Podcast Episode 35. A social enterprise must first achieve success as an enterprise before they can deliver on any of their social objectives, that is the message from this week’s podcast guest David Hunter. David is the CEO of Acceptable Enterprises Ltd (AEL) who are based in Larne, Northern Ireland and provide employment opportunities for young people with additional needs.

AEL do this across a diverse range of industries from manafacturing bottled water to selling products online. The innovative array of industries in which AEL operate in has resulted in a very successful business in terms of both turnover and providing an increasing number of work opportunities for young people with additional needs.

One of the successful businesses is an ethical bottled water line called ‘Clearer Water,’ each bottle has a unique trace code that a consumer can type into an app on their phone. Doing this provides a stream of information such as the PH rating, mineral content and temperature of the product BUT it also delivers information about the person who bottled the water such as their hobbies, the music they like to listen to and what football team they support. Another business achieving success is the online business selling a variety of products on eBay and Amazon. The focus is on quality which as David explains is why AEL has extremely high levels of customer satisfaction on both eBay and Amazon.

David also discusses why companies need to understand that if they employ people with additional needs it doesn’t mean that the quality of their product or service will diminish as a result. As he says for many employers, the prospect of making reasonable adjustments when hiring employees with disabilities can be quite daunting. However, AEL has numerous proven ideas to illustrate to employers how simple reasonable adjustments can be.

AEL also believe in ensuring that all the businesses they operate have a diverse workforce, so they try to ensure that they follow a model where the workforce is made up of 1/3 people with additional needs, 1/3 people who have had challenges in their lives and 1/3 people from the local community. David argues that creating a workforce in this way reduces social isolation and is also more reflective of the wider world of work.

David also shares some words of advice for others who want to establish a similar company or organisation to help employ young people with additional needs. His advice is to look for a particular problem in your community that you want to tackle and then to use social enterprise as a means to combat that problem. Also look at the online sales world where you can reach millions of customers easily. The crucial part is coming up with the idea or concept for generating the income and using that income to deliver your social objectives.