Location: Luleå, Sweden
Vulnerable group in focus: Men and women with mental disabilities
Coordination: Sunderby Folk High School, Catharina Ljungcrantz
Do you speak Swedish? Visit the Facebook page of SIVANS
Social Start-Up Biography
On this page we want to document Sivans Hundtjänst and its development into an independent social start-up. To take you with us on this journey, we update this interview diary every other month. If you have further questions, feel free to contact the local coordinator (see above). If you want to learn more about certain terms you may encounter here (such as "micro project", "social start-up", "Accelerator Team" and the like) please check our "the ideas behind the project" section.
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DEC 2019 FEB 2020 APR 2020 JUN 2020 SEP 2020 NOV 2020 FEB 2021 APR 2021
Tell us about your Micro Project in three sentences
In our region, we aim at tackling employment and income challenges by transforming an already existing, but still rather informal dog care service (SIVANs dog service) into an integrated social enterprise. This approach particularly suitable for job training for men and women with mental disabilities. In addition to the creation of jobs and income, the social enterprise will furthermore offer job training for people facing difficulties entering the labour market.
Who are the persons behind the initiative?
Firstly, there are our members who actually carry out the dog care services, people that we want to support in terms of employment and income. In the past years, they already expanded their competence in dog care and developed knowledge in social entrepreneurship, which creates a good precondition for launching the social enterprise. Secondly, there are teachers from Sunderby Folk High School who meet the participants during the weeks for continued work and training and who jointly work towards the establishment of an actual social enterprise. Thirdly, the project includes representatives from the municipality of Luleå (the local employment services) and an expert in the start-up and operation of work-integrated social enterprises, facilitator and business developer (Coompanion).
What are your long-term goals?
While the idea has already been developed and basic steps have been implemented during the previous SEMPRE project, our primary goal is now to institutionalise our work structures and establish an independent social enterprise.
Which topics do you currently address in your micro project?
SIVANS has now submitted an application to start an association, meaning that we’ll have a legally recognized organisational form. This will allow us to conduct completely new dialogues with stakeholders, apply for bank accounts, insurances and the like, and we can move forward with building the entrerprise.
What were your recent challenges?
One of our recent difficulties was that we still do not have business premises for the social enterprise. At first it was challenging to move forward without a “real” location, yet eventually we started to think differently and find new ways to get revenue in the social startup, for example to walk dogs instead of starting a day care for dogs. Moreover, we had bureaucratic challenges related to the employment situation in our initiative. Difficulties emerged after a meeting with the employment office, and they soon developed their own dynamic in terms of pressure and insecurity in the group. It took us a while, but after all we were able to overcome the issue in a joint effort and developed an action plan that helps us solving the situation.
What are your short-term goals for the next months?
We recently had a workshop in which we identified and structured different fields we need to tackle. We mainly want to address the following matters: (1) The first goal refers to completing the process of getting a legal organisational form. (2) Secondly, we want to expand our support network, which is a very wide-ranging topic and includes, for example, mentoring for or individual members, but also to a more strategic perspective on support networks for the future enterprise. (3) Finally, our third goal refers to our future financial structure and setup. These are the main fields that we identified for our work in the next months, and for sure we’ll get back to them in more detail here in the micro project biography.
Tell us about your recent achievements at SIVANS!
In the past weeks, our focus was on budget issues, sales and the organisation's needs and its structure. We developed a budget and action plan proposal which should come into effect once the start-up has been officially launched as a social enterprise. We want to take this critical step in the next weeks, when the support of the Employment Service (which currently compensates our start-up members) is scheduled to end. We also managed to increase the number of paying customers, which is a big step on the road to getting the “business part” of the company up and running. We worked with sales and made marketing efforts both via social media and targeted offers, for instance we distributed leaflets in several locations around the city.
All over Europe, we are now faced by the tremendous impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on our daily lives. What is the impact on SIVANS?
Our social start-up suffers insofar as many people work from home or are out of work. In this situation, people don´t need the services of dog walking when not at work. As our start-up will very soon become an enterprise supposed to carry its own costs, our members must prioritise getting new customers and taking good care of the ones they have. We are also thinking about more services we could develop to get extra money. We increased our activities on social media and are marketing the business actively.
Summer is at our doorsteps; and even though the situation with the pandemic is still difficult, we want to look ahead: What are you currently working on, what are your plans for the next months?
