• Growing in an ambitious, yet healthy way

    Rebooting the social innovation sector will be a tremendous challenge that needs young talent and effective capacity-building programs such as SIA more than ever. This is why it is our strategic objective to grow and scale our activities and our impact in the years to come. We aim to have a strong SIA presence in minimum 20 countries by 2023. This ambitious scaling goal is based on intense preparation work in the past years, where we were able to substantially increase the scalability of our activities. We have heavily invested in areas such as codification, knowledge management, and community building. In addition, we have improved and enlarged our education and incubation designs based on the detailed feedback of our participants and other key stakeholders and have built up a highly talented and capable team at SIA International to manage such growth.

    Geographically we will focus our scaling efforts on the following strategic core regions:

    • Central and Eastern Europe: As the region where we started with SIA ten years ago, Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) will remain at the heart of our community. SIA is already present in the majority of CEE countries, but still has substantial potential to scale further in the region (e.g. in Poland or Bulgaria). Considering the steadily high youth unemployment rates in most of CEE and the state of civil society being under substantial pressure, we consider our work in the region as critical and relevant as ten years ago.
    • Southern Europe: Faced by high youth unemployment rates and significant brain drain challenges, the youth in Southern Europe – namely Portugal, Spain, Italy, and Greece – could benefit significantly from SIA’s offers. Hence, it is the objective to scale to these countries as well in the upcoming four years.
    • Eurasia: By being present across Russia since 2014 and by having scaled to Georgia, Armenia, and Kazakhstan in recent years, we were able to impact youth in Eurasia already on a relatively large scale. The key learning from these activities is the youth in Eurasia is incredibly motivated to turn their talent into innovative and entrepreneurial ideas that positively impact their communities and the region overall. We aim to strengthen our presence in the region by scaling to Azerbaijan and to more countries between the Caspian Sea and China.
    • MENAT region: The youth of North Africa, the Middle East as well as Turkey have been – and still are today – at the forefront of civic movements in the region in the last decade. At the same time, the role of social entrepreneurship has become more relevant as well. SIA aims to support these dynamics by offering a seamless journey for the very first steps of young social entrepreneurs and change agents. In 2019, we already launched SIA in Turkey and aim to scale to countries in North Africa and the Middle East from 2021 onwards.

    It is important to mention that we are also open to onboard licensee organizations outside our strategic core regions. However, we will not proactively screen countries outside the core regions for potential partners (whether it is implementation or funding partners).

    After having discussed all key aspects of SIA strategy for the upcoming years in the series “Rebooting Social Innovation”, in the series’ last blogpost we will focus on the strategy process itself. How did we integrate the many voices and stakeholders of our SIA community into the strategy? What did we rely on in creating ideas and drafting concepts? And how will this strategy evolve further?

     

    This is the seventh article of our blog series on the topic of SIA’s strategic approach for the period 2020-2023. Find the links to all other blogs here: 

    Beyond the crisis: A post-pandemic world needs social innovation more than ever
    Raising awareness among the youth: Why we won’t bring the Silicon Valley to Nis
    Education and training: Local roots for global content
    Supporting nascent social enterprises: Preparing the best ventures for flying high, not burning out
    SIA’s alumni community: Building a peer-community of young leaders 
    Deepening our impact: Stronger collaboration to achieve a common mission
    Scaling our impact: Growing in an ambitious, yet healthy way
    Strategizing with multiple stakeholders: An honest and intense look inwards and outwards (coming up in the following weeks)

  • Stronger collaboration to achieve a common mission

    It is an integrative part of SIA’s strategy to deepen our impact inter- and transnationally. Deepening refers to strengthening the network of licensees among themselves and with SIA International through community practices and effective governance structures.

    Nothing has been more relevant for SIA’s success in the past than its strong community spirit and its collaborative attitude towards driving change. SIA – that is not an organization or a loose network. It is the incredibly dedicated SIA Hosts (i.e. licensees) with its 100+ SIA team members. It is the hundreds of partner organizations from academia, philanthropy, corporates, the public sector, media, and civic society organizations. It is the 8,000+ annual participants of SIA’s program and the 730+ alumni ventures. It is hundreds of local mentors, coaches, experts, volunteers, facilitators, and jury members that dedicate a substantial amount of their valuable time to contribute to our community. SIA is a community of dedicated people from a broad range of backgrounds committed to turning the talent and potential of the younger generation into a tangible and lasting impact. The collaborative effort by all of them in creating this strategy is yet another testament to SIA’s strong community.

