively, advising on how to build confidence and communicate well with others and achieving positive results working as a team.
Running workshops using quality educational content provided by e-learning partners and education providers in the UK which will be shared in rural schools.
Partnering with UK based schools to launch our project “Schools helping fund schools”
When I started out, I wanted Storyteller to be part of a new wave of start-ups, which are proving that having a balance between profit and philanthropy can generate a positive outcome for all involved. Therefore, my vision is to continue this and prove that you can have it all! I see Storyteller as both a conduit to do good as a brand, as well as a vehicle to bring together passionate travellers from around the world in unity, with a mission to make a change in the world.
Want to get involved with the UK Social Entrepreneur Index? Enter your nomination here.