Social Business for Social Benefit

SH:24 is a community interest company (CIC). Not everyone we talk to is clear on what the term CIC means. In this blog we’ll talk a little about CICs and particularly what it means for us in our pursuit to improve access to sexual and reproductive health services across the UK.

What are community interest companies?

Community interest companies (CICs) are one of a number of forms of social enterprise and must invest profit back into their mission statement - whether that’s improving access to sexual health services or anything else that gives back to the community. 

We caught up with School for Social Entrepreneurs  CEO, Alastair Wilson, to find out how they are seeing the CIC model used.

 “We find that typically around 30% of participants on our start Up programmes opt to register as CICs (of that about ¾ are limited by guarantee and ¼ limited by shares), it is great that this option exists because CIC status offers the simplicity of company structure without the extra level of governance of a charity, leaving the social entrepreneurs we support able to raise capital for their enterprises and means they can spend less time on intense regulatory reporting.”

How have CICs been used for social benefit?

The Big Lemon in Brighton and Hove is a great example of a truly community based Community Interest Company. In their own words, it is the result of a few people getting together at the pub and deciding to create an affordable, environmentally sustainable bus service in Brighton and Hove.

BTEG (Black Training and Enterprise Group) have the huge and crucial mission of ending race inequality. Their efforts are focused on education and the labour market, and they work with local initiatives and with central government to help people of colour into business opportunities. Their Making the Leap programme, for example, supports people like Chris into new jobs by teaching workplace skills.

Pop Up Projects’ mission is to engage children and families, schools and communities through books, stories, and the people who make them. Their project Pop Up Education partners with children's authors to bring literature to life through special events and performances.

Why did SH:24 choose to be a CIC?

At its simplest, because we’re not here to make huge amounts of money and want to invest in improving health outcomes in the communities in which we work. Our founding board are all people who have worked in the service of better health and social benefit, and this was a driving force behind starting the project.

The CIC model also supports our multidisciplinary team. We have all the advantages of the expertise within the NHS and public health but we can also pull in expertise that isn’t present in those sectors currently i.e. design, agile project management, agile software development.

Why didn’t you start this project within the NHS?

We firmly believe SH:24 could not have happened within the NHS when we started out. There are, rightly, rigorous and involved processes involved in NHS project delivery. This can mean things take a long time and have to be delivered to an exact specification and our agile, fail fast, learn and adapt approach can’t operate within that culture. That said though, we did have board and operational level oversight of 3 senior NHS clinicians and a public health consultant with local authority and NHS experience. The service continues to work with NHS trusts in partnership across the UK so we build expertise and partnerships with the NHS in a way that benefits our service users.

It’s good to see NHS culture changing, and the commitments of the Five Year Forward View won’t be achieved without a reconsideration of the way digital projects are planned and delivered within the NHS. NHS.Alpha has the potential to facilitate and inspire great change within the organisation and we’ve guested at one of their show and tell sessions to describe our learnings.

So, how will you reinvest in communities?

The cost of SH:24 has been carefully set up to maximise economic benefit for its NHS partners but any surplus that is made ensures our future sustainability and, more importantly, will be set aside for increasing the impact we can have on sexual health. We have a few ideas as to how we could invest back into the communities we work in.

One way would be through health promotion initiatives - developing new digital sex education tools or support for other areas of health. We could also spend the money on campaigns to increase awareness around certain issues or health challenges.

We will also be able to reduce cost of our service to the local authorities and NHS Trusts we work with over time as we begin to benefit from economies of scale. This will mean that we can provide more tests for the same amount of money.