By Kevon Foderingham
“What business entrepreneurs are to the economy, social entrepreneurs are to social change. They are the driven, creative individuals who question the status quo, exploit new opportunities, refuse to give up, and remake the world for the better.” – David Bornstein, Author, How to Change the World: Social Entrepreneurs and the Power of New Ideas.
Acumen Founder, Jacqueline Novogratz goes on to say, “People have to understand that unless social enterprise is experimental, it will not succeed in making a difference.” This is exactly what East Yard has been for me. It has been a six year experiment that I feel I’ve finally figured out the formula for - eureka!
As a physical space - East Yard was launched in 2017 as a creative hub and project of my first non-profit organization, Caribbean Fashion and Arts Feature Festival (CFAFF). The project’s mission was to promote and increase access to visual and performing arts, music, fashion, film and more for residents of Arima and environs. In 2021, in the wake of the pandemic, there was the need to streamline operations. I had to consider the reality of the instability of donor funding for creative projects like East Yard, so the decision was made to transform the project into an independent business entity, trading as East Yard Enterprises - no longer managed by CFAFF but working alongside.
After years of team member and tenant turnover, countless events, exhibitions, courses and forays into retail that included artisan fare, local fashion boutiques and even a cafe - it was time to stop and take stock. Was the emotion, time, effort and financial resources being plowed into a subsidiary project reaping the impact I had envisioned? The answer was no. So how could I now flip the script?
I understood that “East Yard '' had built up a level of brand equity and was indeed offering an important service by providing space. However along with providing readily available and affordable space comes costly and time consuming day-to day upkeep, staffing and administration.
Cards now on the table, it was about figuring out how to still keep the brand recognition the project had built up over the years, still provide some level of space, engage the community creatively and also bring in income.
I knew that the venture had to separate from the nonprofit that was propping it up and that it had to become an entity on its own but one that had a community-based and socially driven ethos. It had to become a social enterprise.
I’m sure you’ve heard the term social enterprise in recent times, as businesses of this type are gaining more attention and becoming go-to structures for entrepreneurs interested in balancing purpose and profit.
A social enterprise is an organization that applies commercial strategies to maximize improvements in financial, social and environmental well-being. In other words, it is a business with specific social objectives that serve its primary purpose.
I knew that I wanted to go the route of sole proprietorship to begin with, then in the future transition to a limited liability company. For this to work I had to put more of ‘me’ into it. Yes I wanted to offer space and arts engagement but what was I leaving out? What was the missing ingredient to the formula? It dawned on me that monetizing my years of experience as a senior marketing and communications manager in the nonprofit sector was the key to connecting the dots that could lead to both profitability and achieving the purpose and impact I wanted.
When looking at restructuring, it is inevitable that decisions on scaling will come up. The different scaling strategies that exist to increase impact are scaling up, scaling deep, scaling out and scaling down.
Scaling up - doing more, going bigger, offering more, launching new products and services and serving more people.
Scaling deep - trying to shift ideology through advocacy, public debate, lobbying and influencing policy to be in line with your business’ mission.
Scaling out - transferring your impact by licensing, franchising or training others to deliver your branded methodology.
Scaling down - downsizing, offering less variety and being more targeted.
With sole-proprietorship as the chosen structure and social enterprise as the philosophy, I chose to scale down. Impact-making became paramount and it was important to know what areas of this new business I would want to spend valuable time on and these areas had to lead to the impact I wanted. I had to find focus - the activities or interventions that did not make a difference would have to stop, so that those that did or could, would rise to the top.
Since 2021, East Yard Enterprises has functioned as a social enterprise that is registered as a sole proprietorship. In the first instance operating as an integrated creative consultancy that provides public relations, marketing, project management, and events management services for nonprofits and cultural organizations committed to balancing profit and purpose. East Yard Enterprises is a one-stop creative consultancy that delivers sustainable and affordable integrated solutions that support entities that strive to make a difference in the world.
Through East Yard Enterprises, over the past two years, I have been honored to provide consultancy services for:
Trinidad and Tobago Bridge Initiative (NEW FIRE Festival: VIRTUAL Eco-Symposium);
HAMIL’S 1921 (Better Man Expo);
Grace Farms Cocoa Products (Television Ad Campaign);
Habitat for Humanity Trinidad and Tobago (SHElter- A Land Empowerment Campaign for Women);
Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (The ART of Adapting: A Climate Solution Creative Arts Competition) - Antigua, Dominica, St Lucia and Tobago; AND
Habitat for Humanity Trinidad and Tobago (Actions to Reduce our Contribution to Climate Change Campaign).
L-R: (1) Habitat for Humanity Trinidad and Tobago (2) Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (3) Grace Farms Cocoa Products
By going back to basics and using one of my strongest skills, I have been able to offer a service that I believe perfectly balances profit and purpose. East Yard Enterprises is sustaining itself but also helping small enterprises and organizations that do good to reach their audiences.
