Flying the Flag for Social Enterprise

Wow!  We are delighted that from babies with love is an England finalist for Start Up of the Year at the Social Enterprise 2012 awards!

We are shortlisted amongst some great social enterprises, from an organization creating jobs for ex-offenders to one that works to widen access to top universities for students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

So we’re feeling very honoured!

Many people don’t know what a social enterprise is… I hope that very soon it will be a widely understood term… in the meantime we hope we are helping spread the concept through our online shop.  In addition to from babies with love, I bet you’ve come across a social enterprise, but maybe without realising it… Have you ever bought a Big Issue? Been to the Eden Project? Watched Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen?

Social Enterprise UK describes social enterprises as “…businesses that trade to tackle social problems, improve communities, people’s life chances, or the environment.  They make their money from selling goods and services in the open market, but they reinvest their profits back into the business or the local community.  And so when they profit, society profits”.

from babies with love is a social enterprise because we sell baby clothes and donate 100% of our profits to fund the care of orphaned and abandoned babies.

We, like many social enterprises, are accredited by the Social Enterprise Mark. This means that from babies with love has proved it is genuine against independently assessed criteria for social enterprise. The Mark provides assurance that our profits are used to improve the lives of orphaned and abandoned children, acting as a guarantee that from babies with love is trading for people and planet.

The social enterprise sector is growing and my bet is in time we’ll have many more options to buy products – that we would buy anyway – from social enterprises.   The thing I love about that is it’s a win-win-win situation:

–       You enjoy your product,

–       You get the added bonus of enjoying knowing the profit is helping society,

–       Society is better off as a result of your purchase.

Fingers crossed that from babies with love progresses in the Social Enterprise Awards!  But most of all I hope all the amazing social enterprises, across all the award categories, will continue in their successes – so that in no time at all buying from social enterprises is just an everyday part of what we all do.

Why I set up from babies with love

When I had my son, watching children’s charities’ adverts and reading articles about the hardship children face all around the world took on new depth of meaning.  The tears in my eyes and the lump in my throat made me feel more determined than ever to do something.

I thought to myself: if I could buy a beautiful baby grow, at great value, on an attractive website, and know the profit helps a baby in need, why would I buy anywhere else?    The answer is I wouldn’t!

I asked the question, why aren’t children’s charities selling baby clothes and using the profit to fund their work?   I couldn’t find a good answer, so I decided to do it myself! www.frombabieswithlove.org, the first online baby clothes retailer donating 100% profit to orphaned and abandoned children. We sell beautiful, stylish, organic baby clothes, including brands such as Organics for Kids and Red Urchin.

We have begun by donating to the amazing charity SOS Children.  They build and run children’s villages around the world, where foster mums care for orphaned and abandoned children.

Our first baby is a 12-month old boy from Guinea in West Africa. Sadly, his father died, and his mother was not in a position to care for him.   But he now has a new, permanent home, where he should grow up safely, loved by his foster family and he will receive an education.  As part of the village communities, SOS Children provides nurseries, schools and healthcare.  We are also funding the build and running of nursery schools in the villages, our first is in Chipata Village in Zambia.

I believe we need to do more to address inequality in our society.  This has been instilled in me by my parents, my education and my work.  A baby should have a decent start in life no matter where they are born.   Where circumstances are difficult, we should have support systems in place to help.

I did a lot of probono charity work whilst training as an accountant; I found it so enjoyable that I decided to move to the charity sector.  Throughout my career I’ve been interested in corporate social responsibility and social enterprise; having my son inspired me to set up from babies with love. I feel driven to help create change and I believe that, starting small, we can make a contribution to, not only helping specific children, but also shifting our expectations of the role of business in society.

As SOS Children Zambia Director, Florence Phiri, says, “buy baby clothes at from babies with love because you will have double satisfaction! You buy a great quality, organic product, and at the same time you help a child somewhere else – double satisfaction and double benefit!”

Why setting up a social enterprise is like motherhoood

Yesterday www.frombabieswithlove.org went live… and I can’t help but reflect that starting my social enterprise has been rather like motherhood!

