Originally inspired by the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, arc was launched in East London in September 2011 with two aims; to help social enterprises grow and to create 1,000 jobs for the Olympic borough residents by 2015.
“Social enterprises are businesses that exist 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.” (Social Enterprise UK)
As a founding partner, BP has been a driving force behind this needs-led, skills-based volunteering programme, providing leadership and commitment to the social enterprises, enabling them to become more sustainable, to grow and ultimately to create jobs.
Following on from the success of the East London programme, arc went on to expand into nine West London boroughs in 2012. A target was set to create an additional 1,000 jobs for local residents by 2016. To date the programme has supported the creation of over 4,700 jobs including 2,567 jobs in Olympic boroughs and 1,203 in West London.
Since its launch, the programme has provided support to over 150 social enterprises. It provides social entrepreneurs free access to bespoke, practical support from business, such as improving business strategy, marketing and branding support or practical advice on winning contracts and new business. In addition arc social enterprises also have access to subsidised training and impact consultancy, discounted premises and supply chain introductions.
So far, more than 200 BP employees from our offices in Canary Wharf and Sunbury have volunteered with arc and these numbers continue to grow. On average, a BP employee spends an impressive 11 months volunteering with their chosen social enterprise. The expertise and knowledge they provide is really delivering a tangible impact to the social enterprises, as outlined in arc’s 2016 impact report published in December 2016.
Through the programme employees have given up time to act as business advisors or project volunteers offering high-quality needs-led support in areas such as business strategy, finance, HR, logistics and IT.
A fantastic example of the success of the programme is the work that Nicolas Armao, HSSE & OMS manager, group technology, has been doing with Dramatize, a social enterprise based in Spelthorne that provides theatrical workshops for individuals with learning disabilities, helping them to further their personal development through life skills.
Dramatize operated a manual paper system to manage information about their service users, leading to inefficiencies in the management of activities at the centre. The paper trail also made it difficult to report the impact their programme was having to their financial backers. As the business and their client base began to grow they realized they needed a new electronic database that could be used by all of their staff but they didn’t have the IT skills or resource in-house to implement this.
BP volunteer Nicolas was matched to Dramatize as he had the skills to help them build and implement a low-cost and accessible database. Nicolas said that on meeting Karen Davies, director at Dramatize, that he was immediately interested in supporting the social enterprise. ”I was very inspired by the work of Dramatize and the energy of the director Karen to develop a great social enterprise with limited resources.”
In his role at BP, Nicolas uses project management and data analysis skills in sustainable energy and health and safety. Using this knowledge, he researched Karen’s needs and the different options available; he also liaised with IT experts and recruited a colleague to help him build a secure and user-friendly database that could resolve many of the issues the team faced. It was also important to make the database accessible so that it was easy to use for people with learning difficulties.
Commenting on the impact, Karen Davies, director, Dramatize, said: “The database is now complete and we are able to pinpoint different customers, find out how many customers we have from different regional boroughs and most importantly access it all from one place. All staff can work from it including people with learning disabilities. This project has saved us time and helped the business grow without relying on either of the directors. Now, more staff and volunteers can access information from our database, sharing the administrative workload across the board.”
For Nicolas this project made a big difference in his professional and personal development. He said that “Volunteering is very useful to develop personal and professional skills. On a personal level, it’s a very positive feeling to help a good cause or project. Professionally, I improved my knowledge of Excel, which is very useful in my current role managing health and safety data. I’ve also developed my entrepreneurial skills, which you lose sometimes by working in big corporations. I will definitely be more involved in helping social enterprise and charities in the future.”