The role of mentors in the lives of entrepreneurs and business owners often goes unacknowledged, and these champions are especially important to people from minorities, in my case as a budding social entrepreneur from the LGBT+ community.
My journey to social entrepreneurship began in 2015, when I entered the arena as an out LGBT+ person having left my full-time job as the Associate Director of a voice talent agency, to re-enter education and study for an Enterprise Masters at Alliance Manchester Business School. With an arts and media background, and a parallel working life as in learning support for university students with learning disabilities and mental health issues, I was keen to connect up these two separate parts of my working life into a focus for the future, enabling me to overcome my own personal barriers and make a difference. The idea for a new connective and championing platform called “Somewhere” was born, focusing on raising visibility and celebrating authenticity for LGBT+ people in business and cultural spaces.
The biggest influence I have had in that endeavour is through the amount of time devoted to the Somewhere idea by other people, and in particular those who have mentored me. A special mention goes to Liz Cross, a phenomenal human being who continues to create good in the world through her fantastic Connectives organisation, and who represented the LGBT+ business role model and mentor I, myself, desperately needed.
Bootstrap social enterprises are founded on vision, passion and determination, with a need to prove social impact to attract funding, which can take a great deal of time. Project funding is not a sustainable business model, so programmes such as the School of Social Entrepreneurs with their Start-Up, Trade-Up and Scale-Up programmes are so vital. Because of the time it can take, social enterprises need the brute willpower of a single-minded entrepreneur and a community of support to get them off the ground. When I emerged as a Fellow of the School of Social Entrepreneurs in 2015/6, I remember vividly how important it was to have that eco-system of practical and emotional support around me, and lessons learned there kept me going when things got really tough. When I finally decided to move to Edinburgh in 2017, I kept seeing Leith’s “Persevere” motto everywhere (see photo), and took it as a sign.
This concept of “passing the baton” and “paying it forward” has also played a huge part in the creation of the ‘Somewhere EDI’ MBA LGBT+ Scholarship, Scotland’s first MBA LGBT+ Scholarship and Mentoring programme, which was the result of taking my Master’s LGBT+ entrepreneurship research findings to the University of Edinburgh Business School, via the Interface organisation. The support and commitment of Louise Arnold at Interface helped me keep focused with an eye on the prize. Armed with my research findings, and experience as an E-Mentor for The Prince’s Trust and many years supporting young people in higher education, Louise connected me to Tom Parnell, MBA Employer Relations Manager, and latterly, Dr Peter Flett, Director of MBA Programmes at the Business School, and the Scholarships initiative was born, with the “Somewhere EDI MBA LGBT+ Scholarship” as the flagship. Through this new partnership, I will be able to offer a mentorship to the successful applicant, who, through the work of Somewhere EDI, will have an authentic link into LGBT+ enterprise, along with connections into the LGBT+ community in Edinburgh and beyond.
My research also spawned two further “Positive Action for LGBT+ MSc Scholarships” which apply to a wide range of MSc courses in the Business School, and these combine with the MBA to create a dynamic and overarching inclusion initiative, highlighting the power of academic research, and the role of the Business School as an agent of change.
This new suite of scholarships will make a real difference to LGBT+ people in business or looking to enter the world of business, proving that community and university collaborations are a force for good in progressing visibility of minority groups. Let’s hope it spawns a whole new generation of LGBT+ and community allies who themselves look to the future and to the moment they too will have the opportunity to pay it forward and become mentors themselves.
That is a powerful legacy worth celebrating.