    Hence, it does not come as a surprise that it is a crucial element of our strategy to keep our focus on deepening the collaboration within our growing community. This will be achieved by continuously developing the services of SIA International further, whether it concerns the development of the curriculum, the organization of international gatherings, our impact assessment, communications and marketing efforts, or our IT infrastructure. These services shall support our licensees in focusing on the implementation of SIA’s activities on a local level.

    Moreover, we meet the strong desire of our community to increase the regional collaboration between SIA’s licensees – both in terms of developing joined funding partnerships as well as through joined activities around SIA’s four impact fields. SIA International as a lean, yet strong backbone organization of the community will support its licensees in achieving a stronger collaboration. It will focus on servicing its licensees and remain a non-profit organization itself. The license model has proven to be the most effective and impactful governance model for the SIA community as it combines economies of scale with high adaptability to local realities. 

    In the next blogpost of our series “Rebooting Social Innovation”, we will talk about SIA’s strategy to grow and scale its activities to meet the growing demand for capacity-building in social entrepreneurship in a post-pandemic world.

    This is the sixth article of our blog series on the topic of SIA’s strategic approach for the period 2020-2023. Find the links to all other blogs here: 

    Beyond the crisis: A post-pandemic world needs social innovation more than ever
    Raising awareness among the youth: Why we won’t bring the Silicon Valley to Nis
    Education and training: Local roots for global content
    Supporting nascent social enterprises: Preparing the best ventures for flying high, not burning out
    SIA’s alumni community: Building a peer-community of young leaders 
    Deepening our impact: Stronger collaboration to achieve a common mission
    Scaling our impact: Growing in an ambitious, yet healthy way 
    Strategizing with multiple stakeholders: An honest and intense look inwards and outwards (coming up in the following weeks)

  • Building a peer-community of young leaders

    The community aspect plays a vital role throughout the entire SIA program. In our educational work, we create a sense of community during our workshops and events, which provides the young participants with a trustful and safe space, spirit of sharing, and co-creation. During our support, we help build supportive micro-ecosystems around each venture idea by surrounding the nascent entrepreneurs with a pool of mentors, experts, and coaches as well as by engaging their first followers, customers, and supporters through mechanisms like our community voting.

    In our strategic approach towards the impact field “Community”, we aim to build on these practices, but put an additional focus on an essential part of our community that has not been in the spotlight so far: our alumni.

    As alumni, we define all former finalists (i.e. incubated ventures and their teams) and winners of SIA. Since SIA’s foundation in 2009, we have built up a pool of about  730 SIA alumni ventures. Our alumni are remarkably successful in not only keeping their ventures alive after the SIA program but also creating systemic impact through their innovative solutions and by reaching marginalized groups of society. At the same time, we also observe that even those entrepreneurs that quit their ventures after SIA, often remain committed to their impact goals and an impact-oriented career path. Our recent alumni study – conducted by our academic partners from the University of Business and Economics Vienna – indicates that 65% of those who quit their social venture stay in an organization that has a positive impact on society.

    An evaluation of the current state of the SIA alumni network suggests that 51% of the SIA alumni are still in contact with other SIA alumni or the SIA team. Of those, 20% regularly join SIA events, another 20% maintain informal contact. Interestingly, when asked for their wishes from SIA, most alumni were rather eager to contribute to the current SIA program, with 43% stating that they would like to contribute as a speaker or mentor. 25% were interested in networking events (such as alumni meet-ups, meet-ups with current projects), 21% would like to receive invitations for SIA events and 18% are interested in a newsletter with updates on current projects.

    Based on these broad set of alumni data (find the detailed findings here), we set three distinct, yet interlinked objectives for our alumni work in the next four years:

    • SIA’s alumni serve as inspiring role models for youth in their local communities and contribute to the running SIA program (e.g. as mentors, speakers, jury members, etc.).
    • SIA builds an active and well-connected alumni community (nationally, regionally, and internationally) that enables the alumni to learn from each other, connect on a personal level and potentially even collaborate around causes and businesses.
    • SIA serves as a matching agent between its alumni on the one side and later-stage support offers such as accelerators, impact funds, valuable networks, relevant events, etc. on the other side and provides each SIA alumni with at least one valuable opportunity per year.

