• 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

  • 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 

  • 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!

     

     

  • Wellbeing of social entrepreneurs is a game-changer

    Social entrepreneurs care about the wellbeing of others. But does that come at the cost of risking their own? 

    This article is a part of our blog series on the topic of wellbeing among social entrepreneurs. You can also read our interview with SIA Russia winner who uses online psychological support to combat burnout among entrepreneurs.

     

    Burn-out among social entrepreneurs is a true issue. Social Impact Award’s academic partner – the Vienna University of Economics and Business and its Social Entrepreneurship Center – conducted a survey among SIA alumni including personal wellbeing. Outcomes show that social entrepreneurs are challenged: More than 40% were exposed to some level of burnout. 5% might have experienced severe burnout.

    Social Impact Award is in the driver’s seat to train its participants’ skills to stay healthy. Together with HIL Foundation and the Vienna University of Economics and Business, we started to research and implement our findings on wellbeing since 2018. We asked Peter Vandor, our research partner and founder of Social Impact Award, to share the latest findings on wellbeing within the SIA community.

    How is wellbeing perceived by young entrepreneurs? Why is it a game-changer for founders and social entrepreneurs?

    In the beginning, the founders have to do everything in the organization. Faced with a myriad of different tasks, their passion and energy is the only driver. If they are not well and decide to quit, there is no venture and no impact.

    Tell us about SIA’s wellbeing studies. What triggered you to do the math?

    More and more social entrepreneurs in my personal environment suffered from chronic stress and in some cases burnout. I wanted to understand what is going on and what we can do. Also, SIA is in a peculiar position when it comes to founders’ wellbeing. We are well equipped to provide founders with the best tools and mindset to prevent burnout and have a lasting positive impact. But as a program, we also make very high demands. We could risk being part of the problem by raising pressure.

    What are the key findings?

    Our data from two SIA surveys among current and alumni ventures since 2018 confirmed the issue. The majority of social entrepreneurs had experienced lasting periods of stress. For 20%, this manifested in persistent physical symptoms such as sleeping disorders and anxiety issues, in a few cases even clinical burnout. This is alarming, even though similar rates in other professions and even higher levels of burnout risk in medical and care professions are common.

    Much of this is driven by the high demands of entrepreneurial work. In some cases, however, the gravitas of the social problem our alumni work on seemed to amplify the pressure. A respondent explained: “…people wait for your products that could save lives and you are not doing anything. It’s constantly on your mind, the fear that someone could die tomorrow because you took a break.”

    SIA can make a difference. Some of our interventions, in particular, 1-on-1 coaching on team issues, had a strong positive correlation with wellbeing. The data suggests that we can be effective in supporting our founders on this level.

    Why is SIA pushing this topic? What is going to happen next?

    Drumming the beat of social entrepreneurship comes with a responsibility. If we send thousands of youth on this journey every year, we owe them a realistic picture of the challenges and the best tools to tackle them. Unfortunately, too many programs just focus on the rosy side of entrepreneurship creating unrealistic expectations.

    We will continue testing and evaluating different interventions to see what helps. I have started further research to better understand the drivers of this phenomenon together with my university and Impact Hub Global.

    Your personal rule of thumb to cherish wellbeing?

    Coping mechanisms such as exercising, getting professional help or maintaining social support circles (aka meeting your friends) resonate with me. 

    But the responsibility should not be put mainly on social entrepreneurs. It’s systemic. We have to make sure there is proper education, funding, legal and taxation structures, and recognition for this work. Entrepreneurship is stressful enough. Social entrepreneurs should not need to face extra barriers for trying to solve social issues. The answer is not yoga classes, we need sound institutional frameworks.

    ——

    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!

    Anna Krymskaya, the co-founder of YouTalk, shared with us their success stories regarding their online psychological chat support and how they are supporting SIA Russia in burnout prevention.

    Read Anna’s story

     

    About Peter

    Peter Vandor is a senior researcher and co-founder of the Social Entrepreneurship Center at WU, the Vienna University of Economics and Business. In his position, he has been leading 60+ collaboration projects with organizations such as ERSTE Foundation, CERN, UNDP, and the Roland Berger Foundation. His research focuses on social entrepreneurship, migrant entrepreneurship and innovation and has been published in the Journal of Business Venturing and Harvard Business Review. Peter is the founder and academic director of Social Impact Award, a capacity building program for young social entrepreneurs in 15+ countries and initiated the first academic and award-winning course on social entrepreneurship in Austria. Peter was nominated as Global Shaper by the World Economic Forum in 2012 and as SCANCOR Visiting Scholar to Stanford University in 2017.

