Good Leaders Podcast Episode 9 – Katie Buckingham: ‘Social entrepreneurs are inherently resilient’

What does it take to lead a pioneering organisation in the new impact economy? In our Good Leaders podcast, founding editor Tim West grills some of those balancing purpose, profit and personal challenges, as they navigate the ups and downs of mission-driven business. This month: Katie Buckingham, founder of Altruist Enterprises and Cambridge Social Innovation Prize winner 2022.

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Creating a world where mental health is understood and addressed in the same way as physical health: such was the vision of Katie Buckingham when she founded social enterprise Altruist Enterprises 10 years ago.

Having suffered from anxiety from a young age, Buckingham became an active campaigner for better mental health support as a teenager. She wanted to explore entrepreneurship as a solution, so she joined a college course with the Peter Jones Enterprise Academy (run by a foundation launched by the entrepreneur and star of the TV show, Dragons’ Den).

She started Altruist Enterprises at just 19, during the summer holidays while still studying. After pitching her idea at the academy, she received some seed funding and coaching to get started; having “never worked in a workplace”, the self-made entrepreneur took part in all the mentorship and accelerator schemes she could find.

“I was always really, really optimistic, and I knew that it was going to be a good thing because it felt right,” she says. “And I suppose I was naive as well – not knowing fully how difficult it would be to start a business.”

I knew that it was going to be a good thing because it felt right

The social enterprise now provides mental health and wellbeing training courses to businesses and schools across the UK, employing 10 people with what it claims is a combined “200 years of experience” working in the field of mental health.

Buckingham last year won the Cambridge Social Innovation Prize, which was pivotal to bringing the social enterprise to the next level. “I tried to grow the organisation in various different ways, but I kind of kept going back to the same point… I just needed time really to take stock of exactly what's working and what we need to do to move forward.” A strategic review and coaching provided through the Prize enabled her to come up with a plan for growth. 

What makes a social entrepreneur so special? Their resilience, she argues: “​​I think social entrepreneurs are inherently resilient, because normally they start a social enterprise because of a personal experience – and that's helped them to become more resilient.”

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