    In the next blogpost of our series  “Rebooting Social Innovation”, we will look beyond SIA’s four impact fields (awareness, education, support, community) and discuss how we aim to deepen our impact within SIA’s network of hosts and partners.

    This is the fifth article of our blog series on the topic of SIA’s strategic approach for the period 2020-2023. Find the links to all other blogs here: 

    Beyond the crisis: A post-pandemic world needs social innovation more than ever
    Raising awareness among the youth: Why we won’t bring the Silicon Valley to Nis
    Education and training: Local roots for global content
    Supporting nascent social enterprises: Preparing the best ventures for flying high, not burning out
    SIA’s alumni community: Building a peer-community of young leaders 
    Deepening our impact: Stronger collaboration to achieve a common mission
    Scaling our impact: Growing in an ambitious, yet healthy way (coming up in the following weeks)
    Strategizing with multiple stakeholders: An honest and intense look inwards and outwards (coming up in the following weeks)

  • Preparing the best ventures for flying high, not burning out

    Within the impact field “Support” SIA helps the most promising young social entrepreneurs with know-how, mentoring, access to networks, and pre-seed funding. Besides our award scheme, we do so primarily through our annual incubation program for the most promising ideas and social enterprises, which has become an established part of SIA’s core activities since 2016.

    Both our ongoing impact measurement as well as our long-term studies with SIA alumni strongly indicate that our support offers are relevant and effective. Among SIA winners, 77% still run their ventures after 3.5 years, compared to 47% of those who did not win. On average, they employ 5.14 staff, 12 volunteers, and make EUR 30k annual revenue. Additionally, 58% of the ventures have received external funding. Beyond the impact on their primary beneficiaries and missions, many ventures report systemic impact. 75% created products and services that previously did not exist and 44% suggest that their ideas have been adopted or copied by other system actors.

    Our ongoing assessments suggest that there are two key impact drivers for such positive long-term results. Primarily, it is SIA’s focus on the validation of both impact and business models during the incubation programs. Gaining a deeper understanding of the realities and needs of the respective beneficiary groups, building, and testing prototypes, and validating the willingness of potential customers to pay for the intended services or products – these activities are of primary importance in this early venture development. Secondly, it is the fact that SIA’s support is offered through individual mentoring by experienced industry experts. Compared to any other support offer (e.g. cohort trainings) individual mentoring over a longer timespan has proven to be the most effective method to bring nascent entrepreneurs from the concept stage to market launch. Consequently, both of these impact drivers are at the core of our support strategy for the upcoming years.

    Based on these process-oriented objectives, SIA aims to incubate annually 230+ promising social enterprises and award the best 85 social enterprises (incl. pre-seed funding) by 2023. Through our mentoring and connections, 80% of our incubated ventures will have found a verified problem/solution-fit and 75% have successfully initiated their process to find a verified business model.

    Which areas of development are targeted in the SIA strategy?

    Besides these ongoing elements, SIA’s strategy in the “Support” impact field also considers areas of development for the next four years. First, it is SIA’s strategic objective to increase the representation of female and diverse role models in our incubation programs and among our winners. This will be supported through various measures such as gender quotas in SIA’s selection bodies, a reworked selection process, a stronger promotion of female and diverse role models in our communication.

    Secondly, it is an even stronger emphasis on the topic of wellbeing in our incubation programs. Our recent studies among SIA’s cohorts indicate that more than 10% of our incubated entrepreneurs are exposed to a high burnout risk and an additional 50% should prophylactically take measures to avoid future burnout. Among SIA alumni, 78% report episodes of stress, which in some cases had negative effects on wellbeing. 43% suffered from symptoms of burnout at least temporarily and 5% reported that they had to quit working entirely due to burnout.

    As an early-stage intervention program, SIA has the opportunity to strengthen the capabilities of nascent founders to develop a healthy attitude towards their leadership roles and a resilient team culture.

    SIA has already started several initiatives around the topic of wellbeing in the last two years and will continue to do so in the upcoming period. Measures will include individual coaching elements, peer-to-peer formats, and inspirational events on the matter. Moreover, SIA will continue to conduct research on wellbeing and compassion fatigue among its former and current participants.

