Notes from Last Night – "How to Escape into Social Enterprise"

Today we’ve got a special 2-in-1 report on last night’s event with Tom Rippin, founder and CEO of On Purpose (a social enterprise leadership development program). To join us at future events, check out our summer menu

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Nicole’s Notes

Excited chatter and anticipation filled the air at the Escape School in the Bathtub 2 Boardroom last night when aspiring escapees came together to hear Tom Rippin talk about his own escape into the social enterprise world along.

Moving from a PhD in biophysics to a several year-long stint at corporate consulting firm McKinsey & Co, Tom eventually decided to transition into the social enterprise world – first at Comic Relief and later as the Managing Director for Europe and the Director of Business Development at (RED) International.

Today he is the founder and CEO of On Purpose, a social enterprise which seeks to guide young professionals with an interest in the social and environmental sector to transition into that field. In its fifth year, On Purpose twice a year recruits 15 to 20 professionals who are no longer satisfied with the standard goal of creating shareholder returns, but instead want to use the power of business to make a positive change.

Through mentoring, becoming part of a vast network and gaining first hand experience in two social enterprises throughout the one-year On Purpose programme, future leaders are equipped with all the skills, contacts and know-how they need to excel in this field.

Throughout last night’s talk it became evident that by looking at Tom’s own transition story, escapees can learn a lot. First and foremost: the leap into the Social Enterprise world can come in many shapes and sizes. Despite the fact that he took the step and founded his own Social Enterprise, Tom still doesn’t consider himself to be the stereo-typical risk-searching entrepreneur.

His main advice to everyone who is considering a career in social enterprise – either working for an already established one or creating your own – is to surround yourself with the right people. In particular for aspiring entrepreneurs having a strong network can serve as an important de-risking move in this potentially scary endeavour and provide them with the right kind of inspiration and feedback from like-minded fellow entrepreneurs.

Tom went on and stressed how important it is to get started – even on a small scale. Telling more and more people about your plans can become a useful psychological element of ‘shaming yourself’ in order to take the next step. Coming to realize that people will not give you money for ideas, Tom started his own small pilot of On Purpose soon after his initial transition and recommends to anyone interested in taking the step into this sector to do the same.

Equally important as getting started is the goal to at least break-even early on. For Tom this happened in the second year of On Purpose. Being self-funded in the first year, he started charging fees from the participating organisations.

So what is the best way forward for people who are looking to get their foot in the door of a social enterprise? Tom recommended to not just apply for jobs advertised on job boards but rather network yourself into the field.

In London there is a multitude of talks, events and social networks people interested in the sector can get involved with, such as Acumen (who also offer online courses), Nesta, Social Innovation eXchange, Hub Westminster and many more.

Tom further explained that many social enterprises can be hesitant to hire people directly out of the city, as they fear a “clash of organisational cultures”. Hence, it is important to think about ways to make it less risky for organisations by putting yourself out there, networking, learning the necessary skills and ideally showing some kind of social track-record.

But what if you want to start your own social enterprise? Tom’s advice was clear: Be rigorous in your market research! Ask yourself if there is a need for the product or service you want to offer and don’t assume that people will buy the product just because it is morally better or from a social enterprise.

Jumping the social enterprise bandwagon is not enough if the thing you do actually lacks a sustainable positive impact. In order to create long-term sustainable success a clear USP (e.g. quality, price, channels, etc.) is as necessary for a social enterprise as it is for any other business.

So with all of this taken into account, how does Tom see the future of social enterprises? Well, according to him there are different scenarios: One of those is that social enterprises grow to a point where they actually compete with multi-nationals.

The other, more realistic option might be that social enterprises grow to a point where they start influencing other people and corporations, which then in turn might change the way big business is done. However, change doesn’t necessarily happen through regulations or competitive behaviour, but rather from within through the employees who can make a change.

That being said, Tom left us all inspired to start small by looking at our current job and ask ourselves what can we do to eventually change the way big business is done.  You don’t necessarily have to escape right away to have a positive impact as it is about the problem-solution, not about the label.

This post was written by Nicole Reuter


Audrey’s Notes

On Monday evening, 35 Escape the City members came to the Bathtub 2 Boardroom in order to learn from Tom Rippin’s expertise on how to escape into social enterprise.

Switching from biophysics to international development projects and social enterprise sounds to you unthinkable? Wrong! Tom Rippin is an inspiring example of making such a turn in his career.

