On Wednesday 20th January, our Chair & Founder, Larry Sullivan, attended London School of Economics as a guest speaker for the first in their series of industry-based case studies focusing on social enterprise.
LSE Generate’s focus on social enterprise this term mirrors many LSE students ambitions to initiate a lasting positive contribution to the world. Several of our sessions include a focus on social enterprise in the international development context as part of LSE Career’s International Development Events Programme.Anne Clinton, LSE
Attendees were treated to an insight into Larry’s journey, his influences, style, and what determines his approach to projects, whether in a commercial or socially responsible capacity. In addition to his list of recommended reads, all of which tackled various social and economic issues, there was also some useful advice on how learning about your own strengths and weaknesses can help to create a productive team around you. Belbin’s team roles, highlights the various character types and by establishing your own strengths and weaknesses you can then discover where the gaps are and who to fill them with.
Larry’s success with his companies offered him a platform from which he could create something that benefitted others. Starting with the 3 peaks challenge, where 50 teams from the construction industry participated in raising a substantial amount towards charities, a personal drive led to the co-founding of Stepping Stones School in 2004. Created for children with mild to moderate disabilities, Stepping Stones offers a way of learning that enables children to fulfil their potential who may have otherwise struggled in a mainstream school. Having started with just 3 students, it has continued to flourish and with the support of the DFN Foundation a second school has recently been acquired to renovate, Undershaw.
The Cookie Bar was the next step forward, offering the children a safe and forgiving environment to gain valuable work experience and social skills that would then close the gap towards finding employment. Operating as a business, the Cookie Bar reinvests 100% of their profits back into COINS Foundation.
Charity and philanthropy have their place but investing the money into social enterprises allows them to be self sustainable and continue generating further income. Operating as a business, The Cookie Bar reinvests 100% of their profits back into COINS Foundation, limiting the requirement for further grants to be given.Larry Sullivan
But COINS Foundation is not limited to the UK and participates in projects Internationally too. Working with Habitat for Humanity and their microfinance loans programme, struggling families in Uganda have the opportunity to access loans, allowing them to improve the living conditions for themselves and their family. The main thinking is:
A hand up not a hand out, they are participants in their own salvation.Larry Sullivan
PEAS (Promoting Equality in African Schools) complete COINS Foundation’s core projects, supporting schools in Uganda and Zambia with the installation of solar panels is one of the most recent investments. Alongside the vast improvements that electricity brings to a school environment (light leads to longer learning hours and electricity enables the use of computers) it also brings with it future business opportunities. Excess power can be stored and sold, which creates another flow of income for the schools to be reinvested back into further developments or teaching materials.
Whilst investing into social enterprises and projects that have the ability to continue to generate income and become self sustainable alongside a number of other smaller schemes, COINS Foundation operates on a circular funding level. With seven different organisations that COINS Foundation has a small share in, this ensures that there is a constant stream of income to the Foundation, so that we can continue to support others in their ventures.
A Q&A session followed, allowing those interested the chance to pick Larry’s brain about any issues they have been met with, an opportunity many were grateful for.
Sharon Bray, who works in the careers office at LSE asked: “How do you go about finding partners?” A question that we’re sure is applicable to many, we thought it would be useful to share Larry’s answer with you.
Referring to ‘The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid,’ a book discussing new business models targeted at providing goods and services to the poorest people in the world along with a number of case studies on business that have thrived with this model and how they were founded. Larry’s advice was to look at the leader, their purpose and incentives as well as trusting your gut instincts when you meet with them. He believes that investing in ‘the man’ (or woman) is important, so that you put together a solid team around you that you can trust to bounce new ideas off.
Larry’s story harnesses the power of goodwill in business to radically transform people’s lives for the better. Whilst on the face of it, the end goal of business might be to produce profit, Larry encourages a different mentality to view profit as an unrestrained tool to help those that are not privileged. Businesses have a responsibility to integrate commitment to social causes into their models and Larry’s success with COINS Foundation shows that it can be done whilst running a flourishing enterprise. Successful social enterprises, such as The Cookie Bar, have shown that you can adopt this mentality from the outset and run a successful business whilst putting your profits or efforts towards a social cause that you value.Anne Clinton, LSE