Meet the Expert - Alex Stephany on Businesses Doing Good
So I began to ask myself what it would take to make a lasting difference to this man’s life. He had never had a job, and was illiterate. For me, the answer lay in empowering him with the skills and training needed to sustainably support himself. Of course, that would cost far more than coffees or socks - but what if everyone chipped in?
The idea of crowdfunding employment training for homeless people was born. There was nothing else like this in the market, and it was clear that existing employment services for homeless people weren’t as effective as they could have been. So over the following nine months, I developed the model gleaning insights from homeless people and charities and Beam launched in October 2017.
Before I started Beam, I wanted to make sure I met with as many homeless people as possible to see what their thoughts were on the idea. In the second homeless hostel that I visited, I met a man, and explained the concept of Beam. He was very receptive to the idea and said “It sounds great, but it’s not for me”. When I asked why not, he responded: “I smoke weed every day and have done since I can remember”.
This man had so much potential, so much drive and was passionate about pursuing a career in construction. So I told him that if he managed to get clean, he’d be the perfect person to work with us and that we’d love to do so.
When I left the hostel that day, I never expected to hear from him again. However, six months later, I was contacted by his caseworker who told me he’d been clean for around three months! He was then referred to Beam, qualified as a digger operator, and soon after got back into work for the first time in years.
This was one of the moments that really stuck with me, and it has done ever since. All it took for that man was this one conversation, and the course of his life changed forever. My interaction with this man made it even clearer to me that we should never underestimate the power of hope.
I think it’s important that businesses play to their strengths if they want to make a positive social impact. This could be leveraging the team’s existing skills, or, in the unlikely event that the company doesn’t have any relevant skills, writing a cheque.
Secondly, CSR (corporate social responsibility) should always be collaborative. We receive so many requests from companies who have very specific ideas for how they want to support Beam, such as annual volunteering days. The problem with this approach is that it can take up a lot of our time and it ends up being unfulfilling for the business who wants to help. Instead, it’s important to be open-minded and find out what the charity or social enterprise needs.
Finally, social impact initiatives should always be measurable and not just a tick box exercise for businesses. This will allow you to build a lasting partnership to deliver growing value for the organisation(s) you’ve chosen to support.
At Beam, most companies do this using our gift cards feature - like you guys! You kindly donate £5 from every order to Beam - and this is a super effective and simple way to give back. What’s more, Mustard can track its impact in real-time through its company impact page. Other companies that we work with, like recruitment companies, send gift cards to candidates when starting their new job. There are loads of new and innovative ways to give back, whilst engaging with your clients, employees and customers!
To put it simply, just give what you can. That might only be £1 a week or £1 a month! We have incredibly young children who have asked aunts and uncles to donate their birthday gift money to Beam, or have used their pocket money to make a difference.
You don’t even have to donate on our platform to make a difference - you can also send messages of support to those using our service, which can be just as important. Our beneficiaries will then see your message, and it will spur them on to continue their journey! For example, Zeb just raised nearly £5,000 with us to find a stable home, and received 15 messages of support on his recent status update.
Of course there are hundreds of amazing organisations doing great work. However, it was important to us to create a truly impactful business, which is why we operate under a 100% giving model. This essentially means that unlike a lot of conventional charities, every penny donated on our website goes directly towards our beneficiaries. We took inspiration from organisations such as Charity Water, who also use this model and incorporate transparency into their core values - like us!
Always look for organisations that are transparent with their impact, and are happy to share that publicly. For example, At Beam we track over 150 live data points on our website (https://beam.org/transparency), which means that at any stage members of the public can check in on our progress, which is automatically updated.
I’d also look for those organisations who maximise their impact through building effective technologies. At Beam, we have dedicated members of our team working hard to ensure that everything we do is cost-effective! So try to scope out which charitable organisations are able to streamline their processes and subsequently deliver the most effective work.
Additionally, if you work for a company or brand that is keen to get involved in social impact initiatives this year, please feel free to get in touch (firstname.lastname@example.org). We’re always looking to create super impactful partnerships - like our one with Mustard!
Passionate, curious, sensitive
Decaf oat latte
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.” - Margaret Mead
The Lowdown in Mustard! We have two in our office and they’re fab!