In recognition of International Women’s Day, meet three inspirational social-entrepreneurs who are each making a noticeable social impact on London’s business scene. From childcare to fashion to water, these are THE women doing business differently.
June O’Sullivan MBE, CEO of London Early Years Foundation
As a young single parent, my first experience of nurseries was positively unkind. It left an indelible mark on me and I vowed that I would do something to create nurseries which were wonderfully inclusive places for all children but especially those from poor and disadvantaged families.
Many years later, I found myself in a position to create a new childcare model. The outcome was a childcare social enterprise London Early Years Foundation (LEYF) designed to welcome all children irrespective of their social backgrounds or ability. I always felt that the social business model was insufficient on its own and needed a relevant and ambitious social pedagogy embracing the theory, practice, teaching and learning that would literally change the world one child at a time. LEYF’s pedagogy is now at the heart of our service and has driven 60% outstanding nurseries and the rest good against a national average of 22%.
We are now the largest social enterprise nursery group in the UK, that having grown fivefold with an increased turnover from a £2m charity to a £22m. Today we have 37 nurseries across 10 London boroughs currently providing for 4,500 children, 40% of whom access subsidised places. We employ 770 staff including 60 apprentices, have our own LEYF degree and currently creating the first Early Years Chef Academy. We continue to develop and grow and show that our model can change the world one child at a time.
Jenny Holloway, CEO of Fashion Enter
I started Fashion Enter because an unscrupulous third party basically forced me to put my ten-year-old design company into liquidation. I was heartbroken at the time and the only way I was able to get over the shock of being so trusting and basically so stupid was to think that I wanted designers to never make the same mistake as I did. Money was secondary…doing “good” was what provided my motivation.
It’s been a journey. I have had many ups and downs during the last thirteen years but we are now expanding and we have deep foundations. We have helped 1000s of people to obtain real industry skills and also upskill. Despite the current gloom over apprenticeship figures and the levy, we are up on our apprenticeship intake working with 33 retailers at both level 3 and 5. We love education and learning – this is what empowers people today and we have had some wonderful success stories such as Marquel who went on our level 1, 2 and then had a level 3 apprenticeship with DSI (making costumes for Strictly Come Dancing) now he has his own label Yodea.
Our next step is to open a state-of-the-art Tailoring Academy for higher level skills and we are already working with Harrods, Savile Row tailors Gieves and Ralph and Russo. If there is one message I want to really get across is that social enterprise work. When you make money secondary to the greater good of people and their lives nothing is more fulfilling than this sense of satisfaction and I have met the most inspiring and amazing women.
Karen Lynch, CEO of Belu
My personal mission is to inspire all that there is a better way to do business. So, while Belu is a social enterprise, and our model could be applied to most sectors, we just happen to do it in water.
We do so by offering a product with the lowest carbon footprint possible and by measuring our business through a triple bottom line of people, planet and profit. But it’s what we do with our profits that truly makes a difference. We’ve built a business that transforms 1000’s of lives worldwide through our partnership with WaterAid who we give 100% of profits to. In fact, we gave a record £1m in 2018, no small feat for a team of eight.
But it’s London that’s been key to our success. In a world where it can be easy to get people to say they care, but hard to get them to follow through with their actions, we’ve built a loyal following of some of the world’s best chefs and restaurateurs. Think Rick Stein (Rick Stein Restaurants), Pip Lacey (hicce) and Jamie Oliver (Jamie’s Italian) to name a few. Plus, many successful UK-wide restaurant chains that grew out from their London origins, such as Café Rouge and Zizzi. They’re bought-in to us not because of our price, but because they’re inspired by our mission and impact and believe in doing business differently.