Social entrepreneur: Camilla Batmanghelidjh

Kid's Company founder Camilla Batmanghelidjh talks about the challenges she faced in setting up the venture.

Kid’s Company founder Camilla Batmanghelidjh talks about the challenges she faced in setting up the venture.

Kid’s Company founder Camilla Batmanghelidjh talks about the challenges she faced in setting up the venture.

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Camilla Batmanghelidjh is the Founder of Kid’s Company. Kid’s Company supports 12,000 youngsters who are crisis point in their lives when they have no functioning parent.

What is special about Kid’s Company as a charity?
The thing that’s unique about Kid’s Company and the reason why I set it up was that I working as a physiotherapist and I realised the central flaw in the delivery of services to children which is this assumption that somehow every child’s got a responsible carer in their lives who’s going to take them to appointments. And actually the majority of the children were precisely abused by the very people who were supposed to take them to appointments to Social Services and Mental Health and of course these carers didn’t want to take the child to the appointment. So I realised that a realistic service needed to be one where a child a hundred per cent could self-refer and that the service was a hundred per cent accountable to the child and that’s what Kid’s Company has become.

Was it difficult to start Kid’s Company?
It was very difficult to start up because we’d intended to be a very small organisation, starting very slowly. But actually the word spread on the streets and we ended up with about 100 adolescent boys from gangs who arrived within about the period of three weeks at the beginning. And they started destroying the place, this is what they used to always do. Go to various spaces, clubs, destroy them, get banned and then petrol bomb the place for banning them. And I just hung in there and thought, oh my God, these kids are terrifying, I don’t understand a word they are saying but they are religiously turning up at three o’clock every day and kind of ripping the furniture and setting the cushions alight and… And I thought well you know let’s just go with them, let’s find out why they do this. And the service kind of got created around them.

How is Kid’s Company funded?

We have 315 paid staff, 5,600 volunteers and… basically I have to raise ten million a year. Of that… because the government and I battled it out together lovingly, they give me four million at the moment so I have to raise another six million but what’s extraordinary is for every pound in money that comes into Kid’s Company it’s matched by a pound in voluntary contribution so the time the volunteers give, the goods in kind and the services in kind amount to another ten million a year. So actually the organisation’s worth twenty million annually.

Can’t other charities do what Kid’s Company does?
I think that’s a very valid comment. And the answer is that the larger charities are surviving by having government contracts. Because they need so much funding it is not possible to just survive through voluntary donations. When you enter into contracts with central government or local authorities, your ability to criticise and speak up and ask for change is slightly diluted because you don’t want to offend your funder. But the advantage with a small charity is that it’s small enough and nimble enough to be able to challenge and ask for change without being penalised with loss of contract and I think that’s the big difference. You know some charities have stopped being able to be fully campaigning because of this pressure on contracts.

Is Kid’s Company run as a business?
We’re… very business-like in that the structures we’ve got are very robust. In fact we can trace every expenditure in our accounts back to the individual child. We can tell you how many fish and chips each child’s had. That’s how detailed our accounting system is in relation to what we capture in terms of data. But we are a non-hierarchical charity. Workers are appointed just as workers without job description. So that any given point they might do two or three different things and therefore the way we recruit is that we’re recruiting people who fundamentally have an ability to love children. That’s what we’re looking for. We’re even looking for that in our accountant because when the accountant is sitting there boringly counting the chicken receipts he needs or she needs to understand where it leads to.

Is it stressful running a charity?
It’s stressful…the thing that makes it stressful is other people’s misery actually. It’s like, if the nation was entrepreneurial it would think actually here is a negative situation which for an entrepreneur is an opportunity. But what you’ve got to battle against is other people’s doom ceremonies like… ahhh, the world is coming to an end, we’re not going to have any money, you know that kind of thing. And if you sat and listened to it, if you were not crazy… you know like you need to have a crazy edge as an entrepreneur, you know which is refuse other people’s reality in order to create new realities. So in a way if I sat around and listened to people I would have shrunk the organisation, got into some trenches and waited for the nuclear bomb. And I just don’t operate like that I think you’ve got to be aspirational and you know you need to think and dream and then set about the micro steps to get to it really.

Nick Britton

Lexus Ernser

Nick was the Managing Editor for when it was owned by Vitesse Media, before moving on to become Head of Investment Group and Editor at What Investment and thence to Head of Intermediary...

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