Beam: Getting homeless people back into work

Alex Stephany, far left, and James Bowen and his cat Bob, second right, meet Beam member Tony, second left, and Joe, far right

SME Magazine catches up with Alex Stephany, founder and CEO of Beam

First up, Alex, tell us about Beam? What are its aims?

Beam is the world’s first crowdfunding platform to help homeless people train up and get into work. Beam launched its pilot in September and is supported by the Mayor of London and the innovation foundation, Nesta.

Homelessness is an urgent and growing problem – it has risen by 13% in the last year alone, with 300,000 people now homeless in Britain. Beam aims to provide a long-term solution to homelessness by helping homeless people to get into work, fulfilling their career aspirations and making the most of their talents.

The money to train up each homeless person (we prefer the term “member”) is raised through crowdfunding. Once the money has been raised (all our campaigns have successfully funded) we support the members to enroll onto verified training courses and gain recognised and valued qualifications. From there, they are supported into stable, paid employment.

Beam aims to make it safe and easy for the public and supporters to help a homeless person. On each campaign, you can see a transparent budget so will know exactly where your money goes. You also get email updates about the progress of the member you are supporting and the impact you’re having. Ultimately, the Beam model empowers people to take a small amount of money and to make a smart investment in someone’s future.

When was Beam formed and what has it achieved so far? Have you got any figures you can share which shows success?

Beam launched its pilot in September and previously spent nine months collaborating with the homelessness sector and those who had experience of homelessness to help build the model. It won backing by the Mayor of London and Nesta and is partnered with 12 of the UK’s leading homelessness charities, including Thames Reach and St Mungos. One of our ambassadors is James Bowen, the ex-Big Issue vendor turned bestselling author of A Street Cat Named Bob.

Beam has also received extremely positive, international press coverage including from the Guardian, BBC, Sky News and The Times, and was named one of the top tech innovations to watch in 2018 by The Guardian (US Edition).

Beam has launched a new feature allowing you to give monthly donations which are divided equally between every live campaign. Beam is also now funding childcare costs in campaigns for parents, allowing them an equal opportunity to pursue their professional ambitions. These are the latest data points since Beam launched:

  • 12 campaigns have fully funded
  • >£30,000 raised for campaigns
  • 10 unique career paths being pursued, including a teaching assistant, a courier and a construction site manager
  • 210 – largest number of supporters for a single campaign
  • 5 days – fastest campaign to fully fund
  • £12 – the cheapest funded item – a hard hat
  • £3,460 – the most expensive funded item – electrician’s training
  • £1 – smallest donation
  • £1,000 – largest donation
  • 44% of all donations have been divided equally between members’ campaigns

And what about some individual case studies?

Homelessness can affect anyone and the diversity on the Beam website reflects this. Members range from a former member of the armed forces, to a refugee to recovering addicts and from ages 20 to 67 year olds. Career paths include a teaching assistant, an electrician and an accountant.

Beam’s first member was Tony, a homeless man living in a hostel in South East London who wanted to become an electrician. In less than a month, Tony successfully funded his campaign to qualify as an electrician, raising £4,378 from 136 supporters.

“When I first heard about Beam,” says Tony, “I thought, ‘why would anyone want to help me out?’ I couldn’t believe it when the money started coming in. Then, when I read the messages from my supporters, I just didn’t have words. Thanks to Beam, I’m now training to become a fully-qualified electrician.”

Adam is one of our younger members. He grew up in a Palestinian encampment in Lebanon. He faced many dangers while living there and saw two of his friends killed, leading him to flee to London alone. In England, after seeking asylum, Adam undertook English speaking courses and continued to pursue his love of maths. Beam has crowdfunded £2,589 for Adam’s campaign and he will begin to train as an accountant in the coming months.

Tony, Beam’s first member, training up as an electrician

How is Beam working with the government to tackle the UK’s growing homelessness crisis?

Beam is backed by the Mayor of London and we are exploring government funding solutions as an innovative approach to addressing the UK’s homelessness crisis. The Mayor and central Government have been interested in Beam as a way of providing a long-term solution to homelessness in a way which is dignified and personalised, while upskilling the workforce and creating savings for taxpayers who currently bear the high financial cost of homelessness.

How can SMEs in London benefit from working with Beam?

Everyone in business is first and foremost a person. At Beam, we believe a lot of people have been moved by the problem of homelessness but don’t know how to help and feel powerless. We empower people to donate to an individual member’s campaign, allowing them to train up and get into work – meaning that for the first time, they can now take a small amount of money and make a smart investment in someone’s future.

Beam provides an opportunity for SMEs to get involved in something safe, impactful and innovative as part of their corporate social responsibility programme. Companies and employees can see exactly where their money is going and the impact they are having on an individual.

Last but not least, Beam trains people up for a wide variety of different jobs. Any SME is therefore a potential employer for Beam members and can benefit from employing someone who has just been fully trained up.

If an SME owner wants to find out more, what should they do?

You can donate to the Beam campaigns on our website – There you can meet our members, read their stories and donate either to one campaign or give a donation that is divided equally between all live campaigns. To speak to us about employing Beam members, you can email [email protected] to discuss further.

How is Beam funded and what kind of training do you provide?

Beam is funded by grants from the GLA, Nesta and HNW individuals. The campaigns themselves are all funded by the public through crowdfunding. There are always opportunities for more funding from companies who want to support groundbreaking innovation and benefit from a new and compelling addition to their CSR programme. Beam is currently working with some of the world’s leading professional services companies, including Herbert Smith Freehills, Allen and Overy and the Mayor of London.

Beam supports all kinds of employment pathways tailored to the members’ talents and aspirations. The training itself is provided by certified training provides. These courses are selected on a case-by-case basis and work towards recognised qualifications that are highly regarded by employers in the sector.

Where do you hope Beam will be in, say, five years’ time?

In five years time, Beam will be helping thousands of people a year who have experienced homelessness to train up and make the most of their talents. We will be intelligently matching members to new opportunities in growing areas of the economy.

Beam will make it increasingly easier to help people – as well as showing people who want to make a positive difference to this problem the impact they are having ever more clearly and transparently. Beam will also be working ever more collaboratively and closely with homelessness charities and Government, for we believe that it is by innovating and working together that we will find a lasting solution to this crisis.