Last week, SocialBusiness.org featured KO2 Adventures, a UK-based Community Interest Company that uses dirtbiking as a tool for positive social change among youth, and this week, we got the chance to do an email interview with its Executive Ops Director, Alison Lowndes.
Here, Alison Lowndes shares her inspiring story and digs deeper into KO2's business model, her creativity rituals and how she joined the field of social enterprise.
Three Questions with Alison Lowndes
1. How did the idea for the business model come about?
Since 2006 I have been running an online volunteering charity -- AVIF -- a network of people around the globe -- wanting to travel to assist communities in developing countries with sustainable development and experience real life culture -- not tourism. As Founder Trustee, I am unpaid, though utilising internet technologies I have adapted the charity to be virtually cost-free. We use social media on a massive scale as well as our website, Skype, SMS, etc. I do, however, still have bills to pay so needed to come up with a way to raise funds to aid projects and also cover my costs of living.
When Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman burst onto our TV screens and DVD players with Long Way Round and Long Way Down, I had the idea for a small Kenyan bike tour. I'm a biker by the way -- my other passion. I ride a Suzuki GSX-R750. After conversations with business advisors and mentors we decided that keeping things local would be a much better idea and I soon learnt about the vast number of children slipping through the education system nets. KO2 (Kenya On 2 wheels) evolved into a Community Interest Company with an ability to make profit but for the public good; namely the young people of North Yorkshire. We use dirtbikes to re-engage the youngsters back into education, alongside a developmental program of activities.
In 2008/2009, I was also involved in the first ever zero-emission superbike race on the Isle of Man, during the TT Races. Electric dirtbikes were the perfect accompaniment to young people and an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, which is where I'm lucky enough to live; Nidderdale.
2. How do you reset yourself to be creative?
Being completely honest, I'd say it's been relative poverty that has driven my innovation.
I'm a lone parent and once savings had gone I was living on barely nothing to continue to run the charity. Without substantial investment of my own I've had to be extremely innovative in planning KO2 and look for alternative solutions -- and mentors -- and funding. Choosing to be a CIC was very important as our charitable aims allow us to seek investment or grant funding, unlike traditional limited companies. I also threw myself into the whole scene of Big Society and social enterprise and shouted loudly for support!
Luckily, working in a world of volunteering has taught me that people are always open to assist others for a good cause. Interject the excitement of bikes, green technology and kids, and suddenly collaboration across the entire county came easy. I've managed to pull together schools, community, council, environmental agencies, Police, Fire Service, youth work agencies... Even our solicitors want to come play on the bikes!
3. Do you have any rituals?
Rituals are easy -- just be honest, open and yourself -- and all over social media! ;)