    In the next blogpost of our series “Rebooting Social Innovation”, we will focus on arguably the most interesting aspect of SIA: its alumni community! How can we empower our alumni to serve as role models for the next generation of social entrepreneurs? And how can we help our alumni to scale their ventures and bring social innovation to the next level?

     

    This is the fourth article of our blog series on the topic of SIA’s strategic approach for the period 2020-2023. Find the links to all other blogs here: 

    Beyond the crisis: A post-pandemic world needs social innovation more than ever
    Raising awareness among the youth: Why we won’t bring the Silicon Valley to Nis
    Education and training: Local roots for global content 
    Supporting nascent social enterprises: Preparing the best ventures for flying high, not burning out
    SIA’s alumni community: Building a peer-community of young leaders 
    Deepening our impact: Stronger collaboration to achieve a common mission
    Scaling our impact: Growing in an ambitious, yet healthy way 
    Strategizing with multiple stakeholders: An honest and intense look inwards and outwards (coming up in the following weeks)

  • Local roots for global content

    While the strategic objectives around the impact field “awareness” are explorative in nature (see the previous blogpost), SIA’s educational strategy is based on ten years of successful activities in this domain. Since 2009, we have been active in 25 countries, offering over 1,000 educational workshops and events for 31,000+ young people. Through these educational offers, SIA provides its participants with the necessary tools, skills, and mindset to unfold their potential as innovators and social entrepreneurs.

    However, reflecting on our educational work, we identified several key impact drivers that proved to be instrumental in enhancing the entrepreneurial competencies of our young participants and helping them unleash their creative potential, which set the direction for the next four years.

    Most importantly, we try to reduce all barriers that keep youth from participating: lack of information, disciplinary and language barriers, geographic constraints, prejudice, and many others. We pursue a low-barrier approach by running workshops and events all across the countries in which we operate – not just the capitals. We continue offering our formats in the local language, choosing barrier-free workshop locations, avoiding business lingo where possible, answering all requests fast, etc. Most importantly, we spread our information broadly among the youth of all disciplines and geographic locations.

    We will also continue our efforts in transforming from an education program focused on students to one that reaches youth of all educational backgrounds, including underprivileged and marginalized youth people. By 2023, we aim to have 30% of our workshop participants coming from disadvantaged backgrounds than tertiary institutions. As for the content of our educational interventions, we will continue to combine know-how with practical training and to provide opportunities for team formations during our workshops.

    What will be the role of online formats in our curricula?

    During the last ten years of providing social entrepreneurship education, we have learned that face-to-face education, interactive group work in a physical space, and live emotions are substantial in transforming vague intentions into concrete and feasible project ideas. Then, during the COVID-19 pandemic, we had to move all our education formats into the virtual space. We developed new webinar formats, partnered up with global players in the field of online education, trained our staff in online facilitation, built new features into our in-house support platforms, etc. In many aspects, this rapid transition has been a great success. However, it also showed the limitations of online interventions for achieving didactical objectives such as inspiration, co-creation, or enabling a sense of belonging among participating peers. The key learning is that online interventions are very helpful additions to the “toolbox” of capacity-building organizations. Nevertheless, they can only unfold their full potential if they are embedded and integrated into offline curricula and program designs. In light of these very recent experiences, we will offer our program in a blended learning format, interlinking newly developed virtual formats and web-based offers with in-place interventions.

    Photo credits: Alexander Gotter

    A few other key areas of SIA’s development around the topic of education should be highlighted. One is the objective to not only focus on promoting the founder role through our workshops and events. There are other roles that are as relevant as the founder to create impact – both within venture teams and as change agents in other roles in the corporate world, NGOs, or public institutions. We aim to use our educational interventions to raise awareness on the variety of ways a young person can use his or her talent to achieve impact. We will do so through case studies, the illustration of exemplary careers of SIA alumni, inspiring event speakers, etc.

    Connected to this broader perspective on impactful careers, we aim to build a competence model as an integral part of our 4-years strategy. This competence model shall illustrate the full set of skills one can obtain during our workshops. This is essential as it allows us to understand, measure, and communicate the development of our participants beyond the evolution of their venture ideas. Such competence developments are instrumental in increasing the employability and job-readiness of our young participants – a crucial dimension considering the high youth unemployment rates and brain drain challenges in many regions where we operate.

    Overall, we aim to reach and empower 12,000+ young citizens (18-30y) through our educational formats on an annual basis by 2023, reaching youth in 100+ cities/locations. Such interventions will annually support the creation of 1,000+ project drafts, which SIA will provide with individual and constructive feedback.

