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Empowering Social Firms

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Middlesex's know-how supports businesses with a social mission

For someone just out of prison, struggling with a mental health problem or coming to terms with a disability, finding a job can be hard. How to persuade an employer they can do the job? Will they get the support they need?

Social firms exist to help disadvantaged people find decent jobs. To qualify, at least a quarter of a business's employees must have a severe disability in the labour market, and it must not be driven by individual profit. Middlesex first worked with Social Firms UK, the organisation that supports and develops the sector, when the university's Social Policy Research Centre was asked to map social firms in the UK. This led to a bigger project - the development of a portal where would-be social firms could find all the information they needed to get started.

"There were a lot of resources available, but they were scattered and out of date," says Alessio D'Angelo, a Senior Lecturer in Social Sciences. His team designed Social Firms InfoMine, a site that takes users through a series of questions and generates a customized report advising them on what to do next. They can also consult the organisation's entire database of resources. It's not just for start-ups, but existing businesses that want to become social firms.

The project was part of a Knowledge Transfer Partnership - an EU-wide funding model in which an academic is employed by a firm and becomes an active link between this and the university. These schemes have become common in scientific disciplines that help with product development, but Middlesex has led the field in partnerships involving the social sciences. "This is not something people working in social sciences would have done 15 years ago," says D'Angelo. Middlesex's track record of research among minority and disadvantaged groups put it in an excellent position to help Social Firms UK.
More than 120 people have registered on the site since it was launched, according to Di Cunliffe of Social Firms UK. Users have praised the "clear design and simple instructions", and the professionalism of their reports. The organization has been approached by Slovenian, Dutch and Canadian counterparts that are interested in developing similar sites. "There are a lot of people looking for information about building social and economic business objectives. So that's proving its worth. The information that we can gather from InfoMine will enable us to develop other tools."

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