Meet the Expert - Alex Stephany on Businesses Doing Good
Something we are super proud of here at Mustard is our collaboration with Beam. If you haven't heard about them already, Beam are a fantastic charity working to help get people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness into stable, paid training and work. We donate £5 from every single order through our UK site to Beam, and so far we have raised a mind-boggling £50,000!
Today we are picking the brains of Beam founder Alex Stephany, finding out all about the work Beam does, what actually is a social impact business, and how other people and businesses can do more 'good' to help others.
Hey Alex! So for those who have never heard of Beam before and this is the first they have heard of our collaboration - what exactly is Beam + how does it work?
Beam is a crowdfunding platform that lets you fund job training for a homeless person so they can get back on their feet. Many people become homeless because they don’t have the right skills or education to get into stable work. Some struggle to get into work because they can’t afford childcare or travel costs when they do find a job. Others lack the confidence and connections to kickstart the job process.
This is where Beam comes in. We help homeless people raise funds to cover the cost of job training, childcare, travel, work tools and clothing through our website. At the same time, our team of caseworkers provide personalised support, helping each homeless person on their journey into stable work. Support also comes from members of the public who leave messages of encouragement when they donate.
To date, Beam has crowdfunded more than £1.5m in donations, 100% of which helps homeless people pursue stable work in in-demand sectors ranging from healthcare to construction.
You've been doing this now for almost four years, where did the idea for Beam come from and how did you set about making it a reality?
Four years ago, I got to know a homeless man at my local Tube station. I’d buy him cups of coffee and pairs of thermal socks when it was getting cold. At one point, he disappeared for weeks and when he reappeared, he looked years older. He told me he’d had a heart attack and had just come out of hospital. Despite the well-meaning gestures from myself and no doubt others, he was clearly in a worse position than ever.
So I began to ask myself what it would take to make a lasting difference to this man’s life. He had never had a job, and was illiterate. For me, the answer lay in empowering him with the skills and training needed to sustainably support himself. Of course, that would cost far more than coffees or socks - but what if everyone chipped in?
The idea of crowdfunding employment training for homeless people was born. There was nothing else like this in the market, and it was clear that existing employment services for homeless people weren’t as effective as they could have been. So over the following nine months, I developed the model gleaning insights from homeless people and charities and Beam launched in October 2017.
You must meet so many amazing people every week. Since founding Beam in 2017, what are the main things you have learned from them?
Before I started Beam, I wanted to make sure I met with as many homeless people as possible to see what their thoughts were on the idea. In the second homeless hostel that I visited, I met a man, and explained the concept of Beam. He was very receptive to the idea and said “It sounds great, but it’s not for me”. When I asked why not, he responded: “I smoke weed every day and have done since I can remember”.
This man had so much potential, so much drive and was passionate about pursuing a career in construction. So I told him that if he managed to get clean, he’d be the perfect person to work with us and that we’d love to do so.
When I left the hostel that day, I never expected to hear from him again. However, six months later, I was contacted by his caseworker who told me he’d been clean for around three months! He was then referred to Beam, qualified as a digger operator, and soon after got back into work for the first time in years.
This was one of the moments that really stuck with me, and it has done ever since. All it took for that man was this one conversation, and the course of his life changed forever. My interaction with this man made it even clearer to me that we should never underestimate the power of hope.
Beam is described as a 'Social Impact Business' and as business owners ourselves, we always feel like we can be doing more to help. What advice would you give to people who are looking to incorporate some of these values into their own businesses in order to help others? Do you think this is something that is easy to do?
I think it’s important that businesses play to their strengths if they want to make a positive social impact. This could be leveraging the team’s existing skills, or, in the unlikely event that the company doesn’t have any relevant skills, writing a cheque.
Secondly, CSR (corporate social responsibility) should always be collaborative. We receive so many requests from companies who have very specific ideas for how they want to support Beam, such as annual volunteering days. The problem with this approach is that it can take up a lot of our time and it ends up being unfulfilling for the business who wants to help. Instead, it’s important to be open-minded and find out what the charity or social enterprise needs.
Finally, social impact initiatives should always be measurable and not just a tick box exercise for businesses. This will allow you to build a lasting partnership to deliver growing value for the organisation(s) you’ve chosen to support.
At Beam, most companies do this using our gift cards feature - like you guys! You kindly donate £5 from every order to Beam - and this is a super effective and simple way to give back. What’s more, Mustard can track its impact in real-time through its company impact page. Other companies that we work with, like recruitment companies, send gift cards to candidates when starting their new job. There are loads of new and innovative ways to give back, whilst engaging with your clients, employees and customers!
On the flip-side to that, lots of people aren't business owners but still want to make a difference, even if they are only able to do so in a small way. As someone who has seen the impact others can have on people's lives, what advice would you give to people who want to do more to help, but perhaps don't know where to start?
To put it simply, just give what you can. That might only be £1 a week or £1 a month! We have incredibly young children who have asked aunts and uncles to donate their birthday gift money to Beam, or have used their pocket money to make a difference.
You don’t even have to donate on our platform to make a difference - you can also send messages of support to those using our service, which can be just as important. Our beneficiaries will then see your message, and it will spur them on to continue their journey! For example, Zeb just raised nearly £5,000 with us to find a stable home, and received 15 messages of support on his recent status update.
Are there any other charities or businesses who you have taken inspiration from, who you feel are doing a great job at helping others?
Of course there are hundreds of amazing organisations doing great work. However, it was important to us to create a truly impactful business, which is why we operate under a 100% giving model. This essentially means that unlike a lot of conventional charities, every penny donated on our website goes directly towards our beneficiaries. We took inspiration from organisations such as Charity Water, who also use this model and incorporate transparency into their core values - like us!
One of the things we love about Beam is how transparent it is about where money will go and what outcomes are achieved. If someone is looking for an organisation to donate or partner with, what should they be looking for to make sure their money is having a positive impact?
Always look for organisations that are transparent with their impact, and are happy to share that publicly. For example, At Beam we track over 150 live data points on our website (https://beam.org/transparency), which means that at any stage members of the public can check in on our progress, which is automatically updated.
I’d also look for those organisations who maximise their impact through building effective technologies. At Beam, we have dedicated members of our team working hard to ensure that everything we do is cost-effective! So try to scope out which charitable organisations are able to streamline their processes and subsequently deliver the most effective work.
Lastly, how can people get involved and support Beam?
Aside from making a one-off donation on our website, you can set up a monthly subscription, or follow us on all of our social media channels (@wearebeam) to keep up with all of the amazing people that we support. You can also purchase Beam gift cards for family and friends - which are even more impactful under the current restrictions when we can’t physically celebrate with loved ones.
Additionally, if you work for a company or brand that is keen to get involved in social impact initiatives this year, please feel free to get in touch (email@example.com). We’re always looking to create super impactful partnerships - like our one with Mustard!
Describe yourself in three words.
Passionate, curious, sensitive
We’ve met up to chat businesses doing good, what drink should I buy you?
What’s your favourite quote?
What’s your guilty pleasure?
Are you a morning person or a night owl?
What’s your favourite mustard locker?
If you want to see more about our collaboration with Beam, you can stay up to date on our website or on our Beam impact page, which shows that by purchasing a locker, you have helped 367 people on their journey so far! Each month we have a 'Beam Day', where we collate the orders from the last month and send that month's donation over to Beam. Today, April 31st, is Beam day! So if you ordered from us in March, keep an eye out for your donation email, where you will be able to read through Beam's current campaigns and choose where your £5 goes. Huge thank you for Alex for speaking to us, we are so proud to work with such a fantastic initiative.