    In the next blog post of our series “Rebooting Social Innovation”, we will focus on the development of our incubation program in a post-pandemic world. The article will elaborate on how SIA will annually provide 230+ innovative social enterprises a seamless path from the idea generation to a market launch based on validated impact & business model – and what role wellbeing plays in all of that!

     

    This is the third article of our blog series on the topic of SIA’s strategic approach for the period 2020-2023. Find the links to all other blogs here: 

    Beyond the crisis: A post-pandemic world needs social innovation more than ever
    Raising awareness among the youth: Why we won’t bring the Silicon Valley to Nis
    Education and training: Local roots for global content 
    Supporting nascent social enterprises: Preparing the best ventures for flying high, not burning out
    SIA’s alumni community: Building a peer-community of young leaders
    Deepening our impact: Stronger collaboration to achieve a common mission
    Scaling our impact: Growing in an ambitious, yet healthy way 
    Strategizing with multiple stakeholders: An honest and intense look inwards and outwards (coming up in the following weeks)

  • Why we won’t bring the Silicon Valley to Nis

    It has always been a key objective of SIA’s work to raise awareness among youth (18 to 30 year-olds) about social entrepreneurship as a potential career path and vehicle for civic engagement. So far, we understood this part of our efforts primarily as a means to attract workshop participants and applicants. However, as much as it is important that SIA offers such educational and supportive opportunities, we should understand awareness as a stand-alone impact field. We need the youth’s talent and inspiration in rebuilding our societies and economies in a post-pandemic world. The COVID-19 crisis bears a unique opportunity to put social innovation and impact-driven entrepreneurship at the top of young talents’ career options.

    Those working in the field of social entrepreneurship for longer might assume that social entrepreneurship is already a topic that is well known among young people. Some might even think it’s a hype. Such an assumption, however, does not match our daily experiences in working with youth through SIA. The vast majority of young people are not aware of social entrepreneurship as a potential career path. The underlying reasons for this are manifold:

    • Low emphasis on self-efficacy, autonomous action, and problem-solving in public education (e.g. Chamard, 1989).
    • A narrow understanding of institutional responsibilities, with certain institutions perceived as main, or only legitimate actors to address social challenges, hampering civic action and social entrepreneurship (e.g. Defourny and Nyssens, 2010).
    • Weak support systems or even hostile environments for civic action and social entrepreneurship (Stephan et al., 2015; Vandor et al., 2017).
    • Lack of access to high levels of education and required economic or cultural resources, which are associated or even required for operating social ventures (see e.g. Estrin et al., 2016).

    We see a massive impact potential in strengthening our role as an inspirational platform that raises awareness among youth on the opportunities that social entrepreneurship bears – both as a vehicle to form and scale impactful businesses, but also a tool to enhance the competencies and empowerment of youth in a world in crisis.

    Thanks to our core program activities and ten years track record, SIA has the content at hand to inspire. In having supported the creation of more than 700 impact ventures throughout the last ten years, working with more than 1,000 partner organizations worldwide, and conducting impact measurements on an ongoing basis, we are exposed to an incredible wealth of inspiring venture stories, encouraging case studies, paradigmatic career paths, and convincing impact data. All we need to do is to translate this content into accessible and digestible content for youth.

    Not only can we directly access a vast amount of inspiring stories at hand. We can also rely on our well-connected network of licensees and partner organizations to contextualize it. Why is this so relevant?

    Think of a young person – let’s say a student from the Serbian city of Nis – and imagine this person watching a story of a Silicon Valley venture while scrolling through Instagram timeline. Will such content – as amazing as it might be – really inspire this young Serbian to get active? More likey, he/she will conclude that one should be on the US West coast (or at least in London or Berlin) to start his/her own project or initiative. Now, imagine instead of yet another US-based story, a video of a young social entrepreneur from Nis who started by winning the Social Impact Award, talking about how the venture is growing despite the difficult circumstances in Serbia. This might at least make the viewer think twice whether social entrepreneurship could be an interesting career path. It is this contextualization of content – combined with the use of local language – that we believe is key for growing the awareness of social entrepreneurship beyond our current bubbles.

