From SSE to the Nominet Trust: The Story of the Digital Assistant Academy
I remember my first day at the School for Social Entrepreneurs like it was yesterday. 20 of us, all dressed up to the nines, assessing each other, trying to impress, and trying not to give away how nervous we were. Over the next 11 months, these strangers would become friends and colleagues; social businesses would be planned and built, and there would be laughter and tears.
Before I joined SSE, I was happy to work independently, trusting that I would make my own decisions and solve my own problems - without input from others. Being part of the School, played a big part in shattering those illusions. A combination of sharing challenges and ideas with my action learning set, mentor and tutor, as well as my classmates, allowed me to open up a little more and start to ask for help. In the past I would almost be dismissive of those who actively looked for external support but now I realise it's essential - we need to find our ‘kula’ or community. This is something I share in my new book The Business Yogi: How to be Happy at Work.
I started SSE with a vague project idea – to help artists and cultural organisations make the most out of the social web – an idea borne out of my work in that sector and my frustration at the lack of knowledge. But as the weeks and months passed, something else emerged – a vision of a world where work-based stress was unheard of, and that the norm was meaningful work that benefited people, planet and created profits. And so, my social business 8fold was born. The wonderful thing about SSE is that they invest in the person, not the project. Project ideas come and go, they develop and die - but SSE looks for something special in a person that makes them a social entrepreneur.
Fast forward to October 2010, and the four day residential at Dartington Hall. Those four long days and nights were life-changing for me. I came back to London, and to SSE, with a gut feeling that I was capable of so much more. A tentative idea was brewing, and I brought it to my action learning set for their input – and they loved it.
Digital Assistant Academy is a project enabling low income women in London to generate additional, flexible income for themselves and their family around their existing commitments in a new media environment. The Academy trains students in the skills needed to be a freelance digital assistant, helping other small businesses with their websites, social media and digital marketing. The initiative is particularly suited to women who need opportunities for flexible, home-based work e.g. women who want to fit work around childcare or school, women with caring responsibilities for elderly parents, or disabled women who want to work from home.
With some seed funding from UnLtd to pay for expenses such as room hire and childcare, I ran a small pilot towards the end of 2011. It’s probably the most challenging thing I have ever done – and was a massive learning curve – but it's probably some of the most rewarding work I have undertaken also.
Thanks to the generosity of the Nominet Trust, I am in the fortunate position of being able to experiment with the model again, this time taking a blended learning approach, combining online multimedia delivery with live workshop-format meet-ups.
My year at SSE gave me the space to develop as a social entrepreneur and to test out my ideas in a safe and supportive community, which was instrumental in then going on to get funding from UnLtd and now, to take my ideas to the next level with the support of the Nominet Trust.
I am thrilled that the Trust are such a forward thinking funder, providing support every step of the way, from project planning and evaluation to partner networking to comms and marketing. Similar to SSE, in the Trust, I have found my ‘kula’, my community and support network which will make the Academy the best it can be.
Sinead Mac Manus is the founder of 8fold, a little company with a big dream - to change the way people work. An experienced trainer, speaker and author, she writes regularly on productivity, digital balance and happiness on her website, and she is the author of From Apps to Zen: 26+ Ideas for Building a Business with Balance and The Business Yogi: How to be Happy at Work.
As a social entrepreneur, she runs the Digital Assistant Academy, and is a Fellow of the School for Social Entrepreneurs, and an UnLtd Award Winner. A yoga fanatic, she tries to bring a Zen-like quality to her daily life, but normally fails due to drinking too many double espressos.