Happy 10th Birthday!

I never saw myself as a social entrepreneur. I never saw myself as any kind of entrepreneur. For the first 20 years of my career I saw myself as a public servant, doing what I considered important work in local government and in professional institutions. Then in the very early 21st Century I made a bad career move and found myself adrift, falling into consultancy work.

And yet…

On 14th February 2012 I registered a new company with Companies House: The Wisdom Factory CIC (TWF CIC), which means that 10 years have now passed and TWF CIC has reached a significant birthday.

Why did I do it? Well, I had been ‘under-employed’ for a couple of years during the winding up of my previous business, a road safety consultancy that had been badly damaged by the 2008 financial crash. That business had just reached 10 years of age but there was little to celebrate. I came out a little bruised but not owing anybody any money. I had moved to Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter and spent some of my newly acquired ‘spare’ time getting involved in community development issues. I joined, and subsequently chaired, the JQ Neighbourhood Forum (JQNF) and in that role I joined the board of the JQ Development Trust. For a brief time I was even its Executive Director. Additionally, the social circle in which I found myself in the JQ packed some serious social and community punch: examples include Brian Simpson, keeper of the @MyJQ Twitter feed and constant presence in JQ community matters; Martin Hogg and the late Mark Ellerby, successful social entrepreneurs both. It may sound corny but people like these inspired me to think along those lines myself.

How lovely to hear from you!
Hope Therapeutic Garden is still going strong !! During the pandemic we did ‘Walks in the Park ‘ in lots of Birminghams parks  and Growing From Home – where we delivered compost and seeds  to asylum seekers and refugees so they could keep on growing until we were able to meet again ( which we are now) Not to mention our Christmas In A Bag  delivered to over 50 people at Christmas 2020….Let’s keep on changing the world!!

Mary Carroll RN Hope Therapeutic Garden Project Leader

The final catalyst was getting involved in David Cameron’s Community First funding initiative for Ladywood. A call went out for community representatives from all parts of that diverse ward to join a funding allocation panel and I stepped up (or left the room at the wrong moment and got ‘volunteered’ – hard to recall which now) to represent the JQNF. It was a fascinating, humbling, frustrating yet rewarding experience. The micro-grant concept really interested me; the things people could do with just a few hundred quid and some time and local enthusiasm. It depressed me how many perfectly good applications we turned down because we just didn’t have any more money. A spark was ignited.

Funding from The Wisdom Factory enabled GINA to create a specialist workbook entitled ‘only human,’ created by survivors of sexual violence & abuse, for survivors, that supports individuals with the impacts of sexual trauma. Since its launch, over 700 copies of the GINA workbook have been sold, including copies being sold to local universities & other specialist organisations supporting survivors. This workbook has had many positive impacts for survivors who contributed towards its creation & the individuals who have received copies – more information about the impact of our workbook & feedback can be found here. Following the success of our ‘only human’ workbook, we’re now hoping to expand the range of our bespoke resources (created by individuals with lived experience of sexual trauma) to continue supporting many more survivors.

Lucy Hebberts, Manager of Magic & Mischief (aka Business Lead) GINA

Those of you who are self-employed will understand when I say that I didn’t want to get a proper job after 10 years of self-employment; it changes you in ways that employers are not keen on. So the pieces came together: I would set up a social enterprise using the CIC model and we would generate a grant fund through our trading activity, top-slicing at least 5% of the revenues. And we have been doing that ever since, giving grants of between £250 and £1000 to groups, charities and other social enterprises every year, after our financial year end. You can see here the kinds of things people do with our grants. By the end of May we will have given over £40,000 in grants to people working for the benefit of the communities of Birmingham.

Fantastic to hear from you. Yes, I remember the grant of £600 The Wisdom Factory gave to Suited for Success in the very early stages of our journey when we were still a small pilot CSR community project based in a food bank in Ladywood. Wow, we have come such a long way since then, however, we are always so grateful to the funders and businesses that believed in our vision at the very beginning of our journey…the funding was used to buy rails, fixtures, fittings and accessories to set up the pilot Suited for Success project in the Ladywood food bank. We are also celebrating our 5th year anniversary since we officially opened our referral centre in Hockley too, so it will be quite nostalgic to look back for us too.

Patricia White, CEO, Suited for Success
Mike Mounfield & Sarah Rennie at the about-to-be-opened Library of Birmingham in August 2013 (Image Credit Mike Mounfield)

A year after founding TWF CIC I was joined by the steely, charming and determined force that is Sarah Rennie. Sarah now works in the transport accessibility and inclusion sector, but for a few years we had the enormous benefit of Sarah’s drive, enthusiasm and legal mind to power TWF CIC forward. Along with some excellent associates we delivered business-oriented training, research and project management for a range of clients around Birmingham and across the UK. We also had enormous fun.

The family and women’s work we do at Legacy WM is phenomenal and with support from organisations like the Wisdom Factory it helps enhance the work further.

Apsana Khatun, Health & Well Being Facilitator Legacy WM

In 2017, we were delighted to receive a grant from the Wisdom Factory in support of FoodCycle Aston, which provides a weekly community meal for local vulnerable people, many of whom are homeless. Our meals are made entirely from surplus food, packed full of fruit and vegetables and three courses, so our guests go home well nourished.
Our volunteers who run FoodCycle Aston create a warm and welcoming environment for our guests, which encourages conversation and connection over a tasty meal. Support from funders like the Wisdom Factory is absolutely crucial to ensure we can deliver our meals every week, covering costs like venue hire, insurance, volunteer expenses and training.
Since we received your grant, FoodCycle has gone from strength to strength. We now have five Projects running across Birmingham, with a further Project in Walsall, and we have ambitions to open a further four Projects across the West Midlands this year.

Tom Osborne, Trusts & Foundations Manager, FoodCycle

After a close-up experience of helping Colmore BID through its renewal ballot in 2014, we decided to get into SaaS (software as a service) using my previous experience with databases and the support of the afore-mentioned Brian Simpson to build a CRM and operations management system designed from the ground up for Business Improvement Districts (BIDs) in the UK – BIDBase. Personnel changes gave us the opportunity to re-appraise our situation and we are now more or less exclusively a SaaS developer, with mobile apps in support, continually improving BIDBase for the 14% of the UK BID market that are our clients. We have other products in the pipeline to keep us busy too.

Becoming a social entrepreneur has been a life-affirming experience for me. The satisfaction gained from helping marvellous people do marvellous things with micro-grants, overcoming the challenges associated with running any micro-business and – in the last five years – the mental stimulation from becoming a fully-fledged developer deploying a successful product in my sixth decade are all beyond price.

Author: Mike Mounfield

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