    Thus, we have set ourselves an ambitious goal: in 2023, we aim to reach ten million young people through our awareness-raising efforts. To achieve this objective, we will use the next years to build effective systems for collecting, curating, and disseminating inspiring content. We will do so in collaboration with individuals, organizations, and networks from both within and outside of our current community. In addition, we will grow our internal capacity for storytelling and communications. We will use all relevant channels available for reaching our young audience; with a strong focus on social media. Depending on both our resources and the feedback from our audiences, we might even start exploring stand-alone products for awareness-raising such as podcasts, books, or similar.

    In the next blog post of our strategy series “Rebooting Social Innovation”, we will focus on the importance of social innovation education to unfold the youths’ potential as innovators and entrepreneurs in a post-pandemic world. The article will elaborate on how SIA aims to annually empower 12,000+ young talents by 2023 through our highly qualitative and accessible education formats.

    This is the second article of our blog series on the topic of SIA’s strategic approach for the period 2020-2023. Find the links to all other blogs here: 

    Beyond the crisis: A post-pandemic world needs social innovation more than ever
    Raising awareness among the youth: Why we won’t bring the Silicon Valley to Nis
    Education and training: Local roots for global content
    Supporting nascent social enterprises: Preparing the best ventures for flying high, not burning out 
    SIA’s alumni community: Building a peer-community of young leaders 
    Deepening our impact: Stronger collaboration to achieve a common mission
    Scaling our impact: Growing in an ambitious, yet healthy way 
    Strategizing with multiple stakeholders: An honest and intense look inwards and outwards (coming up in the following weeks)

  • A post-pandemic world needs social innovation more than ever

    The immediate effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the social innovation sector are alarming. Not only is it more difficult to reach and support beneficiaries as well as nascent social entrepreneurs, but also business models of many social businesses and capacity-building organizations – including SIA’s alumni ventures and SIA Hosts – are threatened by the economic downturn. In such difficult times, it is important to focus on what is right in front of you. This is why in the course of 2020, SIA International focuses its attention on the immediate support of its constituencies by developing new online formats, supporting the fundraising of SIA hosts, and building closer relations to our alumni.

    While being focused on navigating through these difficult times and trying to be a helping hand to those who are affected the most, we should not lose sight of the long-term perspective. How will the post-pandemic world look like? What role shall an international, youth-oriented community like SIA play in such a world? In exploring answers to these questions, we can go beyond the immediate “crisis mode” and regain our proactive approach to creating the future with our own hands and minds.

    In doing so, we realize that this crisis bears a unique opportunity for the field of social innovation and impact-driven entrepreneurship. Rebooting the social innovation sector will be a tremendous challenge that needs young talent and effective capacity-building programs such as SIA more than ever. It is disruptive times like these that enable social innovation and bear numerous entrepreneurial opportunities.

    This is why we are committed – hand in hand with the next generation of change makers – to play a vital role in making the post-pandemic world, one that is more just and inclusive.

    This blogpost series aims at outlining SIA’s strategic approach to put social innovation at the core of the rebooting process of our economies and societies. Together with more than 1,000 partner organizations, we will co-create a post-pandemic world that is juster, more sustainable, more caring, and more inclusive. In this series, we will elaborate on how we’ll do this. Each blog post will shed light on a specific aspect of this strategy. The first focus will be on the topic of awareness and inspiration: How can we inspire 10 million young talents to take an active role in shaping our post-pandemic world through social entrepreneurship?

    This is the first article of our blog series on the topic of SIA’s strategic approach for the period 2020-2023. Find the links to all other blogs here: 

    Beyond the crisis: A post-pandemic world needs social innovation more than ever
    Raising awareness among the youth: Why we won’t bring the Silicon Valley to Nis
    Education and training: Local roots for global content
    Supporting nascent social enterprises: Preparing the best ventures for flying high, not burning out 
    SIA’s alumni community: Building a peer-community of young leaders 
    Deepening our impact: Stronger collaboration to achieve a common mission 
    Scaling our impact: Growing in an ambitious, yet healthy way
    Strategizing with multiple stakeholders: An honest and intense look inwards and outwards (coming up in the following weeks)

  • Freshys – A Healthy, Social Food Take-out Restaurant

    Freshys is a healthy food take-out restaurant, opened in Skopje in January 2016. They offer salads, cold sandwiches, smoothies, and desserts. One-third of their profits goes directly to food donations for homeless and socially disadvantaged people. They also offer a 15% discount for all young people aged 10 to 24. People who use their own plates and cups get 10% off, encouraging the reduction of plastic waste. We talked to the founder, Ljubomir Stojcheski about their beginnings and experience with SIA.