Providing space and community engagement through the arts are still important and have been made more sustainable through a more focused and scaled down approach and with financing available from revenue generated by creative consultancy work.
The scaled back approach means that instead of offering several events throughout the year and making the venue available for regular rental, the product now on offer will make its debut in August of this year, in the form of the “Arima Arts Festival - presented by East Yard”. It is intended to be one full month per year of intense arts and community-based programming executed at East Yard and throughout Arima and environs. Making space for artists to exhibit, for workshops, markets, murals, screenings and more hosted in partnership with the creative community, businesses and organizations that East Yard has worked with over the last six years.
The business, through this offering of a festival as a complete product means that resources and attention is now being aimed at one target. It is an opportunity to still provide space for but now during a specific period. By offering a clearly defined festival product, the business has set itself up for sponsorship, investments and other support. At the time of writing this, one of our longtime international collaborators has selected me as a recipient of their Creative Activism Award, which comes with a small cash honorarium that will be invested into the festival. So we have indeed hit the ground running and I will soon be doing open calls for the festival’s programming.
East Yard’s social media handles are being changed to Arima Arts Festival as this becomes our main community-driven public offering.
As I push forward with my own socially-engaged work as a visual + performing artist, author and speaker, East Yard Enterprises has also been positioned to manage these creative pursuits and served as publisher of my book, THINGS I LEARNED IN MY THIRTIES: Motivational Musings for Creative Millennials in 2022. A Percentage of earnings from my creative offerings is also adding to the business’ social mission 'pot' and is being used to support other artists in need of materials and professional development.
As I continue along this road of social entrepreneurship I want to thank every collaborator over the years and every artist, artisan and entertainer who has showcased or performed at the space. I want to thank every public, private and civil sector organization who has joined me since I started. Special thank you to Walda Waithe for believing in the venture and providing it with a home and of course the people of Arima and its environs for embracing this little space that could.
I invite you to now continue this journey as we walk together into a future filed with more innovation and creative offerings for the people of East-Trinidad.
Have you ever thought about venturing into social enterprise? Starting any new venture isn’t easy. But in the end it is worth the challenge. Especially when your business is set up to solve an important problem.
Here are some tips for starting up your social enterprise:
1. Infuse your strongest skill into the DNA of the business
As I always say, we are beings with a multitude of talents but one or two of these usually stand out. In some way make that gift or skill the bedrock of your business. This way, you are starting off with your strengths.
2. Figure out from the get-go what your social impact will be
Social impact means any significant or positive changes that solve or at least address social injustice and challenges. For East Yard Enterprises that now means helping nonprofits and cultural organizations reach their audiences; providing space in the form of a festival to support creative entrepreneurship and community engagement; and offering professional development opportunities for creative practitioners and materials for artists.
3. Create impact metrics to track your social enterprise’s success
All of the above social impact activities can be measured quantitatively and qualitatively i.e how many people have we directly reached and how has this impacted their lives. So start off with knowing what you want to measure and then create instruments to do just that. We are measuring the reach of the campaigns we develop for our clients as well as the reach and the impact our own initiatives have on those we serve. These impact metrics help you track success and the data is also important for funders, grantmakers and impact investors.
4. Don’t be the best kept secret
Promote your business’ social impact objective, your products and services and yourself. Embrace and also create media and other promotional opportunities. Use social media and online approaches like podcasts, going live, writing blogs and hosting online forums to maximise on visibility but to also begin positioning yourself as the expert in your field.
5. Nurture your network
Social capital is an important resource in social enterprise and business in general. It is defined as the capital or resources we gain from existing within a social network. It’s a concept from social science that’s centered on our ability to leverage social connections in order to solve problems, improve well-being, pursue shared objectives, and take collective action. Nurturing your network as a social entrepreneur is not just about using your network for referrals but also understanding just how important it is to your business’ social impact mission.
East Yard has been a labour of love, a dream come through and at the same time, one of the most challenging ventures I have ever undertaken. There have been many times I have wanted to throw in the towel but each time I knew that it was not time yet. Six years of growing pains, wins, losses, mistakes and triumphs with a pandemic added to the mix - has given a clearer direction to this journey. To scale up we had to scale down!
For information on East Yard Enterprises’ creative consultancy services, community engagement and professional creative development opportunities visit www.kevonfoderingham.com/east-yard-enterprises
For information on the Arima Arts Festival presented by East Yard visit www.arimaartsfestival.com
Kevon Foderingham is the Executive Director of creative arts, cultural exchange and social change non-profit - For Common Good Platform. A speaker, author and multidisciplinary artist with a socially engaged practice; Kevon also provides creative consultancy services for non-profit and cultural organisations, through East Yard Enterprises. Some of his most recent clients include Habitat for Humanity Trinidad and Tobago, Trinidad and Tobago Bridge Initiative (NEW FIRE Festival), and Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture, to name a few.