Replicating self-reliance with WEvolution

Inspiring people in poverty to take control of their own lives.

WEvolution exists to challenge society’s disempowering attitude towards people struggling in poverty and joined Spring Impact’s Scale Accelerator to consider how it could change this norm at scale. Through a partnership model, WEvolution is now building a movement of organisations across the UK, setting up Self-Reliant Groups to inspire and enable those in poverty to take control of their own lives.

Mission

In the UK, nearly 5 million people live in persistent poverty. Many find themselves unable to afford the basics, unable to play a full role in society, and stuck in a downward spiral of increasing isolation, depression and hopelessness. Yet so often, the “services” aimed at providing support do not treat people struggling as equals and underestimate their ability to transform their own lives.

WEvolution, a Glasgow-based charity, believes that the most powerful change starts with a person’s aspirations, and that everyone has the capability to create economic and social value for themselves and their communities. WEvolution wants to disrupt how people struggling against difficult circumstances are supported by the welfare state, third sector and others; to treat them not as “weak and vulnerable” but as “equals and producers,” able to shape their own destinies.

In 2011, WEvolution helped a group of women to come together as its first self-reliant group (SRG). By collectively saving small amounts of money, they eventually started their own laundry business. The members saw their confidence grow, their mental health improve and their motivation to achieve their goals increase tenfold. The approach puts each member in charge of their own development, rather than providing a service that sets out a path they must pursue.

WEvolution built on this success and led the set-up numerous SRGs in Scotland.

Challenge

Realising that they alone could not respond to the level of need and change how people living in poverty are treated, WEvolution knew they would need to work with others and build a movement that could address this problem at scale across the UK. WEvolution began to offer Do It Yourself training for other organisations interested in setting up SRGs in their local area. Despite a high take up of this training, these organisations struggled to get SRGs up and running and found it hard to replicate the unique values and approach of WEvolution.

WEvolution had a complex problem to answer: how could they work with others to set up quality SRGs and build the SRG movement to fundamentally change how people who are struggling are treated in the UK?

Change, Action

In 2016, WEvolution took part in Spring Impact’s Scale Accelerator to answer this question. The Spring Impact team supported WEvolution’s leadership to refine their long-term strategy and develop a clear approach for realising this vision. WEvolution’s scale approach to date had been focused on providing light-touch support to enable other organisations to drive forward the programme, whilst WEvolution remained small and rooted to their values. However, with Spring Impact’s support, WEvolution realised that training alone wasn’t enough to enable others to establish effective SRGs, and that WEvolution needed to invest more in these organisations, through ongoing support and collaboration.

WEvolution also realised that they needed to focus initially on building the foundations for this movement – refining the SRG model, collecting data to prove the impact of SRGs and finding allies in the sector. Following Scale Accelerator WEvolution therefore chose to develop a number of intensive, interdependent relationships with carefully selected partners, supporting them to set up SRGs in new areas. WEvolution’s vision is that by working closely with a handful of partners to perfect the SRG model, it will establish the building blocks required to kick-start a movement that can generate its own momentum and spread the power of SRGs across the UK.

Before Scale Accelerator, we had lots of demand from organisations who wanted to set-up SRGs, but no concrete way of forming a partnership. We now have a clear package of support for partners, and confidence in our own ability to enable others to replicate the power of SRGs.

— Noel Mathias, Managing Director at WEvolution

Impact

WEvolution used its innovative scaling plan to secure a multi-year grant from the National Lottery, and is now implementing the new partnership model with 8 partners across Scotland, England, Wales and The Netherlands. Supported by WEvolution, these partners have set-up a further 90 SRGs in their local communities, replicating the core idea of treating people as equals. WEvolution convenes strategic partners regularly to continue to provide support, share best practice and help coordinate priorities. With a Partnerships Manager in place, WEvolution is set to continue recruiting further partners, build the evidence base behind the impact of SRGs and continue to build the SRG movement across the UK and beyond.

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