    This is the fourth article of our blog series on the topic of how SIA and social entrepreneurship change people’s lives. Read more about our Impact fields in 2019

    Why did you start this business and what are your future plans?

    Five years ago I joined an informal group called “Retweet A Meal“ where volunteers gather every Friday to cook for the homeless. In Skopje, about 500 people are homeless. Some receive food in public kitchens, but many are not registered and can’t access this support. Moreover, I was looking for inspiration for my thesis. I learned about social entrepreneurship and wanted to write a study. It all came down to my decision to open a restaurant that would not only create direct help through donations. It should also provoke the whole community to think about the food insecurity problem. As soon as we opened the restaurant we started with food donations. We are helping 200 people on a weekly basis, most of them homeless. We cook the food with the group “Retweet A Meal”, and donate desserts and fruits to provide a complete meal. We plan to open another location in the next year and take it from there. Our expansion in the catering business could be the next big step.

    Ljubomir Stojchevski, founder of the Freshys

    How did SIA support you on this journey?

    I found out about SIA in April 2016 and decided to participate. And we won! However, money was not the driver. The whole incubation and meeting peers [process] was the true asset. SIA creates a culture of support and not fierce competition. Right from the beginning, SIA is your backup. To this day I am still good friends with some of them. 

    Fresh food in Freshys

    You also mentored SIA finalists from the Western Balkans at the regional incubation bootcamp in Skopje, a regional gathering supported by Erste Foundation and Western Balkans Fund. Why are these regional events important?

    I was excited about the bootcamp, as it was the first regional cooperation within SIA. At the beginning of your entrepreneurial journey, it is important to have a wider, cross-border perspective. Western Balkan countries are such small markets and we should aim to reach them all with our business. I tried opening this perspective for finalists and sharing my knowledge and experience. Moreover, it was a gathering of people exchanging knowledge and ideas. Everyone was learning from each other. 

    Enjoy learning more about Social Impact Award community in our Global Impact Report 2019.

  • Founding An Inclusive Co-working Space For Mothers

    Assel Abylay is SIA Winner 2018 from Kazakhstan. She has a project aimed at creating more job and development opportunities form women. We asked her about her enterprise and the role of SIA in its development. 

    This is the third article of our blog series on the topic of how SIA and social entrepreneurship change people’s lives. Read more about our Impact fields in 2019

    Assel Abylay, founder of the Mom in Office

    What is Mom in Office? Why did you decide to start this business?

    Mom in Office is an inclusive co-working space for mothers, offering training and employment since 2018. As a mother of three, I myself needed to work and support the family. My eldest daughter was diagnosed with diabetes. When you have to take care of your children – or even elderly – your earnings are lower, as you need to devote time to such care. I wanted to solve this. That is why I organize courses for mothers on social media management, copywriting, marketing, photo and video-making and editing. After graduation, they are equipped to work wherever they have the Internet. These kinds of freelance jobs allow mothers to work hours that work for them. In the office space, we also have a playground and babysitters to support women who cannot separate from their children.

    How many women shape your community?

    Our trainings range from 3 to 20 women. We also offer online courses where women from other cities and countries can join. Our team consists of five employees, and many more are hired for specific projects. So far we have reached more than 10,000 women through the training. Some are still working with us, some have found their own jobs. However, with a population of about 18.6 million in Kazakhstan, we aim to reach much more in the future.

    Kid’s space at the Mom on Office

    What are your future plans?

    We started organizing courses for kids, to make the best use of our shared time. We are also starting to work as a social media marketing agency. Currently, we consult on 12 projects from three cities in Kazakhstan. We work with our graduated team, supporting businesses with their social media presence, content production, and advertising.

    You got incubated with SIA Kazakhstan in 2018. How did it shape you?

    Without SIA, my business wouldn’t exist! My initial business model was very faulty. I had very high costs for hiring and was still testing different services for mothers. SIA helped me figure out my business model. I learned about different models of hiring freelancers. The mentoring showed me that courses, like social media management, have a bigger return on investment to make my business more sustainable. This made all the difference! We are still connected with our mentor and with the program hosts from SIA Kazakhstan. They invite us to events within their popular co-working space for social entrepreneurship. I can always reach out for their support.

