Lockdowns across the world. Social distancing, isolation and quarantine commonplace. What does that mean for social enterprises that usually work directly with vulnerable people and rely on face-to-face communication? We spoke to social entrepreneurs in the UK, Turkey and South Africa to find out how they’re taking on the challenge.
Over the past few weeks, our priorities have shifted in ways we could barely have imagined before. With more and more people under orders to stay at home, the focus is on the essentials: food, toiletries, medication, vital transport – and demand for these has leapt. Some social enterprises are well-placed to deliver on (and benefit from) this. Amsterdam-based food delivery company FOODLOGICA – which uses electric vehicles to transport goods – says custom has ‘exploded’ and is calling for more drivers. Who Gives a Crap, which donates half its profits to building toilets, says that demand for its toilet paper in the UK is about 20 times higher than usual.
But others – especially those working directly with vulnerable people – are having to rethink the way they work, at least for the foreseeable future. This, in some cases, involves a total restructure of their organisation, while others are able to use technology to shift their services temporarily. For all, though, getting it right is complex – and urgent, both for those they’re serving and for the sustainability of their own business.
Here’s how three social enterprises are rapidly adapting to a new way of working under the coronavirus cloud.
Older people: Good Life Sorted, UK
Older people are at increased risk of severe illness from the coronavirus and in the UK, those aged 70 or above have been told to self-isolate in their homes.
That makes the services of organisations like Good Life Sorted crucial. They connect the elderly in the UK with 25 vetted helpers who offer a range of home services (from shopping or collecting medication, to hairdressing or home repairs) for an hourly fee.
“Everything and nothing has changed,” says Verity Batchelder, co-founder and COO. Helpers are continuing to service existing clients as much as they can in line with government guidance, providing only the most essential services. The company has introduced a new self-solation support service which involves their usual errands, as well as check-ins by phone. This service is free, and is being promoted through local councils and GP clinics. “Our view, at times like this, is you primarily have to think of the community. It’s not about making money, it’s about doing the right thing,” says Batchelder.
“At times like this, you primarily have to think of the community. It’s not about making money, it’s about doing the right thing”
And she is seeing this as an opportunity for Good Life Sorted. The company generates some income by supporting care agencies that are struggling for staff, and as backup support in case the families of those who are vulnerable fall ill. Although numerous grassroots community groups are rallying to support vulnerable neighbours, Batchelder explains that there is still a need for helpers that “have been vetted and are used to dealing with the elderly and vulnerable”.
Good Life Sorted joined the UnLtd Thrive programme earlier this year, which gives selected companies six months of support and an opportunity to secure investment of up to £50,000, either through UnLtd or its partners. Batchelder says her current (undisclosed) funders have been “very supportive” and “kept very much involved in any changes of approach” that the organisation has decided to take. Initial negotiations suggest funders are taking a long-term view, and the co-founder says she feels lucky to be in this position.
What’s worrying Batchelder is not the resilience of Good Life Sorted, but that of its vulnerable clients. “When I talk to our elderly customers, many of them are more concerned about loneliness and social isolation than the virus itself,” she says. But the team is doing their best to keep up as much contact as possible. “We’re making a big point of staying connected, both with helpers and clients. We’re checking in regularly with phone calls – it’s actually easier to contact people as everyone is home!”