Three is the magic number

Three successful social entrepreneurs opened up about the challenges they have faced in front of an audience of their peers in Bristol at a SE100 Social Business Club Insight event on Wednesday 29 June.

Kelly Davies of Vi-Ability, James Mapstone of 2nd Chance and Pierre Fox of Co-Wheels talked through their journeys, highlighting the struggles and opportunities involved.

The SE100 Social Business Club is a business support programme to help social enterprises thrive and grow. Several events will take place this year across the UK to help members develop their work through peer learning and networking.

Vi-Ability solves two problems; it offers training and qualifications for people not in education, employment or training; those people then go on to help sports clubs find new funding streams to help make them sustainable. Local sports clubs produce their own social impact of course.

I am the biggest challenge to my organisation because I run off with ideas like there’s no tomorrow

Pioneers Post spoke to Davies prior to the Insight event where she was honest about the challenges of recruiting people as passionate and driven as she was. Expanding on this in Bristol she said: “I am the biggest challenge to my organisation because I run off with ideas like there’s no tomorrow.” 

Davies went on to offer the example of the Football CEO app she developed to enable users to learn business skills, produced to bring in more income for Vi-Ability. Although there were people within her organisation that were sceptical as Davies (as she admitted in Bristol) knew nothing about games, she found a way. The challenge, Davies explained, was to remain entrepreneurial and innovative in the face of naysayers.

Following Davies, Mapstone told the story of his journey from prison physical education manager to social entrepreneur. Noticing that young prisoners behaved well when they were engaged in sport, initially Mapstone ran sports clubs inside prisons. "When they came into the gym, they were just kids, playing football or lifting weights, having fun. When they left the gym they messed around, they were fighting or assaulting staff, they were not attending education." The spur for him to launch services outside prison came when offenders starting telling him they were going to reoffend so they could come back to prison to take part in the clubs. 

I didn’t have a clue what I was doing. I didn’t have a clue how to run a business

Mapstone was given a choice: go up the career ladder in the prison or leave to start his project. “I didn’t have a clue what I was doing. I didn’t have a clue how to run a business but I knew how to use sport to work with offenders. And that was exactly what we did.” So 2nd Chance was born.

Initially dependent on grants, the necessity of sustainability meant 2nd Chance started trading. The organisation now runs several programmes and has plans to offer support for deported refugees as they try to start again in their own countries. As Mapstone rolled out the the evolution of his social enterprise, he said: “Change is difficult but not changing is fatal.”

Pierre Fox of Co-Wheels arguably has the toughest competition of the three social entrepreneurs. In his previous career he was bothered by the environmental impact of the journeys social workers have to make as part of their role, so he found some funding and set up a car club. This is now used by public sector organisations such as local authorities. He is competing with car clubs that have more reach and investment. For example, one of them, City Car Club, was recently purchased by one of the big four car hire companies, Enterprise.

We put off impact measurement for five years

Co-wheels is set up as a Community Interest Company and produces an impact report that details its social impacts such as the reduction of transport poverty, the proportion of electric vehicles compared with rivals and its introduction of wheelchair-accessible vehicles 

Fox listed proving the effectiveness of his business as one of the biggest challenges. “We put off impact measurement for five years but we thought it was too complicated and that we needed experts,” he said. “But when we got down to it, it wasn’t too difficult. We always wanted to have something that said ‘this is what we are’ and it feels really good to have it now.”

If you'd like to come to the next Insight event in Manchester in September, sign up to the SE100 Social Business Club at or for the newsletter here.

Photo credit: Derek Finch