A movement masterclass with Amy Varle, the Founder of Social Property Investment.
Whether we’re coaching Founders who are scaling social ventures, or movement builders from large organisations, one the most common things we work on is how to comfortably loosen their grip on control. Amy Varle, the Founder of Social Property Investment, is planning to build out a movement of housing innovators to tackle homelessness and there’s something for everyone to learn from her lessons on letting go.
Here’s Amy’s story, and our take on the learnings for anyone at a similar stage in their movement building journey.
Know Your People
AV: Over the last five years, I’ve worked one to one with homeless and other vulnerable people matching them with landlords. I’ve developed a way of working with housing officers, private landlords and third sector partners to broker the support people need to make their tenancy a success and a formula for reducing the financial risk to landlords whilst delivering cost savings for public services. So far, I’ve helped to house 100 people and saved central government around £2.5m. But obviously, I can’t keep doing it all myself. I’m a social entrepreneur through and through and my vision is to create a sub-sector of the private rented sector, of empowered and educated landlords who are committed to serving and safeguarding vulnerable tenants.
SCA: The first principle of any social movement is to know ‘your people’. What Amy’s shown in her vision is that she’s stepped back, seen the system as a whole and recognised that private landlords will need to be at the heart of this movement to achieve impact at scale, and her role now is to work out how to support and enable them. That means letting go of control of the outcome and taking on the responsibility of enabling others.
AV: Everyone always wants to work with me 1:1 but I’ve got to make sure it is about the model, not me, if I’m serious about sparking a social movement. In 2014, we collaborated to buy a property in Greater Manchester, transformed it into 6 studios and worked with the public, third and private rented sector partners to support 6 homeless people in their tenancies Everything I’d learned, we applied it to this project. I’ve put it on a platform to educate landlords on the model along with an e-course and products for anyone who wants to replicate it, backed up by the numbers to show the cost-benefit.
SCA: Amy broke down the model, synthesised it and made it freely available then applied the skills and qualities that made her so effective at delivery – passion, technical knowledge and collaborative leadership into communicating the method to others. Confidence that the sum of the parts adds up, even when you take yourself out of the equation, is a humbling but crucial step in giving up control.
AV: The next stage is to develop the platform to connect landlords with the partners they need to make the model work – from the council housing officer to the local food bank. That needs funding, and funders need more evidence than a regional pilot. I used my Winston Churchill Fellowship to spend two months in the US researching Pioneering Strategies for 21st Century Homelessness Prevention and Response, with support from the National Housing Federation. I’m now planning a launch, and pursuing an academic partnership with an institution who can provide research and evaluation support and incubate new products and services for movement members. This will create a platform to call out for funders who can help me build the infrastructure needed to reach a mass-market audience. I’m feeling positive – in my experience the more people get together, the more the magic happens!
SCA: Amy’s recognised early on that, although her personal story and experience is strong, that won’t be enough. She’s partnering with institutions who can bring credibility and rigour, lend resources, amplify the message and reach the right audience. And, just like the partners who’ve worked with Amy over the years, they’re coming on board because they feel a shared purpose, values or set of experiences. The easier you make it for people to recognise the identity of the movement, the more likely it is to attract self-selecting believers. That makes it easier to trust they’re there for the right reasons, loosen your grip and let the magic happen.
You can download the Movement Building Canvas, to help you work through the questions around people, values, purpose and control in your movement.