Rebalancing the Scales – the Mission behind 4Lunch
Starting my own business was never about making lots of money. In fact, starting 4Lunch came from a deep-rooted desire to play Robin Hood, rebalancing the scales of a broken economic system.
Some people get all the opportunities, all the contacts, all the glory. Whereas many others face disadvantage and discrimination day after day. This lack of opportunity leads to a lack of confidence, preventing people from reaching their potential.
Inequality in Modern Day Britain
There have always been vast inequalities between rich and poor, the haves and the have-nots, for as long as anyone can remember. All the current evidence points to growing discontent and a widening gap between rich and poor. Some examples:
- Empty properties in London, bought up by the super-rich, coexist with rising homelessness and rough sleeping.
- Food waste coexists with food poverty.
- Benefit sanctions coexist with tax havens.
- Shiny new offices, restaurants and shops are built, yet many people are still trapped by low-wage employment and zero-hour contracts in the gig economy.
- Parents pay thousands of pounds a year to send their children to private school, whilst other children have their only proper meal of the day at school.
People wonder why the London riots happened, why Brexit happened, why Trump happened.
When you analyse how the capitalist system favours the few and the punishes the poor, this backlash doesn’t seem so shocking.
Choosing a Conscious Career
Job, work, vocation, career… whatever you want to call it, what you get up to 35 hours + a week matters.
Is 30% of your waking life dedicated to fulfilling, intentional, purposeful work?
Or is it 30% of your time dedicated to being miserable and drained physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually?
Or perhaps you are somewhere in between.
In an ideal world, earnings from work would be directly proportional to the social utility and virtue of the job. And yet, in reality, nurses and teachers are paid far less than footballers and stockbrokers. NHS managers and CEOs of charities are paid peanuts compared to those in the private sector.
This doesn’t bode well for those who want to embark on a conscious career. The more social good you want to do, the more earnings you will have to sacrifice over your working life.
No wonder so many bright, young, hopeful and talented students end up selling their souls to corporations.
Be the Change You Want to See
After studying Politics and Economics at the University of Manchester, which required thinking long and hard about the reasons for vast global and local inequality, I came to the conclusion that the best thing I could do to help the situation was to embark upon social entrepreneurship.
What the world didn’t need is another 20-something management consultant.
I couldn’t fight capitalism, but perhaps I could harness the inevitability of commerce, consumption and the profit motivation to help those who were most in need.
“The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.” – Franklin D Roosevelt
The motivation to continue to work towards my vision for 4Lunch comes from an inherent drive to instigate positive change. Being a social entrepreneur isn’t a choice anymore, it is who I am.
Choosing this career path is a reflection of my political standpoint. When there is already so much provided for people with the ability to pay – flashy restaurants, cafes and, yes, premium cookery classes – it is not beneficial to add to the noise.
How to Make Your Life Difficult
Conscious careers are still seen as more aspirational than actually achievable. It’s fine if you can put up with the limited financial earnings, but it’s an unrealistic pipedream for many students facing mounting debt and mounting living costs.
It costs more money and it takes more time to be good.
Many businesses cut corners, sacrifice quality, pay low wages and generally treat their staff like shit. Profits go into the pockets of already wealthy shareholders, whilst social and economic inequalities proliferate.
To be a social enterprise, a business which generates profit, but uses this profit to benefit wider society, requires a huge amount of effort and commitment.
Social enterprises have to:
- Maintain steady and sustainable supply chains.
- Work in difficult areas, often with difficult people.
- Form a wide range of private, public and third sector partnerships.
- Take into consideration the political, social, environmental and economic landscape.
- Battle an identity crisis, straddling between being perceived as a business and/or as a charity.
In my opinion, the charity sector is too reliant on funding and too slow to react to change.
Conversely, the private sector is too profit-driven, exploitative and too risk-taking. Relationships, trust and integrity are often sacrificed en route to fast growth, and then companies go bust, leaving everyone else in the lurch.
The question is, can social enterprise take on the best of both worlds?
I firmly believe YES.
The Social Enterprise Identity Crisis
Social enterprise is a sector that doesn’t even seem to understand itself, plus public knowledge is limited. Social entrepreneurs have different styles and interpretations of how to operate. There are different legal models, funding options and management structures. It took me several months to get my head around it, and I hadn’t even started trading.
But what unites social enterprise is a balance between a business brain and a social heart. A reconciliation between the priorities of the political right (entrepreneurialism, innovation, private business) and the political left (community focus, social benefit, social justice).
Clearly, social entrepreneurship is good for everyone.
Aspirational and Achievable
My message is that if you have an aspiration to start a social enterprise, it is achievable – if you have money in the bank.
My health warning to any prospective social entrepreneurs is that this journey will be long, arduous and lonely. Don’t expect instant gratification. Don’t expect people to come to you, just because your idea is noble.
Social entrepreneurship isn’t something you can dip your toes into. It will take over your life. But if you want to go for it, it is possible. Here’s what I’d suggest:
- Save money now. Work whenever you can and open a savings account. You will need to be able to live without guaranteed income for at least 6 months.
- Live simply. Edit your life, leaving more time, energy and money to dedicate to your business.
- Surround yourself with uplifting, energising people. Ditch anyone who brings you down or doesn’t believe in you.
- Start building your credibility (and potentially win money) by entering business competitions. The application process will help you to think about your business plan and motivations more clearly.
- Find support, mentoring and guidance as soon as possible. Reach out to those who have been there before and ask for advice. Most people are willing to help.
- Don’t obsess over the perfect plan. It is much better to act, test and talk to people. However, reflection and iteration are very important as your business develops. Pro-activeness and tenacity will get you very far.
- Look after yourself first. You are in no position to help anyone else if you are overworked, unhealthy or miserable.