In the past two years I’ve had a baby and created from babies with love, an online shop selling beautiful organic baby clothes and donating 100% profits to orphaned and abandoned children.

I began my business plan about a year ago.  It was similar to how I felt in planning to become a mum, I knew it was a big deal; that my life would change forever!   When I was pregnant I did an awful lot of reading, received great advice from family and friends… how to plan for a child, look after a child, how to look after myself!   And in planning my business I found the same thing!  Most surprisingly, amazing communities of entrepreneurs that are happy to share advice, give time and provide support.    I’ve even discovered there are networks for ‘social entrepreneurs’ and ‘mumpreneurs’ – both labels I now give myself!

I don’t think anything is quite the same as the excitement, nervousness, ups and down of pregnancy and motherhood… but I have been, and still am, experiencing all of this in starting my website.   Perhaps the only difference is no back pain!

I’ve learned so much.   In both professions!   2 years ago I knew nothing about pushchairs, weaning, or what the correct temperature for a human being is!   Nor did I know anything about search engine optimisation, trade fairs or writing press releases.  And so much of what I’ve learned in becoming a mum is helping me run from babies with love.  I’m lucky because as a mum I know my customers well.  Plus without doubt my ability to multi-task has entered a whole new league!

And the big website launch day?  Like childbirth?   Well not quite!   But I certainly went in to overdrive on both occasions…  and shouted a lot!   At least with from babies with love I’ve been shouting on twitter rather than at my husband!

And now?  I carefully wrap each order to send out to my new customers…. Just as I so delicately wrapped my son in his swaddle blankets.   I am so proud, so excited.

What next?  The new experiences continue!  My son is now 18 months…. He’s learning new words and I’m learning how to deal with tantrums!   www.frombabieswithlove.org is one day old and I’m learning how to spread the word.

Both my baby boy and my brand new business came from the heart.  They both involved my blood, sweat and tears!  My gorgeous son has great opportunities in life, which I look forward to nurturing.  And through selling organic baby clothes and donating all the profit to orphaned and abandoned babies, I hope from babies with love means that other babies will do too.   The shop’s open!  Come and see!

Hands up for social enterprise, ladies?!

When asked, by show of hands, how many people understood the term “social enterprise” only around a third of the audience raised their hand.   A little worrying for a social entrepreneur like me….

Yesterday, at a conference to learn about social enterprise, organised by the Federation of International Women’s Associations in London (FIWAL), women from around the world gathered to find out more under the banner ‘working towards a more positive tomorrow’.

The umbrella body Social Enterprise UK introduced the concept, explaining the meaning of social enterprise and the sector’s growth.   Interestingly for the female audience, Head of Policy and Research Ceri Jones noted that the ‘glass ceiling’ is being broken by women in social enterprise; that 41% of social enterprise board members are women, compared to 11% in FTSE companies.

Founders of the social enterprises MyBnk.org, PositiveLuxury.com, Elvis & Kresse and Rococo Chocolates inspired the audience with their personal and business histories, describing how their businesses are making a social difference.

At the start of the day, most did not know the term ‘social enterprise’ but by the end, everyone had had the opportunity to meet successful social entrepreneurs. So what difference did this day make to such a group of international women?  Participants described how inspirational it was to hear from young passionate speakers doing such fantastic work.   Margaret Wickware, FIWAL President, said, “it was fantastic to learn about this 21st century business model and see how it relates to my own life”.

One participant noted that she was brought up in a consumer society, where waste is a given, built in to the system, and that her generation never questioned where anything came from.    She felt delighted that the day had sparked her social conscience and hoped it could create momentum, rather than everyone going back to their old habits.

The social enterprise sector is growing and the terminology is becoming better known, as is shown by the very fact that a group like FIWAL held a social enterprise conference. That’s why – despite the poor show of hands at the start – I feel confident that now is a great time to launch a social enterprise.  My organisation, www.frombabieswithlove.org, which sells organic baby clothes and donates 100% of profits to orphaned and abandoned children, is launching this month.

The inspiration felt by the audience demonstrates that people are excited to hear about social impact, about positive stories and how small organisations and initiatives can be part of a bigger change.  So there is only one way for those hands, and the social enterprise sector to go: up! up! up!

