Faced with local authority spending cuts, the Coventry Refugee and Migrant Centre in Warwickshire adopted an innovative approach to finding new funding: it turned to the skills of its clients. It set up three social enterprises, which now employ some of the refugees and migrants that it supports.
The centre's chief executive, Bhopinder Basi, says it's a win-win situation: the charity is generating additional funding – with a turnover approaching £180,000 last year – and work is being created that the clients would otherwise not have.
"We are experiencing changes in financial support," says Basi. "Until recently, our income was reliant on national and local public funding. But the current political climate has challenged this. There has been a significant reduction in that funding, which has spurred us to seek new income. We have established three small businesses that are generating an income, with profits going to the main charity."
CRMC received transitional funding to launch the social enterprises and generate new business, but it no longer receives additional financial support. Basi says that the businesses that have been set up – a translation and interpreting service, a cleaning company and a housing project – must operate to high ethical standards and be beneficial to their clients.
"One of the points I make about social enterprise is that it is not social if it adopts unethical methods and it should send profits to the mother charity that are used for good," he says. "I have fought both internally and externally for a strategy that says the end – profit – never justifies the means. The means themselves must be as clean as possible.
"The translation service, LingoLinks, uses the skills of migrants who are fluent in English; our cleaning company employs migrants on the living wage, not the minimum wage. Our third service is the Refugee Housing Project, which works with local agencies to provide housing for our clients and to ensure that there is some accommodation for people who are destitute."
The translation service employs two full-time interpreters and has up to 100 sessional interpreters whom CRMC has supported to gain diplomas in interpreting. The cleaning company employs three cleaners working with two external customers and the charity; their work includes cleaning the communal areas of the 35 housing units run by the housing company.
"It is not about setting up big companies, but establishing possibilities for our clients," says Basi. "I advocate keeping things small and manageable. The problem with business modelling is the expectation that you have to create a global enterprise to be successful. We have employed people through our trading activities who would not otherwise have jobs, and the client needs met by our ethical activities in housing, interpreting and cleaning activities transform relationships."
Basi hopes that other charities will also follow suit and set up social enterprises based on their clients' needs. He says charities should start by finding out what skills their beneficiaries have, then look at where they might fit in the commercial market. "Ask where you can provide a better service than what is already on offer," he says. "Of course, it is essential to conduct market analysis, as you would with any other business process. I believe that if you have a good idea and staff and volunteers who are willing to help, you should go for it. The process starts by winning one customer.
"We hope that the overall message our trading companies send to the public is that our clients have skills to share and resilience. We can use that to meet the needs of our beneficiaries. Our businesses help our clients on their journey to getting a job."