In our latest blog post, Yaina Samuels tells us about her first year as an Entrepreneur in Residence at Cardiff Business School, an experience which has seen her inspire the next generation of social business leaders.
Shumaila Yousafzai had invited me along because she wanted to introduce her students to a different type of business model, a social enterprise.
She knew that my model of a social enterprise was something that her students – although entrepreneurially-minded – were unlikely to have encountered before.
So together we opened their minds to the possibilities of working in a different way. A way that might benefit the communities of the world.
I think of it as the social side of entrepreneurship. Increasing awareness of things like the ethical, social and sustainable responsibilities of business behaviour and practice.
It was from there that our relationship started to develop and Shumaila nominated me for Cardiff Business School’s Entrepreneurs in Residence Scheme.
A pattern of disruption
I founded NuHi based on my personal experience of drug addiction.
I grew up in a very dysfunctional family with domestic violence which, as I now know, led to childhood trauma. This led to a pattern of disruption in School which meant that I didn’t achieve and fulfil my academic potential.
I would run away from home and get picked up by social services all the time. It eventually became too much and that led to a period in which I was in and out of Children’s homes.
At no point did anyone sit me down and say: “Yaina, what’s going on for you?”
When I finally reached the age of 15 or 16, when I could leave the Children’s home, I had no living skills. I was still a child and quite damaged.
I was searching for a sense of belonging which I found with people who had experienced similar circumstances to myself: homeless people, people who had suffered child abuse, alcohol dependency and so on.
Some of those people were drug users.
I had always said that I would never take drugs. But it happened. And it gave me a sense of release. It freed my mind from the thoughts of my childhood trauma, my past. It meant that I didn’t have to think about how rubbish my life had become.
This was the start of a fifteen year addiction to heroin.
But I turned a corner.
I started a Methadone treatment programme and volunteered whenever I could because I recognised that I had very low confidence and self-esteem.
From that I got my first proper job with the Council as a Trainee Black Housing Officer.
And then my career started.
A series of opportunities
I’d never disclosed to anybody what my background was because I felt ashamed. But there came a point where a job was advertised to work for a drug project in which it was beneficial for you to have had personal experience of addiction. So I put it on my application for the first time in my life.
To have someone praise me in the interview for being open and honest, to value me for my experience, that was a real turning point for me. It was liberating.
I got the job.
I started to acquire skills and develop my knowledge and to recognise my experiences in the lives of others.
I started to believe in myself for the first time ever, really.
What followed was a series of opportunities where I could share my personal experiences of recovery. It helped me see gaps in the drug services that were out there. I was disillusioned with programmes that were all about maintaining you on Methadone, maintenance scripts as they’re known, or putting you into placements where you’re supporting others with a drug or alcohol problem.
If you’ve only been a few months or a few years recovered, there’s no way that you can effectively support someone whose eyes are pin-pointed from drug-use or smelling of alcohol. It increases the chances of relapse.
I thought to myself, there must be an alternative to this. We must be able to find a way to use the skills of ex-users to help others to recover.
So in 2010 I designed NuHi. The name is inspired my journey. It’s about getting high on education and training instead of drugs. A natural high and the buzz we have when we achieve academically and socially.
I decided to make NuHi a social enterprise because I wanted to be self-sustainable. I wanted it to be a business that would generate an income that could be reinvested to build skills of ex-users.
At NuHi, we design and deliver bespoke training which we sell to work forces and the wider community. The income generated from sales is used to develop the skills capacity of the volunteers, building confidence and promoting self-esteem, whilst helping the business to grow.
Making a difference
Fast forward eight years and I find myself as an Entrepreneur in Residence at Cardiff Business School.
Having successfully nominated me, Shumaila asked me to think about activities that her MSc Business Strategy and Entrepreneurship students could really get involved in.
She wanted to give them the opportunity to make a difference to some of the projects that I’ve worked with over the years since founding NuHi.
I instantly thought of The Children’s Recovery Foundation (TCRF) in Sierra Leone.
TCRF is an orphanage of around 300 young children who lost their parents during the Ebola Crisis in 2014. Many of the children were found on the streets. Some as young as three and four.
At the time it was called ‘Helping the Vulnerable Children of Sierra Leone’.
Cousins of mine live in Sierra Leone and because of the connections I have there, the orphanage had seen that I visit a few times a year to do work in Waterloo village. So they messaged me on social media. At first I was unsure, because you get lots of these appeal-type messages on Facebook, Twitter and email, of course.
But this organisation kept on and on and on. So I thought to myself, what are these about? I had a look at them and found out more – due diligence and that kind of thing. I visited the orphanage and met with the staff and with the children.
And that’s where the relationship began.
As our work together developed, we renamed the organisation ‘The Children’s Recovery Foundation, Sierra Leone’.
Through NuHi, I had come to understand that, in one way or another, everyone is recovering from something whether emotional or physical breakdown, addiction, abuse through to your general and physical health.
The desire to support this recovery was really the inspiration behind my approach to business in the UK and Sierra Leone.
A new perspective
Being an entrepreneur in residence at Cardiff Business School gave me the opportunity to take my work with TCRF to the next level.
I challenged Shumaila’s MSc students to write business strategies for the organisation. One was a fundraising strategy and the other was a marketing and promotion strategy. They were really excited to get involved with the project.
What stands out in my mind is the way they reacted when we video called the orphanage – staff and children. To add that to the mentoring experience was so special.
The students could see and feel the difference that they were going to make with their contributions to TCRF.
On top of their academic contribution, they also raised around £500 through bake sales, activities and events held in the Business School.
The money was sent to TCRF and spent on clothing and equipment. We have pictures of the children choosing their books, choosing their bags and shoes, all with the money raised by Cardiff University students.
That kind of evidence is priceless!
Through this process the students started to understand the value of social enterprises, of the social responsibility of businesses and of the social return on investment.
They were able to see the public value results of their efforts.
And that’s what I’ve got out of this experience, too. The students have come with quite fixed ideas of what kind of business they want to pursue after graduating. What I’ve tried to show them through this experience is a different way.
The value that’s been added to their lives, their knowledge and their student experience is huge. Because they see that business is not only about making profit. You can run a successful business, but you can and should reinvest into your community. Linking those concepts together through the examples of NuHi and TCRF has given them a new perspective.
I feel confident about how that’s going to be put into practice as these graduates go out into the world of business.
It’s a three-year term as an Entrepreneur in Residence. The first year has been finding out about what the role involves. And at times I’ve asked myself “is this really happening?” because it’s a huge thing for me, especially because I’m not academically-minded.
I’ve seen myself in a different light, though. I might come across as a confident person, but deep down there’s still that bit of trauma and uncertainty.
Shumaila would say to me: “What you do is so special. You need to start believing in yourself.”
So the residency was validation for all of my work and experiences to date, really. It made me think, “Wow! If they believe in me, then perhaps I really should start believing in myself, too!”
Yaina Samuels is the Founder and CEO of NuHi Training and an Entrepreneur in Residence at Cardiff Business School.
Dr Shumaila Yousafzai is a Reader in Entrepreneurship at Cardiff Business School.