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An interview with Joint Chief Executive Julie Hawker, on Cosmic over the years and Social Enterprise

22nd May 2015

Julie Hawker ESSENCE interviewThis week Julie was interviewed about her time at Cosmic and why we are the social enterprise that we've become. After speaking at the ESSENCE event, Julie shared some of her answers with us for the Cosmic blog. If you have any further questions for Julie about Cosmic or Social Enterprise in general, why not send them to us via email ([email protected]) or on our social media. You can also give us a call in the office on 0845 094 6108.

Why did you chose to be a social enterprise?

I didn’t! Cosmic chose me …. I met the founding team at Cosmic almost a year after they had started things going. At that time they had developed a three year plan and attracted some initial funding, and they wanted a business development role which could progress further with a sustainable model. At the time of founding Cosmic those people (Ian, Kerrie, Peter, Dave) were motivated to achieve social impact in the local area at the same time as developing a strong business – and learned to call it social enterprise a bit later! The initial social aims have held true in the business ever since – digital inclusion, rural focus, youth employability, community engagement.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?

Not much …. oh hang on, that sounds a bit too arrogant so let me explain. Yes of course there are things that I could back on and say I’d improve my approach, planning, quality and more. But its also fair to say that looking back on the overall success of the past 18 years at Cosmic, there have been moments of failure of course and I have learned so much as a result of getting things wrong. So if I did things differently I wouldn’t have had the benefit of those learning experiences. In reality the things I would do differently would be the time when I think we could have worked harder to engage people in our work by letting it speak for itself – and not get drawn into local politics and agendas which don’t focus on our passions – digital inclusion and skills development.

What are your top three tips to someone just starting out on their social enterprise journey?

  1. Find yourself a role model – someone who you admire for their achievement, passion, commitment and success. Someone who you can relate to as a true leader and who can inspire you to great things, and motivate you in your journey. In order to inspire others I think we need to feel inspired. Once you’ve thought of someone study their journey and learn how they did it.
  2. Know your goals – short, medium and long-term aims which you can express with clarity, and measure performance in with honesty. Be simple and straightforward with planning work, deliver it to the best quality, then honestly review how well its gone and learn.
  3. Have a thick skin and a broad smile! – you need to be patient, determined, resilient as you develop in business. There will be many challenges and bumps in the road, and people will question you regularly about your ideas, approaches and attitude. Try to keep positive and smile. Positive passion is infectious and it really does make a difference if people see you as someone who is up-beat. Misery and negativity are not good in a marketing plan.

Can you think of one mistake that you would be happy to talk about, and what you learned from it?

I can think of one which caused major issues in the business, and I learned a very big lesson about how to properly engage and respond to our key stakeholders. Not keeping in touch with the people who are ‘invested’ in our business (not in a monetary way at all but with their support, passion and commitment) leads to them feeling disconnected and out-of-touch with developments. Therefore when you need those people to come on-board with major strategic aims and ambitions, you can find that they won’t support the plans because they have not been a part of the journey. Every social enterprise needs to very clearly understand who are the stakeholders which matter to your business, and how do you build effective engagement and communication with them so that when you need their support and involvement – its there.

On a lighter and more personal note, my mistake over the years will have been taking myself a bit too seriously now-and-then, and taking things a bit too much to heart. I am now a big believer in always taking our work and our business very seriously, but allowing our own humour and the fun-factor to shine through isn’t a bad thing.

What has worked well for you that you think others may benefit from knowing?

Early on in my time at Cosmic I regularly berated myself for lack of management skills, ability and experience. I saw myself as someone who wouldn’t be effective as a manager unless I gained qualifications (which I did), experiences and skills (which I did). And the I began to understand that people naturally have different management styles than me – and that my style needed developing. I also realised that I should focus more on my development as a leader, at the same time as working to improve my management. I studied Leadership Development at Exeter University and this helped me to understand even more about my role and how I could develop, but it also provided me with new opportunities to work in support of others developing their leadership, and particularly those working in social enterprises. Cosmic then developed a new service to support leadership development and it has proved highly successful, and it's work I love.

Why do you think you are succeeding as a social enterprise in a mainly commercial world?

Well that’s an easy one to answer – Cosmic’s success is entirely down to the team. We have a top quality, talented and skilled workforce full of people who are inspirational, innovative and highly motivated. And on top of that they are all deeply connected to our social objectives – they understand why we do business this way and that becomes a major part of their own motivation and passion.  Every member of the team has a connection to the way in which we achieve social impact, and feels a high level of pride in both the quality and professionalism of our work and the difference we make to people’s lives.