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£10,000 Cambridge prize for ‘achievement and ambition’ in social enterprise

Feminist fashion, affordable housing, co-operative farming and fostering independence in people with learning disabilities: four outstanding social entrepreneurs are being celebrated today for their achievement and ambition in creating social change through business.

Cambridge Social Innovation Prize

The inaugural Cambridge Social Innovation Prize, awarded by Trinity Hall College and the Cambridge Centre for Social Innovation at Cambridge Judge Business School, University of Cambridge, highlights the positive social impact made by businesses across the UK, backed by a generous donation from Graham Ross Russell, an alum of Trinity Hall and an early leader in business incubation and social innovation in the UK.

The four winners of this new annual award, selected by a panel of six high-profile social sector leaders, represent the diversity of social business: they hail from Glasgow, Sheffield, London and Weston-super-Mare in Somerset, and run the gamut from technology and social finance to co-operatives and local employment.

Each winner receives £10,000 to support their personal development as leaders and CEOs, and ongoing business advice from experts in the Cambridge Social Ventures programme at the University of Cambridge Judge Business School.

Dr Belinda Bell
Dr Belinda Bell

Cambridge Social Ventures Director, Dr Belinda Bell says the aim is to create a community of leaders in social enterprise and give them the skills, advice and emotional support they need to scale their businesses and their impact.

“Social enterprise founders are often so focussed their mission that they are reluctant to spend time and money developing their own capabilities, which can hold back the growth of their businesses, and ultimately, limit the social impact that they can make,” says Dr Bell.

The prize is a key plank in a suite of activities launched this year by Trinity Hall, one of the oldest Colleges at the University of Cambridge, to foster in their students an interest in social innovation through grants, mentoring, internships and by creating connections into to the broader ecosystem of social innovation and entrepreneurship here in Cambridge.

Master of Trinity Hall, the Revd Canon Dr Jeremy Morris said: “Our students want to make a difference in the world through their work, and through this prize we hope to open their eyes to the myriad opportunities to make social change through entrepreneurship and business.”

About the winners

Susan Aktemel – CEO of Homes for Good, in Glasgow

Homes for Good is Scotland’s first social enterprise letting agency. They also own two property investment portfolios of 240 homes specifically for people who have limited housing choice. Since 2013, Home for Good has grown to 21 employees, £12.5 million in assets and turnover of approximately £1.6 million.

But the way Susan talks about the business, the driving motivation is to give people dignity in housing: for tenants to love your home and for your home to love you. People who live on benefits or so-called ‘high-risk’ tenants often don’t get that opportunity.

To scale her impact, Susan wants to lead by example – her goals in the next year include meeting with estate agents and social organisations across the UK to help them adopt a similar model.

Gareth Roberts, the Regather co-operative, in Sheffield

Regather is hard to pin down – but that’s all in the design. Gareth founded this co-operative to allow space for community to flourish and “to help people work together, support each other and make projects happen”.

Over time, that’s settled into three main areas:

  • Food – including a vegetable box scheme and market garden.
  • Drink – a bar and a microbrewery producing craft beer and cider.
  • Events – a two-day music festival and event management services.

Gareth is a champion of social and economic change through food. His five-year plan is to deepen the engagement between the community and its food systems by launching a community share offer and membership scheme, inviting the community to engage fully in the democratic governance and ownership of the Regather cooperative.

Sarah Neville, CEO of Birdsong, in East London

Birdsong provides living-wage work to women from migrant communities in London using craft skills that they already have.

There is a wealth of making skill among London’s migrant communities but the women Birdsong employ often face significant barriers to employment: for example language, lack of qualifications and childcare commitments. Their reference for this prize, from one of the women they work with, was particularly powerful: “working with them has always made me feel at home, comfortable, accepted, safe and understood”.

Aside from the social mission, Sarah and the team have managed to build a manufacturing process that is local and lean, which gives them margins comparable to industry standards, and have provided 10,000 hours of paid work at the living wage to low-income women. With ‘dress in protest’ as their catchphrase, their collection is fashion-forward.

Will Britton, CEO of Autonome, in Weston-super-Mare (Somerset)

Will’s vision is to make people with learning disabilities independent.

The AutonoMe app helps people learn new skills through step-by-step videos and helps them self-evaluate their needs. This helps carers understand where each individual is on their journey of independence, so they can make evidence-based decisions about their ongoing support needs. It’s already operating in seven local authorities in South West England, and Will’s ambition to make this a mainstream part of social care nationally.

It’s a win-win innovation: firstly, for people with learning disabilities who crave independence from people standing over their shoulders; secondly, for local authorities commissioning a better service at lower costs; and thirdly, for shareholders as it does this whilst still delivering profit.