2021: the year to ask ‘how can I help?’
For many of us, 2021 could not come fast enough. I will not expound on the world’s collective gratitude in 2020 being finished, you can watch Netflix’s Death to 2020 for a much more humorous take on this! As we continue in yet another lockdown, I’d like to frame some of the work that Allia will be working on this year to support the impact start-ups and local businesses that are getting ready to step up and make a difference.
Under the guidance of Allia Impact’s CEO (Martin Clark), the team and I have been testing ideas, designing programmes and planning events to empower entrepreneurs and founders to navigate the increasingly turbulent waters plaguing social ventures and SMEs globally. Whether they are raising venture funds or grants, or serving breakfast to the local community, being a business owner has been a tad stressful this past year.
In the US, nearly 100,000 small businesses have gone under during the COVID-19 pandemic. Not just isolated to the cousins across the pond, here in the UK the government has discovered that over 40% of businesses across industries will experience a decrease in profitability this year, and that over 59,000 UK businesses have closed (~1% on 5.9m businesses as of 2019) with at least a further 250,000 set to fold.
Even before COVID-19, small businesses and social ventures were fighting an uphill battle for survival in a world where the Amazons, Ubers, Deliveroos, and other tech giants have swooped in and ‘democratized access’ to a variety of services for their share of the pie. What was once done by a local business is now done by a national app and a self-employed scooter driver who doesn’t make the living wage.
We recognise the challenges that lie ahead for business owners as some, perhaps begrudgingly or unwillingly, become part of digital landscape. We know that persons of BAME and other diverse backgrounds deal with adversity unique to their communities and that the resources for them are not as established as for those elsewhere. The COVID-19 blow has been stunning to local communities and is also felt in non-metropolitan areas (i.e. outside of London, Manchester, Birmingham, etc.), where the government is already hard pressed to solve issues of employment, the education gap, the digital divide, and Brexit.
Despite all this, we remain optimistic but not naïvely so. Allia has worked on these issues for the last 20 years. We know that Amazon Prime delivers a great solution overnight for these tireless mums, dads, sisters, and brothers (to name a few) who are fighting to keep their jobs and teach at home. But we also know that those same people value their communities, local businesses and new opportunities for their families. It’s when people come together to put the time into caring and investing in people that incredible opportunities can arise.
Investment isn’t always monetary. Allia has seen this through its Grow Your Business programme where business owners receive training, a community and a sounding board for them to refine and enhance their business proposition and model. In East London, where the programme was conceived by Alex Potter, every £1 invested in managing the programme has resulted in £8 created in the local community through job creation, turnover growth, and job preservation.
The funny part about all of this is that none of this requires you quit your day job, abandon your family, and become a high-flying Venture Capitalist. What it requires is that people with experience (little or a lot), knowledge and the willingness to act; connect with other local business owners or social venture founders and ask the simple question “How can I help you?”.
I think many people have seen the HSBC “We are not an Island” campaign, maybe it’s time to take a page out of the corporate playbook and remember that our neighbours, community members, and connections are not alone on an island…lockdown or not.
Action Items for the Do-ers
- Speak to a local business owner and ask them what they are struggling with
- If you have the expertise, ask them if you can help pro-bono for an hour a month or
- If you don’t, ask your friends/colleagues if they would be willing to advise & mentor
- Buy local. Check out sites such as Locally UK, Shop Here Not There, and all kinds of other options that are dedicated to helping you support local.
- Start a campaign on social media or a crowdfunding platform if someone needs a helping hand!