Social Innovation

This social enterprise crowdfunds training for homeless people

Hussein, Claude & Leo in training as electricians

The UK-based social enterprise was launched in November 2017 and has so far helped more than 400 people. Image: BEAM

Victoria Masterson
Senior Writer, Forum Agenda
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Social Innovation

This article is part of: The Davos Agenda
  • Beam accepts referrals from councils and other homeless charities.
  • Donations of more than £1.5 million have been raised since 2017.
  • Social entrepreneurs have improved the lives of more than 622 million people in 190 countries, according to the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship.

Tony from east London was homeless and had lived in hostels for 10 years.

He is now working as an electrician after raising more than £4,000 through a crowdfunding network that supports homeless people into stable careers.

“My goal at the time was to get some qualifications, to get a job, come off benefits and get a flat, all within a couple of years – and I’ve got them,” Tony says.

He paid for his City and Guilds electrician qualification after raising £4,378 through the Beam.org site.

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The UK-based social enterprise was launched in November 2017 and has so far helped more than 400 people achieve their potential with crowdfunding of more than $2 million.

Last year alone, it raised more than $1.2 million to fully fund 262 campaigns.

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Making a difference

Each person is referred by an established homeless charity or their local council.

After basic checks to make sure each person is mentally and physically ready for full-time employment, a dedicated support specialist then works with them to develop a tailored career plan.

Founder Alex Stephany started Beam – which has the strapline ‘Be Amazing’ – after getting to know a homeless man at his local Tube station and wanting to make a difference.

Beam’s impact so far. Image: beam.org

Global impact

Social enterprises are businesses that want to improve society and have a social or environmental purpose.

According to the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship, a sister organization of the World Economic Forum, social entrepreneurship has evolved significantly over the last few decades and has achieved “extraordinary impact” where traditional market or development-led approaches have failed.

In its 2020 Impact Report, the Foundation reports that the lives of more than 622 million people in 190 countries have been improved by its community.

This includes $6.7 billion distributed in loans or value of products and services to improve livelihoods; improved education for more than 226 million young people and adults and the mitigation of more than 192 million tonnes of CO2.

Revealing the impact
The impact of social enterprises. Image: Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship

Social entrepreneurs are proving that innovative approaches to tough problems can deliver significant results. This can work for governments too.

For example, homeless people are traditionally expected to address problems like addiction or unemployment before they are offered permanent accommodation.

When Finland reversed this approach through its Housing First policy – giving them a home first – it cut long-term homelessness by a third.

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Innovative approaches

In Canada, the New Leaf Project, a scheme led by Vancouver-based Foundations for Social Change, gave 50 homeless people around $5,600 each and reported “beautifully surprising” results.

These include days spent homeless dropping from 77% to 49% in the first month, a 37% rise in food security and 39% less spent on goods such as alcohol, cigarettes or drugs over 12 months by those who received the payment.

“It challenges stereotypes we have here in the West about how to help people living on the margins,” Claire Williams, CEO of Foundations for Social Change, told CBC’s The Early Edition.

In the Netherlands, Dutch fashion designer Bas Timmer was prompted by the death of his friend’s homeless father to turn his fledgling outerwear business into a social enterprise.

Six years on, his waterproof padded Sheltersuit – which is worn as a coat but can extend into a sleeping bag – has helped 12,500 homeless people and refugees.

The United Nations estimates that 100 million people are homeless around the world. But with solutions like Beam’s becoming more widespread, that number will hopefully fall in the years ahead.

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These 6 social innovators are unlocking value in marginalized communities

Victoria Masterson

April 9, 2024

1:57

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