Good Leaders Podcast Episode 12 – Esther Foreman: ‘I’ve had three or four significant burnouts – when you’ve got a small child you have to just get on with it’

Esther Foreman, founder and CEO of the SE100-listed Social Change Agency, and Social Change Nest, delves into navigating lockdown, new motherhood and multiple sclerosis alongside entrepreneurship, and says her social enterprises take care of administration and governance, the “two pillars of social change”, so that changemakers can get on with creating impact.

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How do grassroots organisations receive funding when they aren’t registered as a legal entity and have no bank account? One organisation that is trying to solve this problem is the Social Change Nest CIC based in London. Listed as one of the UK’s top 100 social enterprises in the NatWest SE100 index, this social enterprise provides services such as fiscal hosting for grassroots groups and grant distribution for trusts and foundations. 

Its sister organisation, the Social Change Agency, a B-Corp social enterprise, provides civil society organisations with expertise on governance, strategy development, systems change, and more.

I was determined to set up an agency that democratised power and decision-making

The founder and CEO of these two organisations, Esther Foreman, says she founded the Social Change Agency a decade ago, after she witnessed “the whole tech revolution take place and realised that the charity sector was so far behind”. After years of working on campaigns within the charity sector, she became “determined to set up an agency to help build movements in a way which democratised power and decision-making”.

Despite the pandemic crippling many businesses, 2020 marked the start of a new chapter for Esther, with the launch of the Social Change Nest. Esther says: “It was kind of a crazy time when lockdown began and you could see all the mutual aid networks starting to appear at a hyperlocal level.” After being offered grant money to assist these emerging networks from foundations and trusts such as Paul Hamlyn, Changing Ideas, Lankelly Chase and Blagrave, she decided to incorporate Social Change Nest as a community interest company.  

Describing the SCN’s rapid growth from “nought to a million on a scale” in just two months, Esther says: “We supported a lot of mutual aid networks across the UK. We enabled local communities to buy food for each other, prescriptions, shopping, all the things that took place at that time.”

Tim West talks to Esther about:

  • How she copes with living with MS at the same time as running two social enterprises.
  • Her “darkest year” juggling being a new mother, emerging from lockdown and changes in the workplace.
  • Why the terms of getting social investment have been so convoluted that it’s just not worth it.
  • How ‘moon gazing’ with local women gives her “strength and grace”.

When asked what’s on the horizon for her, she says she looks forward to her son starting school and the upcoming launch of the Social Change Hive, a new sister organisation to the Social Change Agency and Social Change Nest. Its objective, she says, is to “build out a civil society” and disrupt its “dependency culture” on philanthropy by helping “social justice movements and networks strengthen, scale and grow” so they can “fly the nest”. 

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