How Social Enterprise can reduce gang violence

From unleashing potential through sport to raising aspirations, social enterprise solutions have significant impact on youth crime

Stephen Bubb, chief executive of the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations, recently questioned the Government's Big Society policy for ignoring charities as a key stakeholder in the implementation of public sector reforms.

If indeed charities are being left out of the reform debate or have their hands tied as to the level of resources available, there is great potential for social enterprises to deliver public services to fill the gap.

The 2011 Cross-Government Report on Ending Gang and Youth Violence highlighted that "the small number of young people who are involved in serious violence have a disproportionately large impact on the communities around them“, and that prevention and intervention activities “will only have a real impact if they are coordinated effectively at the local level“. According to Social Enterprise UK, significant numbers of social enterprises are concentrated in the most deprived communities in the UK. These organisations are therefore ideally placed to address issues of gang violence, creating bespoke solutions which don't depend on public funding.

This blog highlights two social enterprises working to provide private sector solutions to gang violence.

Approach 1: Unleash the potential through sport

Luke Dowdney, MBE, founded the social enterprise LUTA in 2007, a fightwear and lifestyle clothing manufacturer. His reasons were threefold. Firstly, to champion great boxers from around the world who suffer the impacts of crime and violence, and provide income for the charity Fight For Peace International which works with youths living with violence. Secondly, to pay homage to the spirit of the favelas of Rio de Janeiro where he worked, leading to the name which means “to fight, to struggle“, and lastly, to create high performance clothing for fighters by fighters.

On a yearly basis LUTA provides a minimum of £10,000, increasing to up to 50% of annual profits, if greater, to Fight for Peace International, which establishes Fight for Peace academies around the world, including east London. The academies seek to implement a five-pillar model, the result of input from multiple stakeholders, including youths targeted by the project, to support young people living with violence:

• Boxing and martial arts training and competition
• Personal development and education
• Youth support services
• Job training and work access
• Youth leadership

According to an impact study conducted by the University of East London in November 2012, 85% of participants in the charity’s work said they are less likely to become a member of a gang and 42% stopped their gang affiliations. One participant confirms, “if you have a lot of stress or if you have a lot of anger, boxing is a great way to get rid of that excess stress and anger."

Approach 2: Raising aspirations of young people

Raise the Youth Foundation is a social enterprise that aims to bring people, partnerships, communities and industry together to work with youths and invest in the future. The organisation works with 13 to 24-year-olds to develop and provide education, training and employment opportunities. Apprenticeships and job placements are created by offering services which include gardening, cleaning, web design, painting and decorating – and the foundation is an accredited education provider. These services are complemented with support and one-to-one mentoring for gang members.

Research conducted by Catch22 highlights that providing gang members with the opportunity to find work is just one major factor in leaving a gang. Since its inception in May 2011, in addition to providing employment, Raise the Youth Foundation has encouraged a young person to record a rap about domestic violence, which is now used for training purposes. It has also successfully engaged and provided intensive services and support to over 100 children and young people, with many gaining qualifications and receiving accredited learning to enhance their opportunities in life and work. One young participant described that the foundation has “changed me as a person, it’s made me feel better“.

Potential opportunities

If David Cameron entered 'big society’ into any search engine he would find many articles and statements from people left frustrated with what it has become today. Cameron’s idea of a more active civic society is welcomed but two years later the success of its execution is questionable. As businesses, both Raise the Youth Foundation and LUTA understand that waiting for the government’s next action, policy or spending cuts won’t have a positive impact on the communities in which they operate. Having a sustainable and socially responsible business that contributes to the local community makes good business sense, now more than ever.

There is no one right approach to addressing the problems facing our communities, a collaborative approach must be found. If that cannot be achieved under the current big society policy, stakeholders should seek and implement an alternative resolution. In the meantime, whilst the wheels of government grind, social enterprises are most suited to taking the lead in providing innovative solutions that can be implemented quickly.

The above article by Keum Roling and Charlotte Pritchard first published on in Jan, 2015.