     

     

  • 3 Trends That Will Influence the Social Entrepreneurship Sector in 2019

    By Katherine Milligan, Head of the Schwab Foundation and Member of Social Impact Award’s Global Advisory Board

    In spring 2018, Katherine has joined SIA’s Global Advisory Board. In her work with the Schwab Foundation Katherine gets in touch with many social innovators, capacity-builders and funders from around the world. We asked her to share three key trends which she is currently observing in the development of social entrepreneurship globally, especially with regards to the early-stage support of social enterprises.

    #1: There’s a difference between market-based and financially profitable.

    In the early days of social entrepreneurship, most of the trail-blazing organizations that pioneered important innovations were non-profits. For many young people today, however, social entrepreneurship is about a commercially viable enterprise. I think the discourse has swung too far into that direction and needs to come back to somewhere in the middle. Yes, social enterprises should strive for financial viability wherever possible, leverage market forces, and embrace business practices and principles. At the same time, there is a reason why these problems persist: because the market or the government failure is just so extreme.

    Designing a business model to solve these problems does not mean you’re going to turn a profit – not in year one or two, but maybe not even in year five. Otherwise, conventional businesses would have stepped in already.

     

    So, there are a lot of myths, hypes, and misconceptions around the sector that are not necessarily helpful, and I believe young entrepreneurs creating start-ups need a more realistic view about what the journey ahead of them holds.

    #2: Public institutions are our partners, not the opposition.

    Another trend is the relationship of the social entrepreneurship sector with governments and related institutions. A few decades ago, the social entrepreneurship movement was born out of frustration with the inability of governments to solve social problems at scale. This resulted in the image of a social entrepreneur striking out in opposition to the traditional public services such as education, health care, waste, sanitation, water, etc.

    Now, many social entrepreneurs aren’t asking anymore whether they should work with government, but rather how. If you think of solving a problem on a national level, you cannot avoid or escape public institutions as key partners.

     

    First, as a social entrepreneur, you must build up your own credibility and prove that you can build something more cost effectively than other providers or consistently produce better outcomes. But once you have done that, you can use this credibility and engage with government. Such collaboration can come in various forms: procurement, meaning the  government agency outsources a particular service and provides the social enterprise a fee for services rendered; government adoption, where a social enterprise’s methodology or model gets embedded into a public system like the healthcare system; or technical assistance, meaning the social entrepreneur advises government on a policy reform, a new law, or  a planning process.

    #3: The myth of the ‘hero entrepreneur’ is dead.

    The third and last trend that I would like to mention sends a message that shall speak directly to young social agents and entrepreneurs who are now starting their career.

     

    The myth of the ‘hero entrepreneur’ is dead. It is a very unhelpful and destructive myth. It put enormous burden on the entrepreneur’s shoulders. More and more people are recognizing that social entrepreneurship is a team sport and that this is not about me, my idea, my solution, my organization.

     

    It really is about solving the problem and doing whatever it takes in working with other stakeholders and actors in a particular system or problem area. It is about putting your wellbeing at the center of your work, being very clear about your motivation for doing this work, having a ‘managed ego’ in doing this work. If this is all about you and your ego and your agenda, people sense this and realize that this is not authentic and ultimately it will undermine your ability to create trust-based relationships and partnerships. Being a managed ego leader and prioritizing your and your collaborators’ wellbeing are huge trends and will be on top of the global conversation in 2019.

     

    You can read the rest of our interview with Katherine on page 24 of our Global Impact Report 2018.

    Katherine Milligan is the Director and Head of the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship. She received her B.A. from Dartmouth College and her Master’s in Public Policy from the Kennedy School of Government, where she was the recipient of the Pforzheimer Scholarship for Excellence in Nonprofit Management.  Katherine’s previous work experience includes a Sheldon Knox Research Fellowship at Harvard University (2004-2005); a Global Leadership Fellow of the World Economic Forum (2005-2009). Before that, she was a Peace Corps volunteer in West Africa and a strategy consultant for several non-profits. Her work has been published in the International Institute of Economics, Stanford Social Innovation Review, MIT journal Innovations, and the Harvard Business School.

  • Big Changes Start With Small Ideas

    Because 2017 is coming to an end, it’s time to look back at what the 6th edition of Social Impact Award in Romania meant this year: bold ideas, young people willing to make a personal contribution to the society, dozens of experts and partners who actively contributed to promoting social entrepreneurship in Romania and a great deal of potential for the development of this segment among young Romanian people.

