Reflections on running our social enterprise during covid-19
As we enter week 3 of COVID19 lockdown, here are a few reflections on what it’s been like to run a small social enterprise in the most difficult few weeks that most of us have ever faced.
Team work makes the dream work
I know it’s a cliche to say how great your team is, but you really do find out a lot about people at a moment of crisis. And the team we’ve pulled together - a core team of 3 Social Business Brokers staff and 3 freelancers - plus a wider network of people offering pro bono support - has been an absolute joy to work with - remotely.
It’s a time when values matter more than ever. If people are on board with what you’re trying to do - even if - as has often been the case in this situation - you don’t have a clue in this precise moment what to do next - then you’ve got a good chance of making things work.
With support from our Board, we quickly put on hold most of our other Zero Waste Leeds work (although a shout out to our Empty Homes Doctor team who are doing a great job working from home, supporting empty home owners). And then - virtually of course - we got our heads together to think through how we could help our city at a time of crisis.
We wondered for a while whether we should do something completely different - like all going to volunteer on food redistribution projects. But, as always, we soon came back to bins.
From on-the-go to #stayathome
We are huge fans of Hubbub and learnt a massive amount from them - particularly in terms of engaging mainstream audiences in environmental issues. You have to be a bit creative to keep people interested, if all you’re ever talking about is bins.
The Leeds By Example project also strengthened a lot of local relationships between key organisations in the city. Those closer working relationships helped Leeds By Example to be a success - and they have been the foundation for work we’ve done together during the COVID19 response.
When it started to become clear that we’d soon enter a lockdown period, we had a call from the Council asking us to have a think about how we could support them in managing domestic waste services whilst we all #stayathomesavelives.
The conversation centred on a couple of things. How could we help to share, amplify and build on the key messages that the Council would need to put out about core services? Household bins, litter bins, household waste sites?
And then how could we shift our focus from on-the-go recycling to #stayathome waste management? How could we work with Leeds residents to help them to see that we all have a role to play in managing our waste over the coming weeks? And might we be able to support people to get into new habits at home which they might stick with longer term?
All the talk of movement building starts to make sense
Following the conversation with the Council, our quickly-assembled team started work on our #stayathome engagement plan. It’s been, as I’d suggest many of the best plans are, a plan that’s been made up as we’ve gone along. There’s been no point in spending time coming up with clever strategies. The last three weeks has been about trying things out, learning quickly, stopping doing stuff that doesn’t work, and building on the things that do.
It’s also got us thinking more deeply about what we’ve been talking about since we set up Zero Waste Leeds a couple of years ago. We are building a movement to help Leeds to become a zero waste city by 2030. What, exactly, do we mean by that?
Again, it’s another one of those things that we are working out by doing stuff. Working in a crisis - and trying to make sure that everything you do has some value - really does focus your mind. What exactly is the point of what we’re doing?
I’d suggest values matter again here. One thing we talk about a lot in our work is sharing our platform. Much of our inspiration here comes from an unlikely source - a football player.
In this speech, Megan Rapinoe talks about sharing her platform and building ladders all around it. And in our own little way, that’s what we try to do too. We try to work with generosity - sharing people’s stories, promoting local businesses and social enterprises, focusing on the positives and the opportunities to improve things.
And that’s where the movement building comes in. What we do at Zero Waste Leeds clearly matters - we’re often the people who start things off, or join things up. But the value in what we’re doing comes from the collective - the 7000 people who are part of our online community, the people who offer to help others with composting tips, or food waste reduction ideas. The 200 new people who join us each week.
That coming together - social connections at a time when we’re physically separated from one another - is what gives us hope right now.
Links to all the work we're doing during Covid-19 can be found here.