We are very excited that in the meantime our social enterprise has been officially launched! We will now work on stabilising it. For instance, we started working on a new support system for SIVANS. Supported by the facilitator of our Accelerator Team, we initiated a cooperation with a project for social entrepreneurship that during this crisis can offer extra support for business development. For example, they support in terms of digital marketing, democratic organisation and board work.
During our first interview half a year ago, you told us about your vision: a financially and organisationally stable social enterprise that provides job and opportunities to people in disadvantaged groups. How far did you come on this path?
Despite the current difficulties, we were able to launch the enterprise. SIVANS now “stands on its own feet”, which is an important milestone. We are confident about our further progress, which will now focus on making our enterprise more stable. This includes support systems, as explained before, but also internal processes that we need to improve – such as the organisation of roles and responsibilities in the start-up, which is a challenge that still requires attention.
Now that the social enterprise has been launched, what did you work on during the past weeks?
The next thing on our plate is to stabilize our structures. In this context we just collaborated with another project on organization and board work. Together, we participated in a programme where we learned about cooperative bases, economic association vs. non-profit association, member democracy, annual general meetings, motions to the general meeting, nomination committees, auditors, and many further aspects that are essential for board work.
Specifically for your social start-up, what was your most important take-away from the programme?
We identified several needs specific to our group. The point of departure were questions like “what needs does the business have?”, “what roles and functions are needed?”, “what are the requirements for performers?”. Based on these questions, we identified the need for a customer manager (i.e. a central manager who receives requests for dog walking times and other contact), but also needs related to scheduling, accounting, PR, staff management and further.
What is the current situation in the company since you picked up business?
Our social start-up currently has six subscriptions for dog walks that cover the expenses for the company's fixed costs. We learned a lot about customer agreements, the right of withdrawal and tested different pricing. Today, we work mainly in three areas around Luleå. A big challenge is the logistics with the buses and how to streamline the walks. But we also have a new office space in central Luleå, which makes this easier.
In the previous interview we talked about board work. How do you progress with the organization of the social start-up?
We started to divide responsibilities, even though this happened rather naturally than in a strictly organised way. Looking ahead, we discussed a number of potential actions to work on, for example to develop a “year wheel” for the business, to determine the number of board meetings and conduct these regularly, to develop a standing agenda for workplace meetings and a structure for these meetings, and to communicate with the economist and prepare financial reports for every board meeting.
How is your staff situation?
Today, Sivan's three employees correspond to one full-time and another is planned to be hired in November. One has chosen to end their work training so the company is now looking for a new person who can step in, for example on a work training with the possibility of employment later and who works with the rest of the group.
In SEMPRE Accelerators, all micro project run a so-called “micro project breakfast”, an empowerment support tool that should not only bridge the gap between social service providers and social service users, but also gives an opportunity to promote the micro projects to larger audiences and raise awareness for their needs and offers. At SIVAN, you organised such a breakfast event earlier this month. How was it?
Indeed it was a very beneficial event, for both sides. We met with a municipality representative in charge of labour market issues and with an NGO. After the meeting they told us that they realised that more social work integrated enterprises are needed in our region, and that a support structure for social enterprises is needed as well. One of them. Another representative explained that learning about SIVAN inspires her and shows how once can get on with life, even if you are in a difficult situation. On the other hand, for us as micro project, this exchange was important to expand our network. Moreover, it felt good to see that people are actually interested in what we are doing and that what we are doing is a good concept!
It has been quite a while since you successfully established SIVANs as a social enterprise. Your company is now up-and-running and offers dog walking services to its clients and inclusive work places for its members. SEMPRE Accelerators ends in a few weeks, and throughout the past one and a half years your project has grown the wings to fly. Let’s look ahead. Do you have any plans for the future of SIVANs?
Yes we do! We recently evaluated our hitherto experiences and discussed future plans. And indeed we want to further develop the company.
What do you have in mind?
Firstly, we are thinking about expanding our services and also taking up more participants here in our group. We believe that once the pandemic is over and people stop being at home, the need for dog walking services will grow. This is a chance for SIVANs to get more customers. At the same time, this is also an opportunity to find new premises and start a dog day care in addition to our dog walking service. Moreover, we would like to offer further opportunities for work training. We were also thinking about working with young people without employment or in education. We could offer activities to enhance their motivation together with dogs and nature. Therefore, it would be best to have a physical place, such as a dog day care.
And did you already take first steps into this direction?
We are currently in the process of planning the next steps. To begin with, we want to visualise everything that needs to be done. Then we have to set up an annual plan for our organisation and set clear goals for the journey to the dog day care, including responsibilities. Moreover, we have to improve our marketing – to name just a few of our next steps.