    The Social Entrepreneurship Ecosystem in Romania

    According to the Youth Speak study conducted by AIESEC Romania on a sample of about 4,000 young people, one of the main motivations of the Millennials is to have a greater goal in life. 21% of these young people want to be paid to work in their ideal jobs. 19% want to work in a startup, and 6% of them want to work in a social business.

    At European level, statistics are similar. According to a study conducted by the Trendence Institute, more than 60% of business students feel more motivated about making a positive contribution to society, rather than only earning money through their businesses. And more and more young people want to create their own jobs.

    When we put together the desire of young people to have an impact and their need to become entrepreneurs, we come to the essential motivation of a social entrepreneur. Given that the problems facing Romania are increasingly complex, we need a generation of young people who dare to build innovative, long-term solutions that combine social impact and financial prosperity.

    This is the main reason why we invest year after year in developing the educational program and the Social Impact Award competition in Romania: for more young people to be aware that they have this opportunity and to be inspired by the examples that already exist in Romania and abroad. And because we want to encourage as much as possible a collaborative spirit among those who are already part of the larger community of social innovators in Romania.

    Raising Awareness and Inspiring Future Social Entrepreneurs

    After six editions of the Social Impact Award, we realized that we still have a lot to build so that more young people in Romania can understand what social entrepreneurship is and how they can embrace this opportunity for professional development.

    Between February and May this year we organized 16 workshops on social entrepreneurship in 8 cities in Romania. Over 350 high schoolers, students and young professionals took part in these experiences, generating ideas and solutions or turning ideas into social business models. In each city we invited examples of local social entrepreneurs, in order to provide an inspirational and pragmatic perspective for our participants.

    At the end of this period, 82% of respondents to our Impact Assessment Questionnaire said they had improved their understanding of social entrepreneurship, and 75% found their motivation to become social entrepreneurs. For the 2018 edition we are preparing to add another 4 cities to our educational program, so that we bring the Social Impact Award know-how and inspiration to areas in Romania where there are fewer opportunities.

    Building a Community of Young Social Entrepreneurs

    Beyond the educational program, this year we also focused on developing an active community of young people who want to become social entrepreneurs. Of the 56 teams enrolled in the competition, the Social Impact Award jury selected 17 for the incubation program that took place between June and September.

    Together with the 17 initiatives we have learned how to build a collaborative learning community. Through all the interactions with mentors, experts and social entrepreneurs, the incubation program helped the finalists to improve their knowledge and skills. Also, we focused on creating a sense of belonging, in order to strengthen long-term relationships between our finalists.

    Two of the elements we have monitored during the incubation period were the motivation of our finalists and their ability to carry on with their projects after the end of this SIA edition. After completing the program, 75% of finalists claim to be more motivated to work in a social business, and 83% feel they have a better prepared team to continue implementing their idea with.

    SIA Romania’s Super-Power: Collaboration

    It is said that “It takes a village to raise a child”. After this Social Impact Award edition, we can also say that “It takes a village to raise a social entrepreneur”. Our efforts to form a generation of young social entrepreneurs in Romania would have been far from attained if we had not had a whole ecosystem of people and organizations near us.

    Collaboration can start from many angles. For us, it was about meeting with people who think equally strong about the purpose of Social Impact Award, and about all the people who contributed to building this year’s experience. They are the main partners of SIA Romania – Enel, BCR, Rompetrol, Ernst & Young and Redbull Amaphiko -, the 9 members of the jury, the experts and mentors involved in the incubation program, the local partners with whom we implemented the workshops in the 8 cities, the social entrepreneurs who joined us at different stages of the program, the volunteers and, last but not least, the SIA 2017 team. The full list of SIA 2017 partners and supporters can be found here.

    We are all needed in the quest to develop the next generation of young social entrepreneurs in Romania. Through consistent and authentic collaboration, we want to actively maintain the ecosystem created around SIA Romania and to take this spirit further for another great SIA edition in 2018.

  • Blink! It can save your eyes

    Andrej Fogelton is 29 years old PhD student at the Slovak Technical University and the winner of Social Impact Award Slovakia 2013.On his website blinkingmatters.com he writes that he has suffered with the dry eye syndrome since the beginning of his studies at the university. And that led him to an idea.

    As Andrej explains, a healthy human blinks 10-15 times per minute. When working with a computer, it is often half as much, because the screen is shining and the person is focused on work. Thus, the tear film is insufficiently restored to the eyes and the eyes dry, which can cause dryness, burning, itching, feeling of a foreign body or red eyes.

    “Because I was struggling with my eye problems, and I researched a lot about it, I was looking for a solution especially for myself. The idea of product commercialization came naturally with attending various startup events after Bratislava, such as the Social Impact Award,” says Andrej.

