The remarkable growth and resilience of the SWEET project

Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/number10gov/5515037920

Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/number10gov/5515037920

The story of the SWEET Project is a story of remarkable growth and resilience. The SWEET Project provides placements for university students who are qualifying as social workers. While being trained and supervised, these students provide social support to families living in the South of Birmingham.

Jayne Hulbert and Jayne Creswell had always liked the idea of a student social work training unit. Jayne Hulbert has been a long time social worker in the South of Birmingham and Jayne Creswell is a senior family support worker. When other support services were withdrawing from the area in 2009 they knew the time was ripe to start the SWEET project. As it reads on their website: ‘The idea was simple and had two aims: on the one hand, to find a workable means of meeting the needs of families and adults; at the same time, to provide the quality of placement learning opportunities for student social workers. But would it be possible to combine the two? The SWEET Project was born out of this question’.

31 universities

It did prove possible, as testified by the remarkable growth of the SWEET Project in its first years. The first group of students, coming from the University of Birmingham, reported back to their placement supervisors about their exceptional learning experience. The University of Birmingham committed more students to the SWEET Project in its early phases and soon other Universities came on board. Today, students from 31 Universities all over the country do their work placements at SWEET to become qualified social workers. The SWEET Project receives a daily placement fee for each student, which funds the salaries of the staff and any overheads. All social services are provided free of charge.

Shock

At least they were, until the SWEET Project was hit with an unwelcome surprise. In 2014, the government announced it was reducing placement fees for social work students by one third, effectively taking one third of the project’s income away. However, the founders and staff of the SWEET project have shown remarkable resilience. They have succeeded in securing a contract with the Birmingham City Council to deliver part of its social services for children and families. Also, some of SWEET’s clients such as schools have now started paying fees for the tailor-made support that SWEET provides to some of their children. The SWEET project has now also started a consultancy service for social start-ups – offering their expertise to aspiring social entrepreneurs.

It looks like the SWEET Project will be able to recover from this external shock by being creative and working in partnership. The SWEET Project has won several awards since its founding in 2010:

  • 2011 – The Big Society Award, awarded by Prime Minister David Cameron
  • 2011 – Winner of the Big Venture Challenge Award an award for ambitious scalable social venture that is run by UnLtd, the Foundation for Social Entrepreneurs.
  • 2012 – Social Enterprise UK awarded the SWEET project for being the most innovative social enterprise of the year.

Read more about the SWEET project on their website: http://www.sweetproject.co.uk/

The SWEET Project was also featured in the Guardian: http://www.theguardian.com/social-enterprise-network/2011/oct/21/beg-venture-challenge-winner-sweet-project

Facing unexpected challenges – social entrepreneurs and the refugee crisis in Germany

The number of people living as refugees from war or persecution exceeded 50 million in 2013, for the first time since World War II. Currently, Europe is facing a refugee crisis that poses a "dramatic challenge" for dedicated aid organizations, states and civil society as a whole. As António Guterres, head of the UN refugee agency states, the biggest influx of refugees into Europe for decades requires a "massive common effort" and break with the current fragmented approach. "Exceptional circumstances require an exceptional response. Business as usual will not solve the problem".

In the last months, thousands of refugees have crossed the border to Germany. 800.000 refugees are expected to arrive in 2015 and the state is struggling to provide shelter and support. At the same time, the situation has triggered a strong public response, from civil society, faith-based organizations, NGOs and individuals alike.

The current situation in Germany provides grounds for us to observe and reflect on how different types of actors - state actors, welfare organizations, civil society organizations and social enterprises - mobilize and organize to face emergent and unexpected social challenges and provides us with insights into the potential part social enterprises can play in a country where the state has a particularly strong and pronounced role in social service provision.

The reactions that social enterprises generate are diverse: while they are received with excitement by some, others warn not to release the state from its responsibilities and commercialise welfare.

