Small Can Be Beautiful With Enterprise

Social Business Alliance (SBA) CIC is an innovative and inspiring IOEE Academy that works with various partnerships to showcase the life-changing value and benefits of social enterprise as a way to do business. One of SBA’s recent partnerships has been with the charity MK Snap, where it has been delivering SFEDI Awards qualifications to adults with learning difficulties. We caught up with one of SBA’s Directors and IOEE Fellow Sue Quinn, to discuss how tailoring its programmes to meet the needs of individual learners helps them to develop personal confidence and social skills through the achievement of their qualifications.

MK Snap is a special needs organisation based in Milton Keynes that delivers education, life skills and opportunities to people with learning disabilities, providing them with ‘the skills they need to be the best they can be’. Learners can participate in a wide range of activities, such as arts, crafts, cooking, IT and gardening, but none of their classes have been accredited until its delivery of SFEDI Awards qualifications via SBA.

MK Snap has been delivering SFEDI Awards’ Level 1 Award in Passport to Enterprise and Employment qualification, and Sue tells us that not only is this giving learners an official educational certificate, but that the benefits of this achievement far surpasses that of just an academic qualification.

Sue says: “SBA supports people in a variety of ways. We help people who want to set up social enterprises, we train business advisors, mentors and coaches, and we also give people the opportunity to get very specific qualifications around social enterprise. Our work with MK Snap is particularly special as these are learners who would usually find it very challenging to get formal educational qualifications, and we’re able to give them the opportunity to harness their creativity and inspiration.” Think Enterprise | 13

Creativity and innovation are at the heart of SBA’s work with MK Snap, and Sue explains that such an approach has to be actively adopted in all elements of the preparation and delivery of the courses, as well as encouraged with its learners. Sue says: “Everything has to be very carefully considered and prepared in advance, as we have to make adjustments for how our learners will get the most out of our delivery. For example, there could be a young learner with autism in the class, and they might really benefit from routine and understanding the structure of the session, and the best way for them to learn may be by doing things in a very practical way.

“In these sessions you won’t see a typical classroom where the teacher is at the front and the learners are taking notes – actually, one of the things we’ve found really helpful is getting learners to audio record the sessions, just on a mobile phone. Of course, we get permission from learners and parents to do this, but our learners wouldn’t be able to write notes down, and making a recording takes an enormous pressure off them to remember everything and take it all in at the time. All of our work at SBA, but particularly with MK Snap, is about tailoring every aspect of the experience to the learners in front of you. That’s how you get learners engaged in the experience.”

SBA operates as a Community Interest Company. It is funded through contracts, including the European Social Fund and Government (DWP), and it runs as a social enterprise by using the profits to support people in enterprise and education who would otherwise be unable to pay for it, making this SBA’s social return on investment. SBA has been in operation for over 10 years now, working closely with SFEDI Awards since 2012, and celebrating being awarded its IOEE Academy status back in 2015.

In delivering the SFEDI Awards Level 1 Award in Passport to Enterprise and Employment to its learners, Sue tells us that SBA is in a unique position than makes their learning experiences stand out from the crowd. Sue says: “What we do is a bit different, as we deliver a very small volume of courses, but that have enormous life-changing impacts. There are other organisations delivering SFEDI Awards qualifications in this way, but this makes us lot stand out from the crowd from many centres, due to the fact that others can often deliver really high volumes of courses for lots of learners because their learners can sit themselves down in front of a computer or in a group classroom setting and complete self-guided work or work with the help of the trainer. That in itself is amazing, that getting a qualification is so accessible to so many people who need that support in enterprise and education, but we are the complete opposite of that.

“We work with very small groups of about 8-10 learners – it just wouldn’t work with 15-20 people in a classroom with learning difficulties, as it’s important each learner gets individualised support – which means that our courses take a great deal longer to complete, and are therefore a lot more expensive to run. Ultimately, we have a small number of people achieving these qualifications, and on paper this can look frustrating – but in my personal experience, delivering these qualifications feels so much more valuable because of it. It’s testament to the learners, the teachers, the staff and the parents, to the huge collective effort it takes to give people this opportunity.

“Nothing compares to seeing the joy in our learners’ faces when they they’re presented with their certificate, and seeing them sharing the experience with their families. If you’re caring for someone with a learning disability, you’re constantly battling to get the right support and the money you need. For parents and relatives who are caring for someone they love, getting to see this person gain official certificates in education and enterprise is just something you think you might not ever see.

“Furthermore, you see learners walk away with much more than the actual qualification at the end of the day too. We have the privilege of watching our learners grow and flourish, improve their confidence and their social skills, become more vocal and contributing to conversations, understanding how to listen and not interrupt, and building really positive relationships with themselves and others as a result of it.

“Our SFEDI Awards courses deliver much more than an academic qualification and certificate, both to the learners and to us at SBA. Our learners leave with a sense of achievement and a sense of worth, and to be able to deliver these SFEDI Awards qualifications is incredibly rewarding