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14 July, 2009

Cumbria seeks the next generation of social entrepreneurs

When Julia Geere, Enterprise Learning Coordinator for Cumbria, first heard about the Giving Nation Challenge she felt it was the perfect complement to the Local Authority’s drive to embed and improve enterprise learning via the school curriculum.

By joining forces Giving Nation, the BECP (the Barrow Excellence Cluster Partnership) and the Cumbria Enterprise Learning Team hoped to stimulate learning and interest in charitable giving, social enterprise and active citizenship. The partnership aimed to not only give young participants a chance to work together on important issues, but also to uncover some budding social entrepreneurs in the process.

On 8th July 2009, Giving Nation and the local authority held an event for the top student teams of social entrepreneurs from each school to pitch their enterprise idea. The most innovative and effective enterprise team would be crowned as winners of the inaugural Cumbria Giving Nation Challenge Schools Award.

The student-led project teams of Year 9 students were given six weeks to find ways of raising money and awareness for their chosen cause, charity or community issue. Teams worked on their enterprise plans that ranged from car washes and car boot sales to community gardens, in support of their various causes. At the end of six weeks each school conducted their own selection process in which they each selected a top enterprising team. This winning group in each school then prepared to face the judges at the regional final.

After a fantastic display of enterprising ideas, and a tough decision making process for the judges, place-getters were announced. In the runner-up spot was Thorncliffe School who had spent just £2 of the Giving Nation Challenge grant to run a car-washing day at their school raising £119 for Cancer Research.

The overall winner was The Helping Paw team from St Bernard's Catholic High School, whose winning initiative was created by four friends. This group of enterprising teens had been closely following a local news story about a funding crisis at a local dog shelter in the lead up to the Giving Nation Challenge. This prompted them to design their social enterprise to offer support and to raise money in order to help keep the shelter open.

Having already secured free advertising and donations from at least four local companies, the students will hold an event to introduce the public to the work of Barrow Kennels, through a day of activities including a petting zoo, pet photography competition and sale of merchandise designed by the team.

"When we came up with the plan to support the kennels we realised that we needed to play up to our strengths to raise as much money and awareness as possible. Connie is great at art so she designed the merchandise. Grace is good at maths so she took on costing and the spreadsheet, Carolyn was in charge of planning and I took up the job of calling every one." Ashton aged 14 from the team explained.

It was not all smooth sailing for the budding entrepreneurs however. While planning their enterprise activity - an event to be held at a local park - the students faced some big challenges in the shape of public liability issues. As a result, and with just two weeks to go to the final, the students were forced to re-think the location of their event.

"The students dealt with the challenge of finding a new location and the complications of public liability with a great amount of maturity and common sense. Seeing them be so proactive, whilst learning about how they can help the community, has to be the best outcome of this process." Geography Teacher, Jennifer Whitman explained.

The St Bernard's High School group's recipe for success included a six week schedule in which the students swapped their free time and six geography and history lessons for building their social enterprise plan. Next they created a winning pitch they felt sure would convince their fellow students, school senior management team, and eventually a panel of expert judges, that their campaign idea was the most feasible and beneficial for a community cause.

"We organised a team of judges from the school's senior management team who all students were invited to pitch to. The students presented some brilliant ideas, but the Helping Paw team were the most pragmatic and well-organised. Whilst their idea was ambitious they had really thought out how to make the event feasible." said Jennifer Whitman.

The Giving Nation Challenge was implemented in Cumbria to stimulate interest and learning across charities, community issues and the role of social enterprise, and then to provide students with an opportunity to put their entrepreneurial skills to work for a good cause. This has most certainly been achieved for the many Year 9 students who participated and the project has even produced some inspiring ambassadors.

"Getting out in the world and talking to people we would never normally meet about such an important cause has to be one of the best outcomes for us. The Challenge is such a great experience to share with your mates and I think we've all become better friends running our Challenge." Grace, 14 explained.

"Working with Giving Nation this year has really helped us to embed enterprise learning in the curriculum of Barrow secondary schools. The teachers are now fully equipped to empower young people in Barrow to create their own social enterprises. The Giving Nation Challenge is a sustainable project that with the real commitment we can now see in Barrow schools will continue to benefit youngsters and the causes they support in Cumbria for years to come." Julia Greere, Enterprise Learning Coordinator concluded.

The Giving Nation Challenge is funded by the Cabinet Office - Office of the Third Sector and is provided free to all secondary schools in England.

For more information please contact the Giving Nation Team
Tel: 0207 566 4141  Email: g-nation@citizenshipfoundation.org.uk


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