The Story Behind Patchwork Hub
Never, in the months leading up to Patchwork Hub’s first post, could I have imagined that our first post would be published in this context… When I’ve been pitching our social enterprise at competitions in recent months, at meetings and at events, I normally start by highlighting that our model of work is broken. I argue that just because a person’s circumstances remove them from the workplace and from being able to work in a conventional workplace, that person does not lose their skillset, determination or desire to contribute and earn money. I talk about how current efforts are based around trying to fit people into the workplace rather than creating a workspace that fits these individuals.
With COVID-19, businesses are rapidly improving their implementation of flexible or “working from home” policies. I hope that the one positive that might come from all this is an acknowledgment that flexible and remote working works. Such a realisation can help bring back into the workforce a currently invisible talent pool.
How we started
I had a clear career path laid out in front of me. I had graduated from Oxford University with First Class Honours and had just run a summer school access programme to bring students from “disadvantaged” backgrounds to university, the very same access summer school that I had attended, aged 17. I had received a full Kennedy Scholarship for postgraduate study at Harvard and from the outside looked all set to be whatever I wanted to be, wherever I wanted to be it.
Yet, my chronic health conditions changed how I could work. Despite great efforts and sacrifices, I could not sustainably work a conventional 9 to 5 office job. Despite the privileged networks I was now apart of, I could not find an easy way to work flexibly around my health. Despite workplaces making efforts to become more inclusive, current efforts were all based around trying to fit people into the workplace rather than creating a workspace that fits the individual. This made me think, what if I created a business which does exactly that? Create the workspace around the person.
The moment when this personal idea coalesced into a driving motivation was during an ME/CFS advocacy meeting in the United States Congress. I sat around the table in Senators’ offices hearing stories of high-achieving and highly skilled individuals who had been forced to stop work because of their illness. Globally, there are millions missing from the labour market, as there is no accessible or sustainable way for these people to find or continue in work even though they may be physically/mentally able to do so. A person may be housebound and only able to work a few hours a day, but oh boy, can they be productive and dedicated in those hours! It often surprises people to learn that the disabled self-employed’s skillset is specialised in the three most highly skilled occupational categories. This is not to mention the untapped potential of those who have not been able to continue working or skilling themselves because there was no accessible way for them to do so.
I began thinking about the potential of creating a fully accessible platform through which users could connect with employers, training and support, facilitating a different way of working. Creating a one-stop shop for somebody unable to work a conventional job to connect with opportunities which would suit them and allow them to live and work sustainably. Creating a one-stop shop for businesses to improve their inclusion through finding talent and connecting with training and support.
The more I began working on this founding idea, the more convinced I became of its potential. I came back to the UK and have been working non-stop ever since. The chronic illness community holds some of the most inspiring and hardworking people I’ve ever met and given the opportunity, I know they will be assets to the clients they work for. In light of the growth of remote working and task-based jobs, I feel strongly that a socially responsible and inclusive business should be one of the first to market and I am determined that ‘disabled’ people are integrated into the future model of work, front and centre of the change, rather than a separate category added on at the end (as is usually the case!)
There is no reason why a social enterprise, which contributes the majority of its profits to its social mission, should not also be a scalable tech startup and market leader but there are many reasons why it isn’t often done. The barriers to entry are that much higher for disabled-led enterprises but I truly believe that a shift is beginning to happen. Now is the moment for Patchwork Hub.
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