By Nick Travis, partner at Smith & Williamson
This article was originally published in Smith & Williamson’s Enterprise magazine, a thought leadership publication for entrepreneurs and growth companies.
Fran Boorman launched Goal 17 to create a new blueprint for industry, showing that ‘business for good is good for business’. Not just a ‘nice to have’, companies should get a commercial return on their sustainability initiatives.Fran had long recognised the value of a strong mentoring programme in business. From reducing staff turnover, to increasing engagement, to improving productivity, she had seen how mentoring could be transformative. But could it be extended to solve a social problem?
She launched Goal 17 in early 2018 with a twin purpose: to help companies build a mentoring culture in their business, while also offering better life chances for young people. Its name reflected the 17th UN Sustainable Development Goal – ‘Revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development’. This goal seeks to promote partnerships to solve significant problems.
The name also reflects the group’s early work with its first football themed charity partners, which delivered a pilot programme with the West Ham United Foundation. The Foundation works with homeless young people, providing a ten week programme of professional football coaching with employability-driven workshops to equip youths with vital employment skills. Goal 17 brings in corporate staff, who help train and mentor those on the programme, giving both sides vital skills.
“I was doing a lot of keynote speaking on businesses for social impact. You get a lot of charities and social enterprises focusing on social impact, not on commercial returns. In fact, business for good is good for business. I wanted to create a business that was more valuable because of its social impact.”
Although it is still early days, the concept has found resonance with businesses, charities, technology providers and academic institutions. The ten week- long course has four main components: online training gives core skills on how to mentor; a ‘transformational day’ when employees meet their mentee; ‘extreme mentoring’, where employees are supported in mentoring the young person; and a graduation, which takes place in the working environment.
Fran says that large companies often face significant ‘people’ challenges. Transformational change – such as digitisation – often don’t realise the results they should because companies fail to make the people connection. She had already built a network marketing business in partnership with UW, creating a commercial training product, and had seen many of these difficulties first hand.
“We see businesses that know they’ve got challenges but don’t know how to solve them. For us, it is about educating companies on diversity and inclusion, helping them feel confident managing a more diverse workforce. This is essential to an organisation’s sustainability. It is amazing when a company gets it. For too long, they’ve been selling commercial returns, forget social impact. We help them rewrite this view.”
Their case studies suggest that good practice translates into tangible commercial returns. She gives the example of one senior HR professional who went through their programme: “She had very high staff turnover, but had justified it by saying that her recruits were generally young and this type of turnover was typical of the sector. However, after coming back from our programme, she looked at it very differently. She took it upon herself to mentor them and help them, which in turn helped them become much more engaged. They felt like someone cared about them. They now get 4x the longevity. Commercially, this is a great decision.”
However, commercial goals can also help solve vast social problems: “We’re hoping to help thousands of young people out of homelessness and prevent many more falling to a similar fate,” says Fran.
Goal 17 aims to trailblaze a new standard where companies get a genuine and measured return on investment while making a positive impact on society.
For the time being, the business is still young, but is building some important connections. The group has recently formed a new partnership with London Irish Rugby Club Foundation, its first non-football charity. They are recruiting new staff and turnover is growing.
For Fran, who started the business as a new challenge when her young children went to school, it fulfils a long-held focus on social impact and social mobility. She believes businesses today cannot simply sell themselves on the amount of money they make for shareholders; they need to have a purpose if they are to recruit the best people and find support from investors.
“People need to stop looking at social enterprise as less of a business. It solves bigger problems. My ultimate goal is to rewrite the rules when it comes to the purpose of business.”