Search This Blog

Sunday, 12 December 2010

Drink coffee; change the world

I was in Swansea last week speaking on social entrepreneurship at an event organised by the Wales Cooperative Centre. The two day conference formed part of a digital inclusion campaign, which is successfully getting more social enterprises, charities and community organisations online.

The even took place at the DVLA's super training centre. It was a suitably high-tech venue from which many of the presentations were streamed live to viewers around the world. (Who tweeted questions to me @robertashton1)

But I want to talk about Avenance, the company who run the catering here. They are a national provider of excellent catering services. The food was good and the service exceptional, but a huge opportunity was missed. You see the espresso machine was not turned on and the staff on duty were not selling nice coffee, or selling sweets. You could only have the catering included in the conference package.

I asked the audience for a show of hands: 'how many of you would have paid for a decent coffee today?' Around 50 hands went up. And that's the lost opportunity for us all. You see had they sold coffee to those willing to pay the premium for froth, chocolate sprinkles and freshly ground beans, they might have taken £500 over the counter over the two days. The staff were there; the till was there and the coffee machine was there.

What could Avenance have done with that money? It would be 'bonus income' and thus available for CSR activity, such as providing additional staff time to help provide work experience to someone regaining confidence and workplace skills after a spell of poor mental health. It could have been given to the local playgroup to fund much needed new toys, or used to pay for a pensioner Christmas lunch in that same venue.

You see were well all willing to pay and the money could have be used in many useful ways. Instead the opportunity was lost. This surely is what Big Society is about - responding to opportunity, meeting a demand and using the profits for social good. It's not difficult; all that's needed is for employers like Avenance to empower, excite and entrust their people.

Add all these small opportunities together and the money is there to change the world. Let's do it!