June 2019

If you are one of the people putting up with a cracked phone, help is at hand. Neil Jensen reports on how economics graduate Josh Babarinde came up with the idea of a phone repair clinic to develop the skills of young people with poor employment prospects, as part of Deutsche Bank’s Made for Good programme

If there’s a product that encapsulates the throwaway society, it is undoubtedly the smartphone. Visit a recycling or waste centre and you’ll find mountains of them, a veritable elephants' graveyard of discarded technology with nowhere to go. The plain truth is, we are all sitting on technological products that are not designed to last forever, either due to innovative advances or business model savviness making them obsolete, or because they are just too difficult, or too expensive, to repair.

According to GSMA (the global trade body for mobile network operators), there are over five billion unique mobile subscribers around the world and by 2025, mobile internet penetration will reach 61% of the global population and 86% of unique subscribers.1 That also doesn’t account for the orphaned phones lying in drawers and cupboards. It is a frightening prospect that the old saying, “you’re never more than six feet from a rat” could easily apply to mobile telephones.

Screen test

Phones are fragile creatures; just consider the material the screens are made of and the effect that dropping one can have on its most important components. And, given that smashing that screen can often mean a phoneless period for the owner of the device, it would seem only natural that there’s a space in the market for someone to repair phone screens in a quick and stress-free manner.

That’s where Cracked It comes in. Founded by Josh Babarinde, a graduate of the London School of Economics (LSE), Cracked It aims to make the process of repairing phone screens a seamless operation that removes the need to send devices away for weeks on end. What’s more, Josh’s creation also serves a big social purpose, creating jobs for young people who have had a difficult path in life.

First of all, why phones? “I’m no techie,” says Josh, “but I came to the conclusion that the mobile phone is one of the most vital personal possessions in the world today. And they get damaged all the time – every two seconds, a phone is broken somewhere in the world. This is a device that the user, on average, swipes 2,617 times a day. Many people, rightly or wrongly, just cannot live without them.”

33%

of UK operational phones are broken or damaged
(www.uk.mous.com)

According to Mous, a phone accessory company, a third of people with a smartphone in the UK are walking about with a broken or damaged device. At the same time, 76% of people with a broken phone don’t get it fixed or give up the quest during the process.

Force for good

Josh wanted to create a company that had a big social conscience, doing something that there was a compelling need for. His background was far removed from technology or fixing phones, however. After graduating, Josh worked as a parliamentary assistant in London. “I grew frustrated by the detachment that government has from the real issues, so I started to volunteer as a youth worker, coaching young offenders and people who had been left behind in society,” he recalls. “All too often, youngsters who feel they have been excluded just go for the low-hanging fruit – perhaps the only hanging fruit they have – and turn to crime. I wanted to change that.”

The Cracked It mission is to “use smartphone repair to create opportunities for at-risk youth to break down their dismissive attitudes to employment and enable them to realise that income, belonging and self-worth are gained through legitimate work”.

Josh had his goal, but had yet to find the idea to deliver the initiative. “I considered a few options, but eventually I stumbled across phone repair. I wanted a business that had some legs – one that allowed young people to acquire some skills and also earn money. It needed to be time-efficient as well. For example, coding was one idea, but it takes 180 hours for people to become proficient.” The whole point is that the young person uses those skills to help them transition into employment – rather than crime.

Deutsche Bank got to hear of Josh’s idea through the London-based Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) team. Nicole Lovett, Head of CSR UK, explains: “Josh came to us as a winner of the Social Enterprise category at the Centre for Social Justice 2018 Awards, which the bank sponsored as part of its CSR Made for Good social enterprise programme. We wanted to do more with them than just giving a £10,000 cash prize, so we met and discussed ways we could support him. We liked his energy, commitment and his genuine desire to help people who may not have had the best start.” The repair service was launched at the bank’s Winchester House, London office on 25 October 2018 and has been very popular, with over 140 employees making use of the services to date. Nicole continues: “In addition, we connected Josh to employees across the bank who could help him with the support he needs to run the business.”

Cracked It has trained around 160 young people over a three-year period and normally has a team of 12 at any one time. “We aim to train them to fix a phone in a period that takes between 15 and 60 minutes,” he says, “and, on average, a repair costs £50.” Customers also receive a three-month warranty on their fixed phone.

Although based in Dalston, just two-and-a- half miles from Winchester House, Cracked It usually goes to live workplaces to set up improvised clinics to repair phones. “Employees leave their phones with our team for 90 minutes. Deutsche Bank’s response has been fantastic. People are genuinely enthused and the bank seems very good at engaging with staff to get them involved,” says Josh. “We’ve been bowled over.”

The Evening Standard newspaper seems to agree, calling the service, “London’s best iPhone fixers”. Other backers include PwC, EY, The Prince’s Trust and the law firm Allen & Overy.2

"We want to contribute to the reduction of reoffenders by giving them something to believe in"

Josh Babarinde, CEO, Cracked It

Deutsche Bank isn’t just giving Cracked It the chance to find clients from its London office, but is also providing mentors and HR advice to enable Josh to take the company to the next stage.

Nicole adds that the reaction from staff has been outstanding. “Within nine minutes of our email advertising the first clinic, all appointments were booked, and we have had excellent testimonials from people who have had their phones repaired.”

It hasn’t all been plain sailing for Josh and his colleagues; many potential investors didn’t take his idea too seriously. That changed with Deutsche Bank’s CSR team providing a platform (and repair service space) to help convert the seemingly altruistic cause into a serious venture. “Some thought I was just a little crazy, but Deutsche Bank’s involvement provided some inspiration,” insists Josh. “The bank saw the merit in the ideals we were trying to promote.”

Crime prevention

At the moment, London is going through something of a crime wave among young people. The statistics make for worrying reading; 85% of offenders are under the age of 30 and this same demographic group is four times more likely to be the victim of violent crime. However, Cracked It’s transitional employment programme has been doing its bit by helping some of them into full-time roles. Twenty-one-year-old Jake was referred to Cracked It by a prison mentoring programme. After serving a six-month sentence for assault, he joined Cracked It for up to two days a week in various roles. Jake has not reoffended since engaging with Cracked It.

“We want to contribute to the reduction of reoffenders by giving them something to believe in,” says Josh. “It has been so satisfying to be able to use something from your own head and heart to benefit lots of different types of people and devote your working life to something that empowers vulnerable young people. It has all been so exhilarating and intellectually stimulating.”

Neil Jensen is a freelance financial journalist and a former Co-Editor of flow

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Sources

1 GSMA, The Mobile Economy 2018. See https://bit.ly/2K6AFo6 at gsma.com
2 See crackedit.org for further details of partner workplaces

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