Let me introduce you Tom Rippin. He graduated from a PhD in biophysics of cancer but realised academy was not his cup of tea. His other big interest was international development, although he did not have any experience in the field and relevant skills to bring. Hence, he decided to go into private sector to acquire them beforehand and became a management consultant at McKinsey & Company where he worked across private, public and non-profit sectors for five years. He first escaped into social enterprise advising the CEO of Comic Reliefand then working for RED. He is now the founder and Chairman of the On Purpose programme.

What is On Purpose about?

On Purpose is a one year leadership programme for people who want to start a career into social enterprise. It brings together commercial and social features for a better efficiency in our society. The programme aims to help, develop, train and educate people interested in combining social and economic sustainability. On Purpose students have at least two years working experience and are allocated to two different six-month placements among different types of organisations (social enterprise, social investment, charities, and corporate social responsibility of corporations). Finally, each Friday afternoon, they receive training and coaching, part of a mini-MBA accreditation. And guess what, the programme inspires a lot of Escape the City members in their career transition!

How did Tom come up with the idea of On Purpose?

After various job positions in the private and international development sectors, he started to figure out that he wanted to run his own organisation and become someone more interesting! He decided to quit his position at RED and got into circles of entrepreneurs to meet them and discuss his social business idea, On Purpose. The beginning was tough, as the enterprise was mainly self-funded and ran the whole year on a small budget. Tom, unpaid the first year, worked hard to develop the pilot programme, find five organisations interested to join and hire the first five On Purpose students. It was a great success!

What is Tom’s definition of social enterprise?

He defines a social enterprise as an organisation standing for social and environmental impacts while breaking even. Different definitions are published and legislation tries to regulate this emergent sector with the certification of the Social Enterprise Mark for instance.

What does he recommend to get a job in social enterprise?

  1. He explains that it is difficult to find a job in the social enterprise space. A focus is made on entrepreneurs with fantastic ideas but their main issue is to scale up. During his talk, he asked the audience to mention at least one national or international social enterprise but no one could answer.
  2. People are still debating to what extent social enterprises should make profit and hire commercial people. Therefore, professionals from big corporations and social entrepreneurs do not always get along well together because of their different background, environment and corporate culture. People from big companies will be more likely to give orders or take the lead rather than learning a completely new job within new conditions and constraints related to small organisations.
  3. Early stage social entrepreneurs often recruit people with general skills rather than specific ones, as they need people who can work on a variety of things at the same time. Slightly further down the line they will often be on the lookout for specific specialism as they try to grow. Salaries in this new sector haven’t settled down yet and often vary depending on the type of funding an organisation has or whether its staff or board members come from.
  4. Ideal candidates are professionals with strong motivation, interpersonal skills, problem-solving capabilities as well as good track of records regarding volunteering and extra-curricular activities.
  5. Networking is crucial to find a job in the social enterprise space. Go to events to meet entrepreneurs and maybe work for them on a pro-bono basis at first. Networking events are organised by Escape the city, Nesta, Social Innovation Exchange, London+Acumen, 2degrees, ClearlySo, Social Enterprise UK.

What are Tom’s advice regarding how to start a social enterprise?

  1. Be strongly motivated to set up an organisation that will meaningfully change the world, not just because of its “cool” aspect.
  2. Do a detailed market research on the real needs you aim to satisfy. Test your project. Develop a pilot. Sell your products or services to friends or in the street to analyse the demand. Create money in a neutral environment focusing on social impact as a core competency.
  3. Don’t assume your value proposition will be better than competitors because of its social feature.
  4. Be different from a philanthropic business only donating to build its brand image.

As a conclusion, Tom describes two different scenarios for the future of social enterprises:

  1. Social enterprises will compete with multinational corporations.
  2. Social enterprises will become important enough to start influencing people and business about social and environmental challenges.

However, social impact measurement is still under research as indicators cannot be standardized because of social enterprises’ actions diversity.

Finally, always be aware of the system you are working in, what it generates and if it corresponds to your aspirations and values. Thank you Tom for sharing with us your experience and vision about social entrepreneurship!

This post was written by Audrey Bandini.

Click here to find out more about On Purpose, a one-year, full time, leadership programme that combines paid work placements with weekly training and regular one-to-one coaching and mentoring, to enable career transition into social enterprise. 

 What is Escape the City all about then?

Frustrated by climbing the corporate ladder, we decided to build a community to help people build meaningful careers doing work that matters – to them and to the world. We help talented people find fulfilling work by making big career changes, building businesses, & going on big adventures. We’d love you to come with us on this journey.

How do you get involved?

1. Job Seeker? Create an Escape Profile to get matched to exciting jobs.

2. Aspiring Career Changer / Entrepreneur? If you’re in London, come and see us at The Escape School.

3. Want to stay in touch? Subscribe to one of our newsletters. Find us on Facebook or @escthecity.

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