We established COINS Foundation as a vehicle to channel our social engagement efforts. I helped to establish the Foundation and now sit as a trustee. For me it is a unique and special reason as to why I work. We present all our employees the unique opportunity to engage holistically and share in our values. Some of our employees will engage with the business in a transactional capacity, but many become holistically engaged with the business, our values and our social programmes, not just their roles.
We started out trying predominantly to influence the senior executive in the construction industry, to think differently about business. We ran for 10 years, an industry 3 Peaks Challenge and raised circa £2.5m, which in the main we granted to a range of NGOs and smaller charities. Perhaps an admirable achievement, but not a sustainable model.
Over time our thinking and understanding, of aid, poverty, social injustice, and sustainability has developed – influenced in part by our three patrons; Lord Joel Joffe (Defense lawyer for Nelson Mandela), Jeremy Hunt (Secretary of Health) and Sir Paul Collier (Professor of Economics, Oxford).
Increasingly we began to shift our focus to influencing the next generation. Larry often now speaks at top global business universities. By influencing young entrepreneurs to start businesses or social enterprises with some of their profits or equity tied to the Foundation, or indeed their own foundations, the opportunity to influence the future becomes sustainable.
COINS Foundation supports sustainable NGO projects and our own social enterprises and projects in the communities where we work. The Foundation offers our employees, clients and associates the opportunities to share more widely in values. Circa £1m of profits from our business is donated annually into the Foundation, so simply by being part of our companies, employees and customers are making a positive difference to society.
PEAS (Promoting Equality in African Schools) deliver access to affordable and quality secondary education in Africa. I sit on the financial advisory board. We have supported the build of a number of secondary schools across Uganda. PEAS have established 30 schools and have a model that achieves sustainability of the school within 5 years. However, interestingly via COINS Foundation we have used our business expertise to take our support in a slightly different direction, through the procurement of solar panels to set up a Solar Installation company in Uganda, which we will commercialise. The school themselves are also commercialising the use of the panels to sell power to the community where our ‘Bye-bye to Darkness’ film shows very powerfully the impact the provision of light is having on the school community.
We have supported Habitat for Humanity for a number of years. There is the obvious connection with the house building sector, but more importantly they offer a ‘hand up’ to poorer families, who themselves invest sweat and equity and are a part of establishing their own homes. Our most recent support, however, has been directed at their ReStore Programme. COINS Foundation will fund the first ReStore programme in the UK, a hugely successful initiative in the USA where construction companies donate their excess building supplies to resale. We will engage our clients, which include the top 4 UK House Builders in this programme.
My personal favourite is The Cookie Bar. The Cookie Bar is run for profit with the profit going back to the school and COINS Foundation projects. It offers students with a range of special needs, from our school (which I’ll come to next) a safe environment to gain value life skills and work experience. An interesting article in the Guardian last month spoke about the rise of social enterprise café where you can make a small and positive difference just by choosing where you drink your coffee. We extended this concept by converting a Route Master bus, which now attends various festivals and events. Our employees and parents of students volunteer at The Cookie Bar and on the bus and our sales teams at COINS get involved with selling contract cookie orders to our clients.
Our newest social enterprise is a high quality media production company, Crossform Media. This is an example where an opportunity for one of our COINS most technically innovative employees, now brilliantly leads this venture. This enterprise is run for profit, with profit going to COINS Foundation and also directed towards the production of social justice films for NGO’s and other charities. If you ever need commercial films making, do take a look at their site and showreel.
Finally we invest in the communities where we work. The first example of this is Stepping Stones School, expanded recently with the Undershaw Upper School, which converted Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s former residence. Both were established to offer an environment for young people who fail to thrive in mainstream schooling. I act as a Governor on the Board, as does our COINS Chief Technology Officer and it is thoroughly rewarding for both of us to contribute to these initiatives.
Our co-founder Nigel Cope started a similar school in Dubai, the Widad Center. This has faced challenges of red tape bureaucracy together with dated thinking and attitudes towards disability but we shall persist in trying to affect social change, which may take some time in this environment. I also act as a Governor for this center. The aims of all three schools are to set children free both socially, economically and creatively.
I am genuinely passionate about our businesses and how and why we run them and the positive and long lasting social impact they are having. You can find out more at our COINS Global and COINS Foundation sites.
If you’d like to see the full presentation from the Global Woman Summit you can view it here.