Women are great catalysts for change

November 11, 2015 by in category I'm Not John with 3 and 2
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Superchampion Nickala Torkington has worked in the social enterprise support sector for 14 years.

During roles at UnLtd, Bubble Enterprises, Make it Happen and Blackburne House she has directly coached and supported more than 600 social entrepreneurs to develop social projects, enterprises and organisations.

A social entrepreneur herself, she has designed, operationally developed and managed three social ventures: a health spa and wellbeing centre, a café and retail outlet and an event management company. With 40% of social enterprises in the UK (SEUK – State of the Sector Survey) being led by women, Nickala sees the social economy as an environment where women can thrive.

Her main role as consultant to UnLtd involves supporting the team to deliver the SEE Change Programme and build and support a network of over 100 universities in the UK and internationally, to embed a culture of social entrepreneurship. Year on year just under half of the 1000+ people awarded are women and in the university sector 53% of awards went to women in 2013/14.

Outside of UnLtd she runs Community Pop Ups, a social venture, which is enabling social entrepreneurs to build routes market, access practitioner led training and consultancy and develop peer to peer networks in the North and Midlands – clients span the public, private and VCSE sectors.  

Notably she has developed an innovative peer learning and mentoring programme the ‘Women Supporting Social Entrepreneurs Network’, which is open innovation in action.

With more than 80 members, it is supporting women to create the change they see needed in communities through peer learning, resources, diverse mentoring programmes and brokerage, plus crowdfunding and investment.

Nickala has been a great supporter of #imnotjohn, read her advice and thoughts here.

I would advise women who want to succeed in their chosen career to first of all understand what makes you tick, why you make the decisions you do and get to the bottom of your values and interests.

This can be brutal and confusing, but it is worth spending time and money seeking to understand yourself, that way you will fulfil your passion and potential.

Mentors, life coaches, peers and critical friends who want to see you do well are worth their weight in gold, when you find good ones – so search them out and build a network that can support you and share your goals and your passion.

Also be open to being challenged – don’t surround yourself with people who agree with you, whilst at the same time find the patience and strength to rise above negativity.

If you can’t afford the training you want – be creative, volunteer and develop initiatives you will learn from as well. I’ve not the money or the time to do a Masters or PhD and yet I’m being brought in to train and support much more ‘qualified’ than me –  I’ve always seen people as equals, so try not to get daunted by what you are trying to do and recognise what you do achieve.

I think the biggest challenges come when you are forced to make difficult decisions – making staff redundant or terminating contracts is never easy especially when you have a collaborative leadership style.

This also means knowing when you have fulfilled your role yourself and it is time to move on.

Sometimes in seeking security, wanting to lead and influence impact, not wanting to let go of the ‘baby’ as some people describe their ventures or not wanting to be seen to be a ‘quitter’, people can put off making difficult decisions.

I’ve noticed through my own challenges that sometimes ‘quitting’ is the key to progress, creativity and better opportunities.

I’ve been fortunate enough to work directly with more than 600 social entrepreneurs to pursue their passions, develop initiatives and ventures – supporting them to create the change they see needed in communities or society.

I’ve also had the pleasure of developing several social ventures myself.  With all that I’ve done to date, spotting talent in unusual places, developing people and creating legacies is what I enjoy – being a collaborative leader, a developmental piece in the puzzle, getting things to the point where others can run with them.

I think women make great catalysts for change and through a relatively new initiative I’ve been developing with others, we have a growing network of more than 100 women change makers bringing diversity, experience and social and ethical perspectives to support and mentor others.

Women have to make all kinds of sacrifices in the workplace and this is difficult, although these have to be done if you believe in your values, you want to see change made and stay true to yourself.

I’ve made personal sacrifices, pay packet sacrifices, sacrifices in missing out on time with my family and stuck my neck out piloting initiatives to build them to the point where they progress and pay off – sometimes led by me, sometimes by others.

All in all it is usually worth the pain and where it isn’t you reprioritise, get creative and refocus.

Read more about #imnotjohn here.


  • Nickala Torkington
    on November 11, 2015 Reply

    Thanks for posting hope some of this can be useful? Anyone wanting to read more on women as a force for social change can see a further blog on the work of WSSE and a case study and policy report to help more women social entrepreneurs start up and thrive https://see.unltd.org.uk/blogs/news/he_social_innovation_insights_1_supporting_women_social_entrepreneur

  • Author
    Yellow Jigsaw
    on November 13, 2015 Reply

    We’ve had brilliant feedback from your blog, Nickala- thanks for providing your insights! Please read Nickala’s report for information on the current women social entrepreneurs’ market.

  • Nickala
    on November 26, 2015 Reply

    Thanks for the great launch event your ran. Look forward to implementing next steps and putting diverse mentoring, role model showcasing, peer learning and creating opportunities for women to progress in whatever way they choose, at the heart of the next phase of this work.

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