It is common for not-for-profit organisations to seek change. Many will choose a specific industry, policy area or demographic they want to affect. A narrow target which allows for strategy to be easily devised and success simply measured.
Renaisi, an East-London-based social enterprise, also aim to make a difference. They specialise in assisting marginalised communities – whether they are minorities, refugees, or even sufferers of long-term illness – find work in the UK.
However, it is the breadth of CEO John Hitchin and Deputy CEO Natsayi Sithole’s – who jointly-answered City AM’s questions – ambition which sets them apart. It is not only a question of finding members of these communities’ employment, but a strategic, multi-pronged method for “challenging the root causes of economic and social exclusion”. Connecting, or reconnecting, the disenfranchised to society.
It is then, perhaps, no surprise that the organisation’s origins were as a unit of Hackney Council in the early 1990s, tasked with breathing life back into ailing communities with regenerative projects like the Dalston City Challenge (1993-98) and the Single Regeneration Budget (1994-2003). It broke away from local authority control in 1998.
Their approach has evolved since then, not least in their wholehearted adoption of the ESG movement; the practice of measuring how sustainable and ethical a company’s business practices are against the three factors, or ‘pillars’, that make up the acronym: environmental, social and governance.
John and Natsayi are clear on this: “It is one of the many benefits of being the kind of business we are. ESG is not an add on, it is our business model.”
The change they want, and the philosophy that guides them, is clear, but exactly how will they achieve it? Crucially, both acknowledge the scale of the challenge:
“We empower people who face multiple barriers into meaningful employment. Some barriers can be overcome with our help – personal barriers – while others require dismantling by those in power. These are structural barriers. We work on both.”
The leadership of Renaisi also accept how engrained these issues are: “the same patterns of disadvantage we have seen decade-on-decade continue to reproduce with striking regularity.”
They observe that whether you have a disability, are a refugee, an older person or from an area with a long-term lack of investment: “you’re more likely to be out of work. These patterns are held in place by policy, norms, behaviours, and attitudes – this is what we mean by structural barriers.”
To tackle this, Renaisi offer personal one-to-one support for marginalised individuals whilst consulting businesses on how they can follow best practice in inclusive employment.
John and Natsayi explain what this means practically, using the example of a refugee looking for work in the UK: “we help them gain confidence speaking English, understand UK culture, navigate the recruitment system and develop their personal brand,” then on the employer-side, “identifying the barriers in their recruitment systems, delivering training and advising on reasonable adjustments”.
Assistance can even extend to “helping people overcome non-employment related obstacles stemming from harmful system-wide failings, such as sub-standard housing and the uncertainty caused by the lengthy wait for asylum application to be approved and Right to Work to be granted.”
According to their own figures, they have had significant success with this strategy; helping over 4,000 people become more socially and economically active between 2018-2022 and seeing their Transitions programme – finding work for refugees with professional skills and qualifications – grow during this period.
They are equally proud of the progress they have made on reform of systemic inequalities: “Strategically we have built a model that enables us to work across sectors to address the root causes of entrenched social issues. It means everybody we work with can benefit from opportunities to collaborate and share learning outside of their industry silos.”
For example: “Our social impact consultancy, which specialises in research, evaluation, learning and training, has shaped the debate within the social sector about what drives change.”
However, it could be argued the greater accomplishment is simply remaining effective over the last thirteen years, whilst Britain has faced, as described by Renaisi’s website, “a movement from significant government investment into austerity”. Social enterprises across the country have been tasked with remaining effective despite reduced state-support.
To combat this, Renaisi make the case for their work logically. Realising that in tighter economic circumstances, government and business might be less receptive to emotive arguments alone. In short, John and Natsayi do not just believe their approach is the right thing to do, but, more importantly, that it makes sense for all parties.
Keen to express this, they offer advice to hiring managers when considering candidates of marginalised backgrounds: “More inclusive recruitment isn’t a charitable act, it makes commercial sense. Many people who wouldn’t make it over traditional recruitment hurdles are highly trained, talented people, resilient because of their life experiences and motivated to find a safe place to become a loyal employee.”
They paint a picture of “untapped talent pools”, a widespread and illogical waste of ability. Stunting Britain’s potential.
On the same note, John and Natsayi’s organisation offers a warning: “Locking people out of society leads to poverty, poor health and wellbeing – and the cost is economic, as well as social.”
At a time of limited national productivity and sluggish growth, after a decade following a similar pattern, Renaisi would argue we have all the evidence we need to start heeding it.