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SIFE: Students in Free Enterprise

This may not mean much to you if, like me, you had never heard of SIFE. When I first heard what SIFE meant I thought it was some kind of geek squad that made inventions – how wrong I was. In fact it was my housemate who first introduced me to SIFE and, although his initial motive for joining was because he fancied the president, I soon found out it was definitely a worthwhile cause.

SIFE is the world’s largest student organisation with over 30,000 students involved across the world (that’s basically all of Leeds Uni doing something proactive and not sleeping in till noon!). The aim of SIFE is to create and run local and international projects in order to help increase the opportunity of others. Currently there are 51 Universities involved who apply simple, yet effective, business concepts in order to develop community outreach projects that improve the quality of life for people in need. Not only is this a fantastic opportunity to help a community, but also a chance to broaden your own horizons outside of the Leeds Uni bubble and make some really useful contacts for when your university years are over.

Note: SIFE Leeds is soon to be rebranded as “Enactus Leeds” in line with the UK organisation’s name change.   

The University of Leeds team started in 2007 and made an impact from the start with great projects, and when it comes to national competitions we always do well…in the free bar that is put on afterwards! However on a more serious note, in 2011 we won the award for ‘Most Improved Team’ held in Canary Wharf where the students involved impressed the judges by the efficient and effective ways in which they obtained finance and got their projects up and running; there was even a project to establish mushroom farming in Ghana.

Truth be told I joined SIFE because I lacked a list of things suitable to go on my CV, as unfortunately burping the alphabet or downing a pint in under 7 seconds aren’t achievements I’m able to share with the business world! However, it wasn’t until I found out how great SIFE was and the opportunities it can bestow upon you that I really kicked myself for not getting involved sooner.

I joined SIFE in third year along with a few of my housemates and we did a project called ‘Train up to Trade’. Initially none of us really had a clue what we were doing. The brief of the project was that we were to teach a group of high-risk youth offenders aged 11-14 simple business skills, such as how to make a profit and how to channel your inner entrepreneur. So with no idea what to expect we jumped into the project head first.

Venturing into the youth club where we were to begin our project we met the youth group leader who explained to us that the same thing had been done the year before and was a real success, so no pressure! The kids started pouring in and we were pretty much ignored. I panicked and in my poshest voice blurted out, ‘Hello, how are you? Nice to meet you.’ Safe to say I was thrown a rather disgusted look and elbowed out of the way. I decided I needed to redeem my blunder and asked some boys if I could play pool with them. After they brutally rebuffed me I found my inner fighting spirit and demanded they let me play or they wouldn’t get any of the sugary treats that we had bought for them. I was in! The first week we simply introduced ourselves, thinking it wise not to initially whip out the quantitive maths.

After our first session we regrouped and came up with a tactical plan of crosswords, puzzles and fun activities to bring to our next session. The basics of ‘Train Up to Trade’ were that by the end of the 8 weeks with the kids we were to take them to Leeds Market where they would have a stall to sell things and then get to keep the profit; but before we got to the market stage we had to have something to sell. We eventually got all the kids to sit for about 10 minutes so we could brainstorm ideas – I think the prospect that they could make money was key to the silence. Upon asking them what they would like to sell the following options were given to us: “What about guns, or drugs?”. We encouraged them to think of legal things we could sell and their response was: “we could sell people?”. After telling them that we could not in fact sell people (big or small, because apparently that made a difference) we settled on personalised Easter eggs. Over the next few weeks we came up with selling tactics to make the highest profit, posters to sell our goods and, much to our saving grace, the kids were really excited about going to the market.

Finally the day arrived, and after much cellophane wrapping, our eggs were ready for sale….

The kids arrived, quite literally by the bus load. During our weeks at the youth club we had fluctuated attendance but on the market day it appeared they all wanted to join in. Doubt it had anything to do with potential profit or the fact that the best-behaved boy/girl got a £20 JD Sports voucher. Market day was certainly an experience; they all wanted to sell and so initially, it was a case of them grabbing an egg and shouting at passers-by to come and buy their Easter eggs – not the best business move. We regrouped and told them they had to come up with another selling tactic, one that wasn’t sending the potential customers screaming and running in the opposite direction. At which point, Harry the youngest and smallest of the group (and my favourite) piped up.

It was a ‘watch and learn’ scenario for the other children as Harry took and one of the eggs, put on his best puppy dog face and teetered over to an unassuming lady. In his best ‘Please, Sir’ Oliver voice I heard this cracking line: ‘Please Miss, would you like to buy this egg to save our youth club?’ Before I could step in and tell him that we can’t tell people we are selling eggs to save the youth club, the lady had bought 10 eggs. I couldn’t help but laugh when suddenly I had a group of angelic children approaching everyone very gently with the ‘Please, Miss’ line.

As our morning of selling came to end, a pang of sadness hit me. Although I had only spent 2 months with this group I was really going to miss them and in a strange way they were going to miss us too. After dishing out their profits and giving out the JD vouchers, Harry who had shown little interest until his breakthrough ‘Oliver’ moment turned to the three of us and said, ‘Is this it then? Are you leaving us? Well thanks, I guess.’ My heart broke a little bit but at the same time I was really pleased that I had the opportunity to take part with such a beneficial project. In reality after 6 weeks of training they are not going to be mini Steve Jobs but they will be in a better position than when we first found them and that is down to SIFE.

If you’d like to get involved with one of SIFE’s projects, or even just boost your CV skills, contact us at [email protected] for more information, or like us on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/SifeLeeds

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