“Of course there have been times when I have thought I would give up – I think anyone who says otherwise isn’t telling the truth, (or they have such a thick skin they don’t really know what they’re doing). The motivators to keep going? You have to see the fun in it”. Matt Little
What is/was your project about?
Community Interest company focusing on Social enterprise. We do 2 things:
Set up and run our own social enterprises; including a heritage building we’ve opened up in Plymouth; a bakery; a shop reestablished in Liskeard;
Support others to become more socially enterprising. We work with a lot of schools, housing associations, other cultural organisations and public bodies to enable them to do what we do, change how they work where necessary, and set up and run their own schemes.
What issues do you or did you address?
A fair amount of our work is with schools so that they can think of themselves as social enterprises. There is change happening within the school system, and it could go one way or the other – schools have freedom to choose how they develop and I think it’s important for them to think about being more socially enterprising. If they can be more organized and autonomous in thinking about where they buy their food, where they buy their computers and how they relate to the local area, that’s a good thing. But it also relates to the content of the curriculum – how can you develop and create a curriculum that is socially enterprising, real and carries a consequence, and that brings a social benefit for themselves and to their community. How do you work with a school to create and support a structure like that? That is what we are trying to do – and it brings significant benefits for children and young people (they are naturally socially enterprising and are perfectly capable of making real change happen in their schools, lives and communities – if given the chance and support)
What moved you to take action?Prior to that I had always worked with children and young people in a range of different ways, in the voluntary sector and in big government public schemes. I have a belief in children and young people having a natural creativity and potential, but the systems and structures we put them in (like schools) aren’t always very good at developing that potential. Instead, it is often stripped away or undermined, especially in schools that are exam heavy. When a school works like an industrial system that sees a child as an empty bucket that must be filled with facts and then tested on them, it’s perhaps not the only way of looking at development and potential – it can be wasteful. So in the past I worked with others, and in the early 2000s we were working on a scheme called ‘Creativg Partnerships’ that paired up schools and creative organisations to try and make schools more creative places. It was incredibly challenging, but working well. However a government change was likely to end the scheme – we thought about it and said that if we still thought it was important and the work being carried out was effective then we couldn’t stop doing it just because of a government change…so we set up RIO as a Social Enterprise to keep some of the legacy of that scheme going. If schools thought it was important they could pay for it instead of the government. I also believe that ‘top down’ government interventions don’t always work as well as they could. Their downfall is often inherent in them being a government scheme in the first place. So we were interested in social enterprise as a space where changes can be made outside of that bureaucracy – we wanted it to be a hybrid space, with the best of public ideals and an ethical management of profits, (no dividends to directors) combined with the energy that can come with enterprise.
What were the obstacles that you had to overcome?
Every single day there’s something. It’s like learning to walk with a stone in your shoe…It’s the way it is and it’s the beauty of it. RIO employs 40 people…people are idiosyncratic, quirky, slightly mad…but that’s what makes them good! Putting them all in one organisation is both a fantastic thing and it can do your head in. It’s about managing people and getting them to all go in the same direction.
The other constant challenge is money and when you’re trying to make change happen, as change isn’t this smooth easy thing. Working with schools that have had the same systems in place over a hundred years is always going to be difficult. Sometimes you feel you’ve made a real breakthrough in a matter of months, and then sometimes it can feel like you’re slowly chipping away for too long with not much to show for it. Making real social change occur is the challenge.
What helped you keep going in hard times? Was there a time when you thought you would give up? (What did you think or say to inspire yourself to keep going?)
I don’t ever have to think ‘Why am I doing what I’m doing?’ because it fits with my beliefs and it’s difficult at times but really it’s easy because I believe in it. That’s a big motivator. Of course there have been times when I have thought I would give up – I think anyone who says otherwise isn’t telling the truth, (or they have such a thick skin they don’t really know what they’re doing). The motivators to keep going? You have to see the fun in it. And also, I truly believe in our name as it really sums up what we’re about. The REAL bit: supporting children, people and communities to make a real difference or consequence. The IDEAS bit: innovation and new ways to do things; that energises. The ORGANISATION bit: it’s all very well having ideas but it’s about putting that into practice and making things happen with project management, employment, money management etc.
That fusion is why I like our name and why I am still animated and interested in what we do. It’s never boring.
On a scale of 1 to 10 (10 being very happy) where would you rate how you feel about
6 in my personal life, 8 with my job…so a 7?