Lack of sustainable funding is one of the biggest challenges facing youth organisations across the UK. The new five-year, £40m Enterprise Development Programme with Access Foundation works to better support charities to think creatively, become more financially resilient and develop enterprise models. Here at UK Youth, we’re working to drive the programme within the youth sector to inspire and support organisations working with young people to undertake this social enterprise journey.

The programme consists of two streams – a grant programme administered by Social Investment Business which is awarding grants of £1.85m over the course of the pilot to charities which work in the Homelessness and Youth sectors; and a learning programme which is being run by School for Social Entrepreneurs (SSE).

Since the launch of the year-long pilot in September, over 400 youth organisations have expressed interest in the programme. 20 youth organisations, including some from within the UK Youth network, will be starting the learning phase of the programme with SSE later this month.  To date, over £200,000 worth of grants have been awarded by SIB to organisations across England.

We wanted to share with you some of our reflections on the programme so far.  Below you will find; thoughts from some of the youth organisations that we work with, key learnings around the need to diversify income whilst maintaining charitable aims, the challenges of encouraging a change in mindset and culture, and the importance of trustee support in taking risks.

The need to diversify funding

Youth services in England have been cut by £737 million since 2010/11. These cuts have forced many youth organisations to close or drastically reduce the crucial services they offer. As a consequence, the need to diversify funding has become more important now than ever. Many of the youth organisations we support have expressed an interested in exploring enterprise approaches as a way achieve this but are unsure of how to best move forward in identifying and exploring ideas. Those that do have ideas face challenges around resources – time, capacity, knowledge and information, and funding – to test these ideas and make them work. The Enterprise Development programme has been designed specifically to address these challenges, and over the coming year we’ll be working to understand how we can best share learnings and insights from the programme across the sector.

Encouraging entrepreneurial mind-set

Nik Harwood, CEO at Young Somerset, has recently secured a place on the learning programme with SSE and has said: “Social enterprise in the youth sector should be encouraged more, but we also need to encourage each other, build a vision to work to and be prepared to take risks.”  Within our network we have seen great examples of social entrepreneurship and innovative funding streams. Yet despite the successes, many youth organisations are struggling to make a significant change to their mind-set, both with executive management and also, more challengingly, at trustee board level. This often comes from the challenge of moving away from reliance on grants funding to managing conflict between charitable and business aims.

We’re keen to support organisations to undertake this journey, particularly the ‘unusual suspects’ or smaller organisations who may not have the capacity or time to think about enterprise models, but who would benefit the most from doing so. In doing so we will help both our members sustainability in delivering services to young people as well as helping to ensure the sustainability of the youth sector as a whole.

Trustee support to take risks

Since the launch of the pilot, we’ve been gaining insight and understanding into the challenges organisations face whilst trying to develop their enterprise ideas. Discussions with youth organisations often centre around concerns they have about the potential risks in investing in enterprise and how trustee boards are risk-averse. Without the support at a governance level, youth organisations feel they aren’t able to undertake a journey to develop enterprise models. But how comfortable can youth organisations be in taking risks without the knowledge and information to make informed decisions? We’re working to develop resources and workshops for CEO’s and their trustees to explore opportunities in investment and enterprise.

This blog was written by Faiza Amin, Membership Manager at UK Youth.

Are you a youth organisation looking to apply to the Enterprise Development Programme? Get in touch with UK Youth for advice and support. You can also follow the enterprise journey of organisations in our network and learn more about enterprise development in the youth sector.