Knowledge born on the streets: StreetwiZe empowers street-dwelling children through a very unique business model

Founded in 1997 by Arnoud Raskin, initially StreetwiZe relied on funding to operate. But in 2008, when the team reflected on what a self-sustainable future would look like for their organization, they decided it was time to jump into the world of socially-engaged businesses. Today, they operate a “hybrid impact model” – where one part of their organization (StreetwiZe) profits, and the other (StreetSmart) runs socially-engaged education initiatives via a Mobile School. The profits of the first, drives the second. And, just like us, they are a B Corp. And since March is B Corp Month, we wanted to get together with Wim (Impact Manager at StreetwiZe) to find out more about their amazing work and what it means to be a part of the B Corp family, together.
Streetwize B Corp Shot by Bram Vlerick
Wim, thanks for chatting to us for B Corp Month. Can you give us a run down of how StreetwiZe and StreetSmart coexist? Sure. Our two business entities are StreetwiZe and StreetSmart. Together, these form a social enterprise, with a main focus on developing talents in the lives of street children, as well as offering workshops to companies based on what we learn from our work on the streets. At StreetSmart we don’t support children directly, but we do support youth workers around the world so they can more directly impact the children they work with. We use a social franchising model, supporting existing organizations with our tools and support. What sort of tools? We offer materials, coaching, training – our mobile school is the most known tool. It’s a seven-meter long cart that can be unfolded so kids can come and engage with different educational activities wherever they are. This is our vision on how to work with children from all backgrounds – it’s an unconditional presence that began as a simple thesis project. We have also developed digital tools which support the work we do with the mobile schools. That content is free to everybody who needs it. And finally we have an app which measures impact, so youth workers can measure what they are achieving. With these, we empower people to be stronger in life and work, ensuring children can develop resilience, agility and a positive focus going forward. What’s the logic behind the Mobile School? Well, if you don’t go to them, they aren’t going to come to you. These children are living and working on the streets. Many of them don’t have the time or the means to attend formal education. And in order to be accepted and build trust, you need to consistently come to them. Education is part of what we do but our final goal is to build their self esteem and help them take their own lives in their hands. Where are you operating? More than 30 countries. We have a lot of partners in South America, which is where we started. We have almost as many in Europe, in Africa, and a few in Asia. In Europe, the closest to us is Germany. We have started a test partnership in Belgium as well, working with the City Pirates Football Club in Antwerp. They use football to create social impact. What is your most exciting measurement of impact? There are plenty of key numbers out there, for instance, the 70,000 people we’ve reached each year with our mobile schools. But for us it’s the stories which speak loudest. For example, we had a child in South America, Juniette. We encountered her when she was 15 years old, she was selling cookies and things to help her family out. She started to attend our mobile school and it was clear she had a lot of talents. She went on to become a journalist, then we hired her. Today, she’s a part of our team, responsible for all our mobile school partnerships in South America and Europe. These stories are only individual cases, but they are steps which show our work evolving to the next level. So how does StreetwiZe fit into this mission? At a certain point, instead of continuing to only be financed by funders, we wanted to become self-sustainable. What could we do? What skills did we have? We decided to do something very close to our DNA: education. So we started a learning and development business targeted towards companies and organizations, where the revenue would keep our projects alive and growing. What do these company-focused courses look like? We start on the streets, take what skills these young people and youth workers have which allows them to survive in that context, and we translate that into key lessons and scientific learnings which companies and organizations can use – pragmatic workshops which inspire people. We learn with the heart, then the head, then the hands; inspiration, understanding, practice. That way, the learning is maximized. So you’re actually learning from the kids that you yourselves then educate and empower. That’s beautiful. What are some examples of these skills they have to teach you? We have a model called Street Skills – four main competences we see again and again. These are: Positive Focus – seeing opportunities, rather than thinking of difficulties and problems; Agility and Resilience – the ability to respond and rebound when things are difficult; Cooperative Competition – knowing when you need to work together and when you should seek your own success; and Proactive Creativity – being creative in a way which solves problems. This is what we offer to our clients in terms of workshops. We’ve expanded these into 10 topics. Soon there will be 30. We want these to inspire and help other organizations to discover and implement their own corporate purpose. We want to actively support and train organizations to become more purpose driven and performing, in line with the goals of B Corp. Impact is central to your DNA. How has the B Corp certification made its way into the core of StreetwiZe? Getting certified wasn’t so difficult because of the model we have. We score very high with our policies. We weren’t entirely sure, when we certified five years ago, what it would bring to us. Now we can see that it really highlights areas we weren’t as aware of in our business, which we can further develop. We now focus more on ecology, for example, which was always important to us, but B Corp lays out the road to do better. We also try to include the full team in our B Corp methodology, internally empowering everyone. So everybody has a say in how the company improves? The certification is mainly my responsibility, since it’s a big data gathering exercise. But within the organization, everyone is aware of what it is and what we do within its framework. We want to translate that framework into their working lives, and give them action points which we can reflect on together and use to improve our organization. Then these become part of our strategy. What is the biggest challenge you face as a B Corp? In social entrepreneurship, there are many challenges – whether you are or are not a B Corp. Our main challenge has to do with wage policy. We have two entities, in both we want to remunerate our people equally – so people don’t make less on the StreetSmart than the StreetwiZe side. Competing with “purely for profit” businesses, who can afford to pay higher wages than us, is an obstacle we face as a “socially engaged” business. Finally, what is your vision for the future of the B Corp movement? We hope that it becomes a much bigger movement. Whether companies become B Corps or are inspired by B Corps, the main thing is that we all think about business in a different way. That way, it becomes like a wave which impacts all sorts of aspects of our economy. You can already see that it is evolving in the mindset of the next generation – different aspirations, different demands from companies they work for. The time is right for something like B Corp. /