Why become a social enterprise?

Huzzah! Noisy Cricket is now a social enterprise. Life didn’t start out this way though, back in late 2016, when I set up a business to build people-powered movements and bring diverse people together to co-create social change.

We started out as a limited company because at the time, I couldn’t see how a social impact consultancy fit within the world of social enterprise. We empowered changemakers and facilitated change, so direct impact wasn’t within our reach.

Yet, as with any business and life in general, things change. Almost two and a half years later, our model has evolved. Whilst we still help cross-sector organisations and changemakers from all walks of life strategize and collaborate to drive progress, it wasn’t enough.

Why? Because what Noisy Cricket is asking of us in creating social change is a tall order. Addressing root causes over symptoms. Working collectively in opposition to our traditional sector silo-mentality. Purposeful and future-focused action over issue politics and getting lost in the now.

Very few client briefs came through asking us to cross-sector and social divides, though we’ve had some tremendous fortune with the progressive people we’ve had (and still have) the pleasure to work with.

Researching and mapping issues, designing transformative programmes and building proactive communities will always be at our core, and we’re continuing to scale our work in issues as challenging and diverse as tech ethics, health inequality and diversity and inclusion.

Yet being exposed to the major gaps in addressing issues, seeing how powerful change can be when different people face into each other’s humanity and do so with a common purpose gave us an idea. What if we created the movements from scratch?

So, as well as mentoring those looking to change the world and working inside organisations to drive external impact, we started to innovate, building social impact ventures that utilised Noisy Cricket’s theory of change, and using our humanity-centred design approach, shift how its created too.

Over the course of the last year, it’s become apparent we’re more of an engine than a traditional agency or consultancy. We work with, not for, and ask questions instead of tell. It’s not always an easy pitch, but when it comes to social change, remaining open and agile is all.

So too are the people at the centre of our work. Those people impacted by inequality, who often find themselves voiceless, and struggle to find their power within systems that serve others, and in cultures that denigrate their value. Co-production is at our heart.

So, as we increasingly find ourselves directly creating impact – and our model evolving to engineer change both in the process and in the insights, products, communities and campaigns we design – we began to ask questions of our structure.

Whilst social was core to how we operated, how might that look in a more official capacity? With everything from a social business with purpose at its core, a community interest company, where trade and change combine and a charity with pure impact at its heart, where to set our stall?

We decided on social enterprise – the middle ground – with a leaning towards profitability. With purpose, profitability and people central to our conversion, we’re now a community interest company that’s limited by share.

What this means is that 65% of our profits will be invested, either back into Noisy Cricket to further championing changemakers, facilitating change or innovating in social impact, or organisations and issues we champion. Should we ever shut up shop, our profits will go to an asset-locked body.

35% will be made available to shareholders, however, and when you’re dealing in social impact, that can feel uncomfortable, but here’s why. With so much social good being created and delivered either very cheaply or for free, we devalue social impact and the people giving and receiving it.

So, Noisy Cricket’s model inherently asks a challenging question, in how much we value social impact, both socially, culturally and economically. As organisations wake up to the needs, expectations and demands of a wholly conscientious new generation, it’s going to get interesting.

So too is the conversation around what we pay our designers, researchers, facilitators and campaigners. For so long, we’ve expected those in social and caring sectors to work for little and give a lot, and how we reward talent and purpose requires examination. Valuing people is important.

In addition to questioning value, we have to examine how we’re creating. As the world wakes up to the need to live and work with both purpose AND profit, we need to scale from bootstrapped business to a sustainable enterprise, and it’s going to take some ingenuity.

Income from trading, sponsorship for our projects and grant funding will all play its part in the short to medium term, but long-term, we have big ambitions, and to scale we’ll need investment. For that, return on investment may be part of the picture, and as an enterprise, we’ll need to remain open.

Most important, always, is our purpose, and that’s why becoming a CIC is essential. In embedding our “how” in our articles of association, and committing to constantly assessing our impact, no matter how Nosy Cricket grows, how we do what we do will always be central to our work.

So, here’s to redefining social value, stretching the limits of social enterprise and doing so with diverse people with purpose at its core. For those wanting to build movements around the issues you care about, come join your voice with ours.