Hackney Changemakers: Sophie Higgins

Sophie Higgins, founder of Be You Be Me
Sophie Higgins: helping others to help others.

I’m very excited to introduce this series of guest blogs by Hackney Changemakers who have inspired me on my own journey to achieve something different in Social Enterprise Borough Hackney. We stand on the shoulders of giants here, wading in a centuries-old river of reforming consciousness. And today’s trailblazers are all great fun to be around! Follow this series for revolutions you can dance to, as I continue my own mission to amplify and celebrate the good stuff here in East London.

First up, Sophie Higgins from Be You Be Me , a social enterprise development agency passionate about co-creating an inclusive and sustainable world. Be You Be Me is pleased, she tells us, to be part of the Hatch Enterprise Impact Accelerator in 2020. A mother and a talented singer too, Sophie knows how to have fun but can also organise a great socent conference. And she’s also not afraid to go deep, or to have the ‘difficult’ conversations that have marked 2020. Perhaps, as a social entrepreneur, she has no choice?

“It’s been four years since my full awakening to the potential of social enterprise, both as an alternative approach to business, and a force that can help transform our society into one that prioritises people and planet over private profit.

Over that time I observed a fairly steady appetite for the concept of social enterprise. However I felt there was a divide between people actively participating in change now and people who felt the old ways were too ingrained for ‘consumers’ (and themselves) to really change their focus (even if they agreed with the case for it).

But now, as we start to (hopefully) emerge from the darkest throes of the Covid-19 pandemic it seems that nothing will be quite as it was. First there is an upsurge in gratitude: for our health, our homes, our friends and family, for all those frontline workers who have shown such bravery. Then there is a new relationship to uncertainty, something those of us who study the Great Unravelling (as Joanna Macy* calls it) are all too familiar with. And in response to that we form community: building new support networks as priorities shift from the isolated individual to the collective.

Be You Be Me screenshot

As if that wasn’t paradigm-changing enough, we are now witnessing the largest global uprising against racial injustice the world has ever seen (#blacklivesmatter). Somehow it took the sickening murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis on 25th May and the outrage it provoked for a crack to form in the white western media mindset allowing the light of decades of study about deep systemic inequality to burst through into the collective conversation.

As a single parent, I have had the honour of nurturing a young life during these past months, a focus that has kept me sane and insane in equal measure. However, as nursery resumes and I can end my self-elected furlough period, I can now finally join the efforts of other adults in society at least some hours of the day.

My goal is to be part of co-creating a new economy* that supports an inclusive and sustainable world, and over the last few years I felt I had studied enough to know how and where to take action. Given these huge changes, I am coming to the conclusion that, paradoxically, as lockdown starts to end and the enforced slowing eases, now is actually a time for more reflection before taking action.

I want to, again, consider my own role in systemic oppression, in white supremacy. I want to reflect and set goals for myself on that. I want to make a sustainability audit for myself and my organisation and again set goals for this. Finally I want to listen, get a sense of where my peers and collaborators are at.

Understanding this new world means not just understanding the mindset shift but also considering the many new networks and projects that have sprung up, the impact of the pandemic on existing organisations big and small and the change in the funding landscape and markets.

Next week I’ll be joining a 3 day-summit called Regenerate Devon which will consider how communities can approach this unique moment as an opportunity for deep transformation (#buildbackbetter). I’m also going to be reading ‘Me and White Supremacy’*** with fellow Hackney social enterprise devotee Thea May (check out her inspiring ‘attuned speaking’ work).

If Simon [AKA Hackney Tours, ed.] will have me, I’d love to share again soon how this reflection and these conversations go.

*I am reading ‘Coming Back To Life’ by Joanna Macy and Molly Brown from cover to cover for the foreseeable future

**I appreciated learning in the excellent Decolonising Economics workshop put on by Stir To Action and facilitated by the brilliant Guppi Bola and Nonhlanhla Makuyana from Resourcing Racial Justice) that the root meaning of economy is a system for managing our collective home, not actually something abstract to do more with the stock exchange than our local communities. 

***‘Me and White Supremacy: Combat Racism, Change the World, and Become a Good Ancestor’ by Layla Saad. There is also a Facebook group. 

If you want to know about many other Hackney Champions & Changemakers like this, check out this inspirational tour, as enjoyed by Goldsmiths MA Social Entrepreneurs and more.


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