Submitted on Mon, February 4, 2013
Junior Smart’s Southwark Offenders Support (SOS) project tackles British reoffending rate with a tailor-made mentoring program for young offenders, by ex-offenders. Ashoka Support Network (ASN) member John J. Grumbar helped him scale up the programme from the borough of Southwark to the rest of London.
It is only once at the bottom of a cell, looking at a 12-year sentence for high-profile drug offense at the age of 24, that Junior Smart was struck by the loneliness and helplessness of custody: “Where’s the support?” he asked the prison guards.
Pushed by his natural empathy, charisma and leadership skills, Junior decided to turn his situation around to one of change making. After joining The Listeners, a group of prisoners trained by the Samaritans to conduct moral support on the others, Junior launched what was to become, after his own release in 2006, the Southwark Offenders Support project.
SOS is a programme of tailor-made practical and emotional support for young offenders, conducted by ex-offenders. It aims at the social reintegration of young offenders. Operating under the umbrella of the respected award-winning charity St. Giles Trust, the SOS project was able to use their ex-offenders as mentors, and to tap into their employer network. The programme costs 2000 pounds per client, and lasts from a few months to over year, depending on the individual.
Six years later, SOS demonstrates a 15-20% reoffending rate among its clients, nailing the appalling 75% rate of the individuals at the charge of public authorities alone. The SOS effective, innovative and system-changing model was what convinced Ashoka UK to elect Junior Smart as a Fellow, in 2009.
The ASN Partnership With John J. Grumbar, Executive Chairman Of Egon Zehnder International
A year after Junior was elected as fellow, and as the result of an interview of Bill Drayton, John got involved with Ashoka UK as an ASN member. The Ashoka Support Network is a global community of highly successful business people committing time and resources to support the work of social entrepreneurs elected by Ashoka.Once introduced to Junior and the SOS project, he was immediately struck by the 32 years-old’s charisma and leadership skills, but also by the project’s high potential “to be a real “Big Society” role model”, as quoted by The Focus’s article on Junior.
John’s major contribution to SOS consisted in encouraging and facilitating the first scale up of the programme from Southwark to the borough of Kensington & Chelsea. The latter’s North East corner being a difficult one to tackle by local police, John thought the SOS solution would perfectly match their situation. After helping Junior pitch the program to the police’s Partnership Coordinator for the area, he gathered a group of local residents including himself to subsidize its materialisation, and provided regular moral and practical support.
John’s support in launching the SOS project in another borough was crucial. Not only did it provide the encouragement, connections and financial support much needed to a first scale up, but also helped prove its replicating power and therefore its wide social impact potential. It also created a ripple out effect that convinced other boroughs and cities to partner with the SOS team.
- Started in 2006
- Works in Southwark, Kensington & Chelsea, Ealing, Greenwich, Croydon for London, as well as Bristol and Dorset
- Costs 2000 pounds per client
- Has worked with over 520 individuals
- Success rate of 80%
- Follow SOS Gangs Project on Twitter
The ASN partnershipJohn helped Junior scale SOS to their first replication by:
- Encouraging him in replicating SOS to Kensington and Chelsea
- Helping him pitch the programme
- Subsidizing its materialisation
- Regularly supporting Junior
Words by Margaux Kayser, Ashoka Support Network Intern