Enactus St Andrews, the University’s student social enterprise society, has pioneered various projects around campus to support and aid social issues concerning students and the wider St Andrews community. While not unique to St Andrews (the society is part of a global network and plays a role in universities across the world, with factions hailing from institutions as far as China and Kenya), the society has left its imprint on daily lives in the town. Dedicated to supporting entrepreneurial activities, taking action against problems that plague society and creating a sense of us within the community, the non-profit society has over 50 dedicated members.
Their projects include, for example, Dine on a Dime which aims to reduce food waste in the town by selling discount cards to use in local restaurants such as CombiniCo for food that would normally have gone to waste. The project has immense potential and the team has big dreams, hoping to partner with restaurants in Dundee to extend its impact.
Their latest venture, the first local scheme they have led, tackles two highly pressing social issues: homelessness and environmental threats. Named Green Start, the project is committed to employing homeless members of the community to collect recyclable items from properties throughout St Andrews.
Households can pay a small fee to sign up to the scheme, which will then be put towards offering the national living wage to homeless individuals. In this way, after the initial costs, the project will be a self-funded social enterprise.
Responsible for collecting glass, cardboard and plastic, individuals at risk of becoming homeless will be offered new opportunities to improve their lives. In turn, instead of being sent to landfills, the materials collected will be sent to recycling centres or, wherever possible, will be up-cycled into different products, through the eventual creation of various decorative items that can be sold in markets in St Andrews and the wider Fife region.
As well as being marketed to locals, there is a significant demand for handmade and unique local products from annual summer tourists who visit the town. The profit these produce will be reinvested into the project and used to educate the workers in basic business skills to increase their employability, supporting a long-term improvement in their lives. Furthermore, the project ultimately hopes to give the participants the chance to learn the necessary design and craftsmanship skills to create the up-cycled products themselves, equipping them with desirable skills that can make them more employable in their future endeavours.
Green Start will effectively offer a means of living for people at threat of homelessness, while also addressing key environmental issues that threaten our world at large.
In this way, Green Start allows our own bubble, our tiny corner of the globe, to play its role in issues which are highly pertinent and relevant to global society today.
In addition to their own contribution to the fight against climate change, Green Start’s ambitious yet honourable action plan takes significant strides towards ensuring that every member of our community is actively engaging with the issue.
Discussing Green Start with Project Leader Alex Rabinowitz, I was able to learn more about the inspiration behind the project and the depth of the issues that plague the St Andrews community. In particular, Mr Rabinowitz wishes to tackle the challenge of glass recycling, which is “notoriously difficult to do,” and increase its rates in the community.
His objectives for addressing homelessness are “dual fold” as he wants to offer “stable employment and transferable job skills” in order to “break the cycle of poverty,” while also debunking ignorant and narrow-minded stereotypes of homelessness which portray those vulnerable as disinterested in hard work.
“Too often people believe that we live in a meritocracy and that if a person is homeless it’s because they are lazy and don’t have the desire to work,” Mr Rabinowitz said. “By giving the homeless meaningful work that positively impacts the local and wider community, I hope to challenge these stereotypes.”
Green Start will thus embark on providing a challenge to these limited opinions with tangible evidence which demonstrates that homeless people, despite facing various challenges, are interested in participating in positive, meaningful work to better the local community.
Mr Rabinowitz’s own experiences inspired him to tackle issues that he felt were important in the community, and to create a strategy that addressed not one, but two of the most visible and widely impacting of these. Regularly witnessing homeless people on the street throughout his time as a student in St Andrews, Mr Rabinowitz would always “try to buy them some food or at least have a chat.” However, he was frustrated that giving money or food offered a temporary, short-term reprieve rather than solving the issue.
Moving out of university halls also awakened him to the difficulties of recycling glass, and discussing this with his friends and peers, as well as his Enactus teammates, inspired him to address these two issues with an autonomously-operating business model. Moreover, by equipping the workers with business skills to boost their prospects of employment, Mr Rabinowitz and the other Green Start volunteers offer a long-term solution to the issue of homelessness.
Having completed a needs assessment to understand the scope of the issue and the work that needs to be done, the project is now looking to sign up households to their collection plans, which will allow the local homeless people they are working with to begin collecting recyclable materials. The volunteers behind Green Start are focusing on getting this up and running as soon as possible, with the first collection planned for 22 February. From then on, Mr Rabinowitz and his team hope to facilitate weekly collections and potentially even begin running their planned skills workshops towards the end of this semester.
The project is one which will be ongoing, however Mr Rabinowitz hopes that by the time he graduates this coming summer, Green Start will have been able offer “meaningful and sustainable” long-term employment to homeless and poverty-stricken individuals to improve their social standing – a fantastic foundation which will then be followed through by his teammates in earlier stages of their time in St Andrews.
Through this employment opportunity, participants can become more self-sufficient and independent. At the same time, Green Start will somewhat relieve the harmful environmental impacts of waste glass.
Green Start promotes a positive future. The project will create a legacy for future generations to continue the work begun by Mr Rabinowitz and his team. It is also significant that, through participation in the project, Green Start will create a sense of responsibility for the environment and social issues amongst the student community.
Like the sound of a social enterprise that’s killing two birds with one stone? At present, Green Start are most in need of households to sign up to having their recycling collected. If this could be you, head to the the Green Start website (www. greenstartsta.com), find more information on the Enactus St Andrews’ Facebook page (@enactussta), or contact Project Leader Alex Rabinowitz (amr24).