Josh Babarinde is the CEO and founder of Cracked It, a social business which aims to provide young people with an entrepreneurial route away from gangs, crime and anti social behaviour through phone repair. At only 24, he has already been recognised as a Shackleton Award winner and an Ashoka Changemaker. We caught up with him and discussed what is takes to set up a successful social enterprise in the UK and what the future has in store for Cracked It.
Could you tell us a bit about Cracked It?
Cracked It is a social enterprise smartphone repair company which is staffed by young offenders and those who are at risk of offending. Our mission is to support young people and steer them away from crime and towards employment and more positive futures. We harness the phone repair market in order to achieve this goal, working in partnership with local government and housing associations. We train young offenders or those at risk of involvement in gang crime to repair smartphone screens.
Our repair service is delivered to members of the public through regular pop-ups at large corporate workplaces across London. We see a huge market for convenient phone screen repair as three quarters of the 29% of smartphone users who have a cracked screen don’t get it repaired within 6 months. Our services overcome the normal inconveniences associated with screen repair by going directly to customers’ workplace, not wiping any of the phone’s data and repairing the screen in under 90 minutes.
What motivated you to start Cracked it?
After graduating with a degree in Politics I did some parliamentary research work for some MPs. It was one of the most valuable experiences I've ever had but I found myself frustrated by how withdrawn I was from the issues I was passionate about. Working on policy documents in an office I felt very disconnected from what was really happening on the ground.
This frustration led me to volunteer as a youth worker in East London as part of the Year Here programme, which provided me with a grassroots insight into the real problems facing at-risk youth. I saw how young people wanted to gain income, belonging and self-worth but in the absence of an accessible labour market they felt could credibly and fairly provide those things, many turned towards crime. Some of these guys were secretly slipping the money they made through crime into their mum's bag to help pay the bills. Understanding this problem compelled me to build a positive intervention to help keep young people away from gangs and crime - and so Cracked It was born.
What have been your key achievements to date?
The main achievement has been the impact that Cracked It has had on the young people we work with. Since starting, we’ve worked with over 120 people - 6 months after completion two thirds of programme participants are in some form of education, training or employment and 80% of those who offended in the past have not gone on to reoffend.
We have also had some great recognition for the work we’re doing. A highlight was being named one of London's best iPhone fixers by the London Evening Standard newspaper. Another was having Jeremy Corbyn come visit us!
And what would success look like in the coming years?
Future success would include both scaling up and deepening the impact we have. We are currently strategising as to how we can branch out in 2018, looking at other industries which could also be harnessed to achieve the goal of steering young people away from patterns of crime and gang involvement.
I’m inspired by the work of US organisation Homeboy Industries which runs one of the world’s biggest gang intervention programmes and would love to build something similar here in the UK. Additionally, in order to be truly successful, we hope to deepen the impact we have on the young people with whom we work. They often face huge challenges in their life and we want to be able to enhance the support we’re providing for them.
Which skills do you feel have been the most important for success as a social entrepreneur?
The Year Here social enterprise programme introduced me to the concept of autodidactism: the skill of being able to teach yourself any skill (or at least try!). This has been the most important skill I've had to develop as a social entrepreneur. As a start-up founder, I wear so many hats - CEO, finance director, the repair technician, youth worker , receptionist, janitor and more - and learning to wear these with substance and style is a constant challenge! I'm forced to constantly learn and get stuck into whatever task comes my way.
The second crucial skill would be resiliance. When you're starting something truly innovative you will always find plenty of scepticism and questioning and it may be difficult to secure funding and clients. Being able to weather that storm and pick yourself back up after being knocked down is key to success in social enterprise.
What makes the UK, or London more specifically, a good/bad place to start a social enterprise?
I think London is a great place to start a social enterprise. There is a very well developed social impact community here and having spoken to people working in the similar areas in cities across the world - from Berlin to Marrakech to Jakarta - London certainly seems to be one of the best places to get a social business off the ground. London's social impact community is pretty unique, everyone is always willing to share best practices and offer advice.
There are, of course, also challenges associated with building out a social enterprise in London, the most obvious one is how competitive an environment it is for any new business. We’re having to compete with some very large companies in the sale and delivery of our services. However, on the whole, the positives of London definitely outweigh the negatives.
You’re involved in a numerous other causes and organisations outside Cracked It, what guides your decisions as to how to prioritise your time?
Founding a social enterprise can easily end up consuming every nook and cranny of your life - you think about it during every waking moment. It’s important to be conscious of this and to create as much balance as possible in your life. A great way to do this is by getting involved in some other causes which you are passionate about. I also do some work for a few other organisations, including More United (a crowdfunding platform which allows users to support progressive politicians from across the political spectrum) and Year Here (a post-graduate programme in social innovation which I completed in 2015). But in the end, I do always put the young people at Cracked It first. They are, without a doubt, my main priority.
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