    Enjoy learning more about Social Impact Award community in our Global Impact Report 2019.

  • Psychological support for burnout prevention

    We are not the only ones trying to provide Social Impact Award participants with the tools and skills to fight the compassion fatigue and achieve personal wellbeing. SIA Russia 2018 winner “You Talk” is leading by example! YouTalk is online psychological chat support that decided to use their Social Impact Award to support participants of this year’s incubation in Russia.

    This article is a part of our blog series on the topic of wellbeing among social entrepreneurs. Read our previous interview with Peter Vandor about the results of SIA’s wellbeing studies.

    Anna Krymskaya, the co-founder of YouTalk, gave us insights into their business and why they decided to give back to the Social Impact Award community.

    Anna, how did you come up with the idea for YouTalk?

    I am a clinical psychologist by education and have been in this profession for several years, working in mental health institutions and later in the corporate sector. While visiting different conferences and doing market research on mental health services, I found there is a solution on the Western market that is unusual for Russia – chat counseling. I looked into different research concerning this format and found that this can be great for people that cannot afford psychological help in the regular format. There are different reasons for that – some people lack time, some live in remote areas with no good specialists nearby and for some, it is just not affordable. 

    With Russia being such a big country, with a large population and a lot of remote areas, I decided I wanted to provide such a resource on the mental health market. 

    Now, almost a year after you’ve won SIA Russia, how did YouTalk develop?

    Within the last year, we have been steadily growing our client list, growing in terms of revenues and team. We are investing our own money and reinvesting our profits which enabled a stable growth. Today we have over 700 clients, requests from more than 32 cities of Russia and 25 countries around the world. We support a lot of migrants living outside of Russia, as they are suffering from stress and issues with adaptation, and there is no support available in their language locally. 

    At what point did you join Social Impact Award? What did you take away?

    We entered SIA when we were in the early stage of our project. When we joined, we already had some clients and we were sure our model can actually work. However, there were still a lot of unvalidated assumptions. SIA helped us a lot to validate them and develop business thinking. We were trying out different pricing and communication models during incubation. This was really worth it since the model we had at the end of incubation is still the one we use today. 😊 

    We also had an amazing mentor, a really experienced entrepreneur, who was the greatest part of our educational journey. He was eager to help us but was not the cheerleader type. He rather always offered a critical point of view on the matters at hand which helped us immensely in the process. 

    You decided to use your Social Impact Award for providing counseling for current SIA finalists. Why?

    I have to say, it wasn’t as hard to win the award, as it was to decide how to spend it! 🙂  

    We thought of different ways of investing the money we received. Since the award was 1,500 EUR, we decided it will not be enough for some serious scaling, but rather for something special and local.

    We first wanted to offer the services to groups who are experiencing special difficulties, like mothers who lost their children or domestic abuse victims. But then we realized that however impactful this can be, we cannot scale it beyond that small group of people we were trying to initially reach. 

    Therefore, we came up with the idea to target social impact makers, social entrepreneurs. Because if we help in preventing their burnout, they can scale their businesses and therefore do more good. We realized this is the way for us to scale up our impact way beyond our own activities.

    There was also a more pragmatic side to this decision, as we see entrepreneurs as our potential target audience. Therefore, we thought this would be a great opportunity to do research, to give us a better understanding of their needs and support them better. 

    We believe social entrepreneurs are a great group to work with as they are usually very conscious and open to self-development, therefore we are looking forward to doing more in this area.

    —–

    We believe so too and our data shows the same! Although social entrepreneurship takes a toll on our participants, many have also built the mechanisms for burnout prevention. Among those mechanisms, our alumni mentioned hobbies and sports, psychologists’ support and support from friends, family, and coworkers. 

    Social Impact Award has a positive impact on this as well. 70% of respondents of our Incubation Survey from 2018 stated that participation in SIA’s incubation contributed to their ability to deal with conflict and stress that comes with starting a social enterprise. Particularly positive effects have had individual coaching sessions, high-quality mentors and providing clarity on structures and timelines. Providing a positive, friendly network of peers is also important, as social support is associated with significantly lower burnout. 

    In the years to come, we will continue exploring the topic of wellbeing and burnout prevention among social entrepreneurs. Thanks, Anna and YouTalk for leading by example and giving back to our SIA community!