The importance of being unique

Active Citizen Amma Mensah, founder of theatre and education social enterprise Beyond The Classroom, was a participant in the third Serbia ISV.  

She was interviewed by fellow Shoreditch Trust Active Citizen, ISV participant and journalist Akilah Russell for the Voice newspaper – and has some important advice to pass on to other aspiring social entrepreneurs and Active Citizens

Can you explain what is it that you do?

I am the founder of Beyond The Classroom, which is a theatre and education social enterprise. We provide schools with curriculum supplements that aim to fill in the gaps not recognised in formal education.

One of our main focuses has been sex and relationship education for young women and dealing with their confidence issues and building self-esteem.

Another part of our program that will be launching this year teaches young people how to run their own social enterprises. I want young people to know that it is a plausible career path. I want to show them that you are actually do something that you love, turn it into a business and still make change.

Why did you decide to venture into social enterprise?

I think it was a combination of things. I have to admit I generally do not like answering to anyone and I don’t like to follow all the so-called “rules,” so being my own boss was particularly attractive!

For me, social enterprise sits neatly in between charity and business. Charities are for people who are do-gooders, business people have markets and targets to reach. Social entrepreneurs are people who can identify a problem and realise that they can be the solution to it. For example, I am a young person and I provide other young people with support. An older person trying to do something similar may not get the same response as someone they see as a peer.

Be unique. Be who you are, you cannot be anyone else.

What issues would you say are important for others starting their own social enterprises?

I think it's a bad idea for anyone to start developing programs just for the sake of it. I feel like you need to be passionate about what you do at all times, so starting something just because you believe you have spotted a social problem means you’ll run out of steam.

Your work has to come from the heart. I really can’t stress enough how important that is and how much of a difference it can make. Otherwise you put yourself at risk of doing whatever everyone else is doing.

You recently went on an international study visit to Serbia as a part of the British Council's Active Citizens program. How did you find that experience?

I want the world to know that...Change is possible!

Honestly it was a unique, eye-opening experience because I have never been to that part of Europe before. Obviously, it is a part of the world where the population of ethnic minorities is quite low and coming from a place like London it was quite noticeable for me. Here [in London] there is no such thing as a 'strange' looking person because we are all strange! We all look different in London so it made me more aware that of how unique our community is.

I learned so much and I met so many people that I connected with. I got to witness some amazing social action projects while I was there and it just made me want to travel more and see things that will shock me, excite me and teach me things that I never knew before.

What advice would you give a young person who wants break into your field?

Just do it! Literally just go ahead with your idea and do it. Understand the market you are in, understand where you stand in that market. Identify your skills, but still be willing to learn.

I’d also say don’t worry about all the paperwork and legal things that can have you disheartened if you let it bog you down with stress. Just take things in your stride, focus on your idea and keep going. This is the age of what has been called the 'accidental entrepreneur'. They are just people who have ideas and can follow them until it eventually becomes a business. I believe in organic growth.

Find out more about Shoreditch Trust Active Citizens here.