3 things I didn’t expect – setting up a social enterprise – part 3

Part 3: there’s lots behind the answer to ‘the best Chinese takeaway in London’!

That minimalist Google search screen.  Who stops to think about what goes on behind it as they’re typing in “best Chinese takeaway in London”?   I certainly didn’t, and I’ve discovered there’s an awful lot!

I’d vaguely heard of search engine optimisation (SEO) before I started my business plan, but now I know there are professionals that dedicate their life to it. I’m not a techy person but to ensure www.frombabieswithlove.org is on page one of relevant searches I’m starting to learn the language.

Key things I’ve learned so far:

–       It takes a bit of time for search engines like Google to index new pages; by setting up a holding page in advance of the site launch, www.frombabieswithlove.org is already recognised by Google and the like.

–       Not only are directory listings and references on other sites great for marketing, they are great for SEO, because Google gains trust for new sites through links to established sites.

–       Content has to be new and continually updated – Google notices and ranks a website with new content higher in relevant searches.  A news section or a blog is a great way to do this.

–       There is little value in repeating chunks of text containing key words throughout a website – Google can identify this and scores it negatively.  Plus it would be terrible for customers of course!

–       It’s important to choose key words that make the site very relevant to a targeted group of people looking specifically for a particular product.  Using broad key words might be relevant to more people, but, without paying a fortune for advertising, a site would be so far down the search results that no-one would see it.

As I get closer to launching www.frombabieswithlove.org I’m ticking off tasks on my to do list.  One thing I didn’t expect but now know for sure – SEO is going to be on my to do list forever!   If anyone has any great tips to share I would love to hear them!

3 things I didn’t expect – setting up a social enterprise: Part 2

Part 2: its boom time for social enterprise! 

From online payment services to postal bag printing – the sector is growing and for nearly any service I have needed – I have found a social enterprise!

A social enterprise is a business that uses its profits to further its social mission.  There are lots of famous examples; CafeDirect, The Big Issue and The Eden Project are all social enterprises.   And there are many others – Social Enterprise UK, a national body, notes there are 62,000 in the Great Britain, and that this figure is probably understated. According to various reports, the social enterprise sector has been growing faster than the rest of the economy.

When I began setting up from babies with love I knew the social enterprise sector was well established – but I didn’t realise that its been growing so fast, that it has such wide reach, and that I would be able to find suppliers, providing great value and service, that also have the same principles as us.   It’s amazing!

For example, when you purchase an item of baby clothing on our website, your payment will be processed by CharityClear, an online payment services social enterprise.  100% of their profit goes to Epilepsy Scotland.    It’s brilliant to know that, as well as using all our profit for a social purpose the fees we pay to suppliers like CharityClear are doing the same.

We know our customers are going to feel fantastic – enjoying their beautiful item of baby clothing and knowing they are helping orphaned and abandoned babies around the world.  Now we can also explain how our suppliers are helping others too.

So here’s to the continued growth and success of the social enterprise sector!   May it continue to surprise me!

3 things I didn’t expect in setting up a social enterprise: part 1

Part 1: I would dance like a chicken

My best efforts to entertain our beautiful baby models began with simple renditions of “the wheels on the bus” but deteriorated in to dancing like King Louie from the Jungle Book – which I suspect actually looked more like the chicken dance!

We shot the photos for our homepage in a beautiful townhouse in Manchester.     Our photographer, the amazing Adam Riley, (http://www.adamrileyphotography.com) is an exceptionally kind and calm man – perfect for the job of photographing babies throughout the day.

My instructions were to entertain, hold reflective light panels and make tea.  What should I have expected in setting up a social enterprise?  To use my whole range of skills, and then some I never knew I had!

Our baby models did such a great job, a huge thank you to them and their mums.    Here are a few of the gorgeous shots:

It was one of the most fun days of work I have ever had – dancing like a lunatic had a lot to do with it!  As did the babies’ smiles and laughter.   And for me, at the stage I’m at in setting up www.frombabieswithlove.org it was seeing the clothes in action and being enjoyed by babies and their mums; knowing that our customers are going to get great pleasure from their purchases.

Part 2 coming soon!