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Overview

Phil ConwaySometimes the assignment can be temporary, but the impact can be lasting. Just ask Phil Conway, an IBM UK employee whose year at Oxford under the IBM Faculty Loan Program led to a new social enterprise initiative to help the families of disabled children.

Conway, a business transformation and IT consultant whose 10-year-old son Shaun is one of 770,000 disabled children in the United Kingdom, decided to combine his business skills with a desire to help families with disabled children find affordable, high-quality, at-home childcare. His search led him to the Skoll Center at Oxford University, Conway's alma mater.

The center focuses on the value of social entrepreneurship in bringing about enduring change for communities in need — a mission that fit perfectly with Conway's goal. "I thought it offered the right combination of innovation, market-based business models and social entrepreneurship to help disabled children and the parents or guardians who care for them."

A family matter
According to the Contact A Family organization and the University of Leeds, 80 percent of families with disabled children experience high levels of stress. Three out of five of those families live in or close to poverty, and parents of disabled children are 33 percent more likely to divorce or separate than parents of children who are not disabled.

Conway's answer was a secondment, or temporary assignment, as a teacher at Oxford, an opportunity afforded him through IBM's Faculty Loan Program. "I taught sales and marketing modules, adapting the material for social enterprise," he said. "In return, I learned a lot about the emerging world of social enterprise, which mixes the best of business and charity into a unified business model that delivers quality solutions to the disadvantaged."

Building on what he learned, Conway established a new social enterprise called Cool2Care (link resides outside of ibm.com), whose objective is to recruit, train and place affordable skilled care workers to help look after disabled children and young adults. It's a for-profit matchmaker agency that links families of disabled kids with affordable care workers drawn from students, nursery teaching assistants and mainstream childcare staff. They're all carefully screened and adhere to standards consistent with the Commission for Social Care Inspection.

Cool2Care launched as a pilot program in Surrey and Birmingham at the beginning of the year, and if it proves successful, the model will be replicated in other parts of England. Among those likely betting on the success of the venture: The London Business School, which cited Conway's Cool2Care business plan at last year's Global Social Venture Competition.

Proof positive that it really is Cool2Care.