One year on: what winning the Google Impact Challenge has meant for vInspired
Guest blog by Samatha Sparrow, Knowledge and Innovation Manager at vInspired
Tech and charities – a journey worth taking
In late 2012, at vInspired we started to think about what more we could do to support young people into employment, and bridge the gap between volunteering and work. As the UK's largest volunteering charity for young people, we knew that the biggest challenge currently facing 18-25 year olds was unemployment, with around 1 in 4 currently unemployed.
Armed with a desire to use digital to somehow bring these two worlds together, we set about addressing this challenge. This became Task Squad - a platform connecting young volunteers to short term, paid work opportunities.
Winning the Google Impact Challenge
After an intensive period of development, experimentation and testing with employers and young people we launched our product in April 2013. At that time Google’s Impact Challenge went live and we quickly recognised that this could be key to scaling up our service and delivering real impact to our community of young volunteers.
But it was a busy time and we learnt some hard lessons – quickly. Amongst the challenges we faced was trying to do the Google application while getting our operations up and running. We didn’t have a full time staff team – just like the start-ups we were trying to help. We were also grappling with the legal aspects of setting up an employment business alongside a platform that although operational, could not yet cope with a bigger pool of users or the legal issues.
It was all worth it though when we got the fantastic news that we were a finalist in the Google Challenge, winning £100,000, which allowed us to solve many of these issues in a fast and effective way. The impact on Task Squad was huge, and a real turning point for our development.
We were able to:
- take our beta site to a fully functioning platform with a better user experience for young people
- recruit a permanent staff team with specific skills and experience from a range of sectors
- Work with over 10 employers and post over 1000 hours on the site
- Develop an impact framework with New Philanthropy Capital
- Be shortlisted as a finalist in the EU Social Innovation Awards
Being a finalist in the Impact Challenge was also a game-changer internally. Overnight the project went from an experiemental innovation to something which had legitimate support and traction in the outside world, and that was important for showing the real value Task Squad had for both vInspired and young people.
Yet despite winning the Google Challenge we still face daily challenges. At the moment we are working on increasing the number of employers using our site – we need to make sure that every employer has access to Task Squad’s pool of talented, motivated and ambitious young people. But we’ve realised that developing this market takes time and expertise – as well as a lot of learning.
Alongside this, taking a commercial project to scale inside a charity can be difficult – we’ve spent a long time bringing our trustees, senior management and staff team on our journey with us and whilst the challenges decrease, they do not disappear entirely!
Task Squad’s future
We have high hopes for the future of Task Squad – and the young people we are supporting into employment. We already have our first major success stories with someone going on to get a full time job, using her experiences on Task Squad as a launch pad and the first job offer from a Task Squad employer. We’ve also had young people running events, managing customer services at start-ups and working at a major fashion label – with many more in the pipeline.
Despite the challenges we face, we’re hugely ambitious for Task Squad – we expect it to become a self-sustaining social business providing employment opportunities for at least 13,000 young people across the UK. Importantly, we also expect it to generate income for investment back into vInspired’s charitable activities.
Now we are strengthening our sales team and working regionally in selected cities across the UK, as well as working with the Nesta Impact Investment Team to get the project ready for social investment and becoming a trading entity. So my advice for anyone thinking of taking a similar route is go for it but make sure you have a strong, supportive team, a clear idea of what you want to achieve and some funding to get it off the ground.