    The Eyeblink kernel is an algorithm for detecting blinking. Technological development of the software was part of Andrej’s dissertation work, and other students at the Faculty of Informatics and Information Technology of STU contributed to it, including Tomáš Drutarovský, whose algorithm was the basis of the existing version.

    As a look into the fire…

    How does it work? Besides the part, the software, in a simple way, reminds people to blink when working with computers, it does so much more. “An important feature is measuring, informing you about health and giving you the option of auto-dimming the screen, which is very useful especially for external monitors where you do not have the keyboard shortcut to adjust the brightness as it is on your laptop,” says Fogelton.

    According to him, one of the reasons why we blink too little is that the screen is too bright, people say “pulls our eyes”. “It is similar to fire, try to observe the person who is buried in the fire. We are exposed to screens for too many hours. “says Fogelton.

    As he adds, his software is currently being used mainly by customers from Slovakia, the EU countries, the USA, but also India, Vietnam and Russia.

    They buy it when they have a problem…

    The price for its noncommercial use is 12 and for commercial 20 euros per year. He has so far sold about 100 licenses to use the software. “It’s a little, but I believe that with increased efforts in marketing will the sales grow too. So far I found out that people are unwilling to pay for prevention. My customers are just people who know they have a problem and they deal with it.” he said.

    For more comfortable use of your computer, there are a few recommendations. “But I warn that I am not a doctor, these recommendations are based on my personal experience. Maybe I can help you.”

    Healthy recommendations…

    1. Find out more about dry eye syndrome, do not settle with drops of artificial eye sore.

    2. Remove the eye drops or use as little as possible. Rather wash your eyes regularly with cold water.

    3. Play PC games less. They are the worst, as we are very focused on what is happening on the playing field.

    4. Properly adjust the workstation. The window should not be behind the monitor, but from the side and at the right height. Adjust also the height of your monitor as it effects how dry your eyes are.

    5. Make breaks. Water breaks, tea, or just look out the window, focus for a longer distance.

    6. Lower the brightness of your monitor and not to look too closely at the monitor because you do not see anything.

    7. And remember: Blink often! It can save your life.

  • Be unique, be modern, be social!

    Why does entrepreneurship have a potential to improve the economic development in Albania? Why is SIA a good opportunity for the young generation? All the answers in the following lines.

    Despite economic improvements in recent years,  Albania is faced with many social challenges and large disparities. Poverty and unemployment remain very high leaving marginalized groups, especially youth people and women severely disadvantaged. In Albania, where more 1/3 of population are younger than 30 years old, youth unemployment remains a significant challenge. Private sector remains still fragile in Albania, while public reforms have not yet been able to cope with the increasing unemployment situation. As a result, especially the young generation continues to seek opportunities abroad, mostly through illegal emigration, instead of aspiring towards entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurship has a potential to drive employment and economic development in Albania.

    What keeps social entrepreneurs in developing countries from growing their ventures? Around the world social entrepreneurs are creating innovative businesses that reduce poverty and improve the lives of their customers. These pioneers often encounter many hurdles along the way that make growing a social business a significant challenge.

    In the last decade the world has made great progress in helping people move out of poverty. However, the current economic system has also created inequality and caused tremendous harm to our planet. It is time to re-think the status quo and our economic model. We need to redefine the system so it works the other way around — solving social problems and creating a more fair society for all humans. Whenever we want to solve the problem of poverty, we have to address the root cause. 

    That is where the concept of social business comes in. A social business is a problem solving business. Social business allows people to focus their creativity on solving human problems with business means rather than maximizing profits. In charity, money goes out and never comes back. In social business, the money goes out, does its good work and comes back. One time use versus unlimited use of money; that’s the whole idea of social business. That way social business is a powerful tool to get people out of poverty and close the wealth-gap.  

    Albania is a small country in Balkan area, post-communist, with major economic and social changes. In the communist system the creation of a private business was not conceived  and even the  property was public. All administered by the public administration. After the 90s, the whole situation changed and the free trade created an experiment for the private business. Every year has brought changes by creating stable businesses as a developing country with positive opportunities to move forward.

    Why is SIA a good opportunity for the young generation?

    • Business ideas coming from the passions of young people.

    • Business ideas supported by SIA solve problems in society. It is about identifying needs in society, and not just to sell products and generate revenues.

    • Access to a social impact differentiates businesses from others by bringing a European example with the highest standards.

    • Advanced business models intertwined with innovative social ideas make you competitive in the market.

    So, what are you waiting for? Join SIA! Be unique, be modern, be social!