Crossing Countries is a social enterprise founded in 2014 by Jean Cathro. The organisation offers opportunities for disabled and non-disabled people to volunteer together abroad, as well as Rethinking Disability workshops delivered by people with disabilities that move beyond legislation get people people thinking about social inclusion instead!
Several years ago, Jean took her first, life-changing trip to Durban, South Africa. She found the experience to be eye-opening and memorable, and found herself frequently recanting the trip to the individuals she worked with in her day job at the University of Edinburgh, supporting students with disabilities as a note taker. The students kept saying that perhaps the next time they should join her, and eventually she decided she was going to make that happen.
Three years ago, the group, containing two individuals in wheelchairs and another who is blind, took their first trip to Durban, South Africa. They spent their time volunteering in organisations like township schools, creches and special needs schools. While travelling, it occurred to Cathro that those living with disabilities often don’t get opportunities to volunteer and that travel abroad is difficult. On this occasion, combining the two enabled the students to have an unforgettable experience, overcome challenges and increase their self-worth in a way that made everyday struggles feel more manageable.
Why she did it
Returning from this adventure, Jean decided to give herself a fresh start, doing something different and creating something new while she still felt able. Her long and varied history of employment and learning had allowed her to gain a sense of the inequalities experienced by various sections of our society, and here lay a tangible opportunity to address these issues through a new venture.
Jean was, however, turned off by the traditional charity model despite the potential benefits that it might allow. She felt that as a social enterprise, Crossing Countries wouldn’t preaching a narrative of victimhood for disabled people, and wouldn’t need to play on people’s guilt to secure support. Moreover, becoming a social enterprise has allowed her to develop an element of progression into the organisation’s model, and felt that it may be more conducive to various potential routes of future expansion. Crossing Countries’ social enterprise approach already financially supports previous volunteers to join a subsequent trip as a Team Leader. Jean hopes that this may extend to the organisation’s work here in Scotland, allowing disabled individuals to be paid as consultants for the facilitation of workshops.
What she did
When starting up, she like many went googling for “social enterprise” and came across Firstport, who then subsequently referred her onto The Melting Pot. She feels that connection was an extremely important part of her journey, as was coming across Edinburgh Social Enterprise and gaining a group of people around whom she felt comfortable. She says that for a social entrepreneur, finding a network that sits with her ethos has been worth a hundred years of googling!
She relates this to the overall challenge faced by social entrepreneurs, particularly those without prior experience in business, or learning how to or finding people who can support your organisation with functions such as book-keeping or legal requirements. Jean has said that even getting relevant and helpful feedback is a difficulty for people like herself who are working alone.
A related barrier is that of starting a business and trying to make a living at the same time. Jean has found herself getting impatient trying to move Crossing Countries along with the limited time she has had. She has found it important not to compare Crossing Countries to the apparent progress of other social enterprises or beat herself up for not hitting every goal at once.
Crossing Countries is driven forward by the success stories of individuals following their involvement in the organisation’s work. Jean keeps contact with former volunteers and witnesses first hand how they are using their experiences in their everyday life. The organisation is making impact both in Scotland and in South Africa, where the individuals they have engaged there are returning to do work with NGOs and changing their ideas about disabilities.
Cathro also takes heart in smaller triumphs, such as certain articles she has written for the Crossing Countries web page, an advent calendar revealing photographs from their 2016 throughout December on social media, and her first successful attempt at speaking off the cuff during an Edinburgh Social Enterprise study visit from Swedish social enterprise Urkraft having previously had her confidence knocked during a fluffed earlier attempt at pitching to fellow incubees within The Melting Pot.
Now and the future
In 2017, Jean feels Crossing Countries in on the cusp of something big. Having spent a great deal of last year fulfilling a lot of the practical requirements of setting up a business, the organisation started 2017 with some extensive networking. She already feels the organisation is getting interest that she previously had to fight hard for… she recently received four spontaneous applications for individuals hoping to come on a trip, and clients are approaching her to access her bank of volunteers for workshops.
Getting the workshops off the ground is the main task for Crossing Countries throughout this year, before another trip to South Africa in 2018. She is additionally considering other destinations for further trips, including locations somewhat closer to home for individuals who may not be quite ready for the culture shock of South Africa. One suggested destination is Skelleftea, Sweden, home of social enterprise Urkraft, who became familiar and enamoured with the work of Crossing Countries during their visit to Edinburgh in 2016.
18/4 Falcon Gardens,
Punjabi junction offers a blend of traditional Punjabi, home cooked cuisines mixed with inspiring social enterprise giving opportunities, social inclusion and support to women from the capital’s minority Ethnic background.
The cafe also offers cookery classes, outside catering and of course a fantastic experience of dishes packed with spice and the atmosphere is friendly, full of laughter and warmth. Our Curry Friday offers a delivery service each Friday to office workers who want to end their working week with a punch.
Punjabi Junction is run by Sikh Sanjog for the community. Our vision is to inspire and empower Sikh and other Minority Ethnic women to advance their own life opportunities, through the building of skills, confidence and social inclusion.
122 - 124 Leith Walk,
0131 281 0159 or 07865 895 022
Grassmarket Community Project
“The Grassmarket Community Project is a partnership between what was the Grassmarket Mission and Greyfriars Kirk The project is about supporting people through transitions in their lives and about re-connecting disengaged people.
This is the ethos that underpins all the elements from cooking to social integration, work opportunities to social contact, advice to arts. Though founded on work with those traditionally labelled ‘homeless,’ this project has been extended to adults who are facing ‘deep social exclusion’ and have been marginalised by lack of opportunity, skills and aspiration.
Education programs and social integration activities are delivered through cookery, gardening, woodwork, art, music and textiles programs. Free meals are served to participants in the project.”
Grassmarket Community Project
86 Candlemaker Row
0131 225 3626