Recycle Mobility Centre (RMC) is a social enterprise that collects unwanted mobility equipment and then repairs, refurbishes, and sells it to people in need. A social enterprise is defined as an organization that functions to address and/or solve a social problem. RMC is built on an innovative business model designed to reduce inequalities and tackle poverty. They also provide employment, training, and volunteering opportunities to groups that are excluded from labor markets, and often marginalized in society.
Elaine Williamson, the founder of RMC, said that the overall impact of her service includes “...reducing the impact of getting lonely, getting isolated people out of the home and into the community” as well as responsible consumption and production by “… reducing waste to landfill.” The innovation contributes to SDG 1 – No Poverty; SDG 10 – Reduced Inequalities; and SDG 12 – Responsible Consumption and Production.
Glasgow Caledonian University
Elaine realized there was a requirement for her service, stating “I realized that there was definitely a need for this innovation. I went about trying to find out if people would be interested in buying reconditioned … I spoke to suppliers, manufacturers … I did my research … the answer was yes.”
Elaine realized that the recycling and reuse of used mobility equipment would not only benefit individuals in need, it would also reduce landfill, which contributes to SDG 12 – Responsible Production and Consumption. Elaine has an undergraduate degree in waste management; therefore, this had to be a crucial part of Elaine’s innovation. Recycle Mobility was born!
A critical part of RMC's business model is collection and repair. They receive donations of old mobility equipment donated by members of the public, which is then refurbished and repaired to the highest standard onsite. RMC also provides home repair visits for immobile clients who experience difficulty travelling to the premises. RMC's business model relies on volunteers to support the several paid employees. They attract college graduates and volunteers, including people with disabilities as well as retired engineers, to impart their knowledge and skills to assist with the social enterprise. This contributes to SDG 10. The volunteers and employees combine their skills to innovate solutions, often re-using parts of the discarded equipment to provide refurbished equipment for individuals needing them.
Another key part of their business model is keeping the equipment and the repairs affordable. They keep the prices as low as possible, and allow those in poverty or with low income to pay in installments, ensuring that this mobility solution is inclusive and accessible to everyone. A guarantee and aftercare package is provided for all customers with an affordable equipment repair and maintenance service.
Elaine, the founder of RMC, felt she had found her calling to set up a social enterprise. She wrote her undergraduate dissertation topic on a community-based waste project where she heard stories about individuals who had been affected by welfare reforms. Initially, Elaine decided to follow the traditional route after graduation by applying for corporate jobs. However, she continually felt the need to find better ways of using her degree and knowledge in waste management to help society. Elaine spoke about the many short-term jobs she held and said in her interview, “Everywhere I went, there was just something missing. I felt that I was being pulled, that it was my destiny to open the business.”
Government budget cuts and major welfare reforms in the United Kingdom following the financial crisis resulted in many people struggling to make ends meet. An encounter with a woman who had tied a notice to a lamp post in the street, desperately trying to raise funds to buy a mobility scooter to help her cope with her multiple sclerosis (MS), was an epiphany moment for Elaine. She described this moment as her inspiration and detailed the Bible story of Jonah and the Whale: how he was swallowed by the whale but was able to go back into the community to do his mission to help and change peoples’ attitudes. She said, “That’s what it was like for me … everything was saying, this is what you’ve got to do.”Elaine had lottery start-up funding to set up RMC to tackle the financial challenges affecting people with mobility impairment. Improving peoples’ mobility increased access of RMC clients to their local community, thus reducing inequalities, isolation, and loneliness.
Elaine’s personal experience inspired her to help the local community to create an inclusive and sustainable environment. With this in mind, RMC has opened up volunteering and training opportunities for young people who are furthest from the job market to build up knowledge and skills that can be transferable in their future career paths.
Elaine stated, “The economic impact is obvious: it's getting people access to equipment that they cannot afford to buy, so therefore that reduces their poverty, it reduces any debt that they would have.”
By making this equipment more affordable, RMC helps people to make best use of their limited income to buy an essential product. This avoids them falling into debt they would have been forced to incur otherwise. This contributes to SDG 1, reducing poverty. This also contributes to SDG 10 by reducing inequalities, as this provides freedom to go out, work, and socialize instead of being confined to their home in isolation. With Scotland having an ageing population, the number of those in need of affordable mobility equipment will steadily rise. RMC is well equipped to deal with increased consumer demand for affordable products in the future.
By selling second-hand refurbished equipment, they are reducing the impact on the environment, which contributes to the achievement of SDG 12 – Responsible Production and Consumption. For every discarded product they accept, there is one less product in landfill. It is clear this company is putting the SDGs at the heart of the organizational purpose.
RMC's success comes from a niche cost leadership strategy. They receive donations of old mobility equipment donated by members of the public, which are then refurbished and repaired by skilled full-time employees and a team of volunteers, making them affordable. The volunteers and employees combine their skills to innovate solutions, often re-using parts of the discarded equipment to provide refurbished equipment for individuals needing them. This keep the prices as low as possible and caters to the needs of an under-served "bottom of the pyramid" market.
Elaine said, “Environmentally, it reduces waste to landfill, and people feel good about reuse.” Through the re-purposing and recycling of the mobility equipment and its parts, less product goes to landfill and waste is minimized. This business model aligns with SDG 12, as it helps to reduce the negative impacts of waste.
Through the re-utilization of parts from recycled equipment, there is less need for parts to be re-ordered and produced again by the manufacturer.
RMC promotes the recyclability of mobility equipment to the wider community through its business actions and decisions. Their business model encourages potential donors and users to think more about recycling and the wider impact of simply throwing away used mobility equipment.
Elaine said that the one message she would want people to get from her enterprise would be, “It’s good to care. It's good to actually want to provide people with a service that meets their needs. To do so is you changing society in a very small way, but that has a knock-on effect to other people, and to provide this service, to care, to make people feel that they're valued, all these things, is a way of actually integrating people closer together instead of isolating each other. Because too much of that is going on, too many people are doing the wrong thing. I think that actually by being more caring and more kindness, I think it makes a difference.”
Elaine Williamson, Founder and Manager
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Business Website: https://recyclemobilitycentre.com/
Year Founded: 2010
Number of Employees: 2 to 10
Recycle Mobility Centre (RMC) is a social enterprise on the outskirts of Glasgow, Scotland. They collect unwanted mobility equipment donated by the public. They repair and refurbish this discarded equipment and sell it on at a reduced cost to people who cannot afford to buy new. This reduces landfill and helps to create cohesivness in the local community by keeping people mobile.