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A tool to making charity even sweeter

The Independent
Increasingly MBAs are being put to use in the third sector


Gary Bishop understands intimidating. To him, intimidating isn’t embarking upon an MBA without a first degree or business background, or rubbing shoulders with high-flying professionals – this he has managed with aplomb. Intimidating, in Bishop's world, is knocking on the door of a cavernous near-derelict house peopled with drug users, dealers and alcoholics – and being invited in.

“My wife and I were delivering leaflets for our drop-in centre; we were ushered in and climbed up to the top floor to a small, dark room with lots of guys sitting in a circle smoking.” The Bishops sat down and stayed for a chat. “It’s funny looking back how scared we were – some of the guys came along to our project and we’re still in touch with some now,” says Gary Bishop.

Social entrepreneur and founder of east Manchester’s Justlife charity, Bishop is no ordinary MBA student. With some 20 years’ experience in youth and charity work, he’s chosen to live with his family in the heart of east Manchester from where he runs his project; an area once described as one of the most desolate, derelict and deprived places in the country.

Much has been written recently about the changing nature of MBA cohorts to include participants from the public and third sector such as Bishop. Increasingly business schools are providing a platform for discussion of business ethics – either formally or in an unstructured way. Recently the association of MBAs changed its accreditation criteria to include Principles for Responsible Management Education as part of a UN initiative.

Universities such as Durham and Nottingham University Business School are at the forefront of such a shift. Part of the course content sits happily with Bishop’s values, while some of it jars. “In my business world there are no shareholders and profits are always recycled into further social causes,” says Bishop.

“However, I think if we [in the third sector] are going to take all opportunities before us we need to raise our game in business terms.”

Bishop, now 40, left school at 16 armed with just a woodwork qualification. He’s now managing director of a lottery-funded social enterprise that turns over £150,000 a year. As winner of the Independent Scholarship to Durham Business School in 2008, he’s spent the last two years working towards a distance learning MBA while setting up a pioneering project targeting the disowned, dependent and vulnerable adults who have fallen on hard times. Last month saw the fruits of his efforts rewarded with the opening of a health and enterprise centre in the heart of the inner city. “Many of these people have been in a very dark place. The world revolves around their habit or their addiction. Everybody has got a story about why they ended up the way they are.”

Bishop and his wife Hannah moved to Manchester from Brighton 11 years ago to take up a job with a Christian community project. “We felt a calling to get involved in this community.”

The Bishops and their three children have remained in the inner city and are now part of the local community. In the last couple of years, Bishop has focused his efforts upon renewal of one particular street of just eight large Victorian houses that has been bypassed by all current regeneration projects. Just five of them, run by unscrupulous landlords, are inhabited by a staggering 60 to 80 vulnerable adults with drug and alcohol addiction. “Standards are Dickensian,” says Bishop. “People end up here perhaps after a stint in prison. Some individuals are violent and dangerous.”

A tragic death provided Bishop with the spur to act. Initially delighted when a resident formerly addicted to heroin turned up “clean” after a six-month stint in prison, Bishop watched in dismay as the inevitable unfolded. Unable to find anywhere else to live, the 33-year-old man returned to the notorious Gransmoor Avenue. “He must have decided to go back and use drugs again.” He died shortly after of an overdose.

At around this time, Bishop was invited by a local councillor to submit his thoughts on the potential regeneration of this street. As a result, he began a pilot drop-in centre offering food and help with basic needs such as form-filling and phone calls.

Simultaneously, Bishop learnt he was successful with his MBA scholarship application. He also has three children under five, a dissertation to finish by June and a full-time job managing his new centre.

Time management is everything. Studying every morning and squeezing work and family life into the afternoons and evenings, Bishop is rattling through the course in two and a half years – distance learners can take up to five. In the thick of applying for funding and setting up a management structure for his charity, Bishop drew on his studies at business school. “The charitable sector is still a competitive environment; you still have to chase funding, show high levels of professionalism, and manage people and have a strategic plan.”

He’s secured nearly £400,000 from the BIG Lottery Fund – enough to pay employees and keep his health and enterprise centre going for three years. With six paid staff and some 15 volunteers, the centre offers a health clinic, addiction services, gardening and art therapy, and practical help with employment and housing. This week saw their first centre user become a volunteer – and install an IT system.

In terms of reward, one comment from a service user beats any professional recognition, says Bishop. “One man said, ‘You’ve given me confidence to try again.’ That is as good as it gets.”


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