As discussed in earlier research, Germany is not usually named when examining countries offering substantial support to social enterprises. It is rather well-known for the entrenched role and responsibility of the state in providing social welfare. The history of the modern German welfare system began mid-19th century and builds on a strong emphasis of social service provision by the state and by six major social welfare organizations[i]. In this context, private actors involved in social service provision can be viewed with suspicion and therefore, the reactions that social enterprises generate are diverse: while they are received with excitement by some, others warn not to release the state from its responsibilities and commercialise welfare. The supporters see social enterprises as a way to tackle unresolved social problems in innovative ways, to adapt social service provision to the rapid social changes of the last decades, to foster citizen engagement and to make social service provision more efficient. The skeptics emphasize the importance of not just focusing on "sexy" problems and "niche" beneficiaries and not making social welfare a self-fulfilling project for individualists.

Social entrepreneurial initiatives

The refugee situation provides an example of how different types of actors can productively complement and coexist in tackling social challenges: while the state and social welfare organizations tend to deliver services that are aligned with and responsive to national policies (such as legal counselling services or providing emergency accommodation), social entrepreneurial initiatives develop their services based on challenges they see surfacing locally and often act on the spot: they provide opportunities for local cultural exchange and integration, complement organized mass accommodation with private hosting, open opportunities for income generation beyond (or before) the formal labor market, provide easily accessible language courses and psychological support. In Berlin, for instance, Cucula supports refugees to build their own professional future, Multitude provides German lessons, Flüchtlinge Willkommen provides private housing for refugees, Kiron University provides university classes and Sharehaus Refugio provides housing, coaching and support initiatives.

The current developments may be an example of how the German social system may transform into a more flexible, adaptive and responsive one, as different actors with different approaches to solving social problems co-exist and (ideally) complement each other in handling emerging challenges.

Questions

Developments and debates are ongoing and intriguing questions are left to be answered: Do challenges such as the refugee crisis provide an opportunity to rethink our ways to cooperate to solve social problems moving beyond the question of WHO should tackle them but rather HOW we can tackle them best as a society? Are German social enterprises a niche solving problems left unresolved by the state or are they triggering changes in the way welfare is being provided? How do social welfare associations and social enterprises learn from each other and complement each other? What kind of middle ground will the optimists and the skeptics reach and what will this mean for welfare in Germany? And last but not least, how will politics be a part of all of this?

We are very curious to receive your views, experiences and maybe even answers to all of these questions.

[i] Jansen, Stephan A./ Heinze, Rolf G./ Beckmann, Markus (Hg.): "Sozialunternehmertum in Deutschland - Analysen, Trends und Handlungsempfehlungen" Wiesbaden 2013 (Springer VS)

Photos courtesy of UNHRC: https://www.flickr.com/photos/unhcr/

Be Better has a mission to popularize youth financial civic education in China

Be Better is an educational services platform whose mission is to popularize youth financial civic education in China.

Be Better is an educational services platform whose mission is to popularize youth financial civic education in China. Despite having only been founded in 2009, 5 years later they already conduct activities in around 16 cities throughout China, have trained a network of over 2000 volunteer teachers, and developed a curriculum and activities that reach over 70,000 beneficiaries a year. They've achieved this rapid expansion through an early-on emphasis on being a platform for the new sector they want to promote—rather than just a service provider within this sector. They focus on teacher training to maximize their impact and target strategically important cities, school districts and schools to serve as models for their curriculum.

Be Better believes that change radiates outwards. This can range from other teachers adopting their methods from a co-worker who attended a Be Better training, to other schools adopting their curriculum after seeing it used by a model school, to Be Better's influence radiating outward to other cities in the region. Most importantly, Be Better believes that change in society and education comes from the students themselves and thus puts the students at the center of their model. Be Better lets this focus on their beneficiaries guide their innovation process, and is constantly adapting existing products and creating innovative new products to make financial civic education more engaging for their target audiences.

Mr. Wang Sheng, the chairman and executive of Be Better, explains that "because social enterprises are still in an exploratory phase, international projects like SEFORÏS can provide an invaluable reference for social entrepreneurs about models and methods of their peers from around the world. Participating in the SEFORÏS program offers great opportunities to social entrepreneurs for promoting their brand and stimulating internal review and discussion of their organizational model."

More on http://www.bebetter.org.cn