Steve had a bunch of problems he wanted to solve. The Riverside estate he lived on in Cardiff struggled to attract businesses and lacked jobs. A number of people in the area were eating a bad diet, and as a result their health was suffering. And on top of that lots of the food local people were buying came from the other side of the world, which meant their weekly shop had a big carbon footprint. Twelve years ago he came up with an idea that would address all these problems—run a farmers market, using it to generate jobs and encourage people to eat healthy, local produce. The Riverside Community Market Association (RCMA) was born.
Fast forward to 2011 and the RCMA is running three markets. Every week they attract 2,500 shoppers from Cardiff, whose weekly shop is now free of air miles and low on packaging. The farmers market generates income for the community—several residents run stalls, earning some of the £2m spent in the market each year. Plus local shops benefit from the footfall created by the market. And finally, the RCMA has involved 1,000 Riverside residents in activities like food-tasting, cooking and gardening.
The late Lord Young, sociologist and serial social entrepreneur, would probably be impressed by the way the RCMA addresses local problems with local solutions. This sort of bottom-up innovation was just what Lord Young was about. In fact, Lord Young knew Steve, because Steve is a graduate (or ‘Fellow’) of the school he set up—the School for Social Entrepreneurs (SSE).
Steve attended the SSE in 1997, a year when Lord Young helped run the course, and so benefited from Lord Young’s experience of setting up numerous social innovations, from the Open University to Language Line. The year on the SSE course gave Steve the support he needed to go from his first concept to making it happen. ‘The SSE launched me in a completely different direction’, Steve told us, ‘looking back it was critical’.
But students who attend the SSE don’t just come out with lots of bright ideas for how to solve local problems; they also come out tons more business savvy than your average charity worker. Steve is a case in point. He came to the SSE from a career in community music, but left inspired to take an entrepreneurial approach to social problems. Today, his farmer’s market covers its costs by renting out stalls. His market garden—which will train people in organic horticulture—should sell enough product to cover its costs by 2015.
So I reckon another giant of British entrepreneurship would be pretty impressed with SSE Fellows like Steve—Lord Sugar. Unlike Lord Young, Lord Sugar wouldn’t dedicate his time to an enterprise that didn’t bring him a healthy profit, but he would no doubt be impressed by SSE Fellows’ entrepreneurial flare. And Steve is not a one-off: NPC’s evaluation of the SSE found that the main source of income for organisations set up by SSE Fellows is selling goods and services. They may not be making mega-bucks but SSE Fellows are breaking with the traditional charity funding model of grants and donations.
Steve Garrett, like most SSE Fellows, blends social innovation and entrepreneurship in a unique way. I reckon Lord Young and Lord Sugar would be proud.
NPC’s impact evaluation of the School for Social Entrepreneurship will be launched on the evening of Tuesday 10th. It will be available from SSE and NPC’s websites.