• Is Social Entrepreneurship About to Change Forever?

    With in-person gatherings kicking off once again, European heads of state and government officials met in Portugal for the Porto Social Summit. The Summit aims at setting the European agenda for the next decade to ensure Europe faces the challenges of the present and of the future without leaving anyone behind.

    For the first time ever, members of the European social entrepreneurship ecosystem were invited to attend. One of these lucky invitees was Neven Marinovic, President of Euclid Network and Executive Director of Smart Kolektiv in Serbia. As Neven is also a member of Social Impact Award’s advisory board, Jakob Detering, Managing Director of SIA, had the pleasure of sitting down with him (over zoom) to discuss his experience at the Summit and how policy-makers envision the future of social entrepreneurship.

    We hope you enjoy.

    If you prefer listening to the 20 minute conversation rather than reading through, we uploaded it to youtube.

    Neven, thank you so much for taking the time! A few weeks ago, you had the chance to participate in a pretty fancy conference. Before we dive into the content of the Summit, I’m curious to know: how was the atmosphere at the conference, considering it was one of your first in-person conferences since the start of the pandemic?

    For me personally it was very exciting because it was not only one of my first in-person events but also my first opportunity to travel abroad in a very long-time. From the start of the journey, not just at the conference, you can sense that things have changed. There is tension in the air already at the airport. Although the event was a unique opportunity to get together, it was heavily influenced by the COVID protection measures. We needed to keep distance from one another, which stopped us from having informal one-on-one conversations with people.

    It did take away a lot from the purpose of the event, since such a big part of these events is meeting and interacting with people directly, which we could not do as easily.

     

    Now, as for the content. The summit resulted in the adoption of the Porto Declaration on Social Affairs, which, as I understand it, puts emphasis on an inclusive recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. What is meant by that?

    I think the main point being made at the event, with the heads of state of all European Countries, leaders of the Parliament, of the European Commission, and all others is that Europe will not abandon their welfare state model. They acknowledged that even when facing this economic crisis and all kinds of other issues, what makes Europe unique and strong is its welfare state model. It will not only be kept but upgraded and improved with modern trends in mind.

     

    The fact that you, in your role as the President of the Euclid Network, were invited to this event makes me think that these leaders are considering social entrepreneurship as an important part of the recovery. What do you think is these leaders’ expectations of the social entrepreneurship field?

    First of all, to be quite honest, Euclid and other members of the social economy are newcomers at working with high-level political leaders. This is the first time members of our ecosystem were invited to this kind of event, which is a big step forward. Unfortunately, since these relationships are so new, we are not yet fully integrated in their understanding of policies and they don’t fully understand why we are relevant to their goals.

    Second, I think they see social entrepreneurship more as a tool to address other issues like inclusion, unemployment, skills development, the green transition, etc. They don’t understand that the social economy should be a goal in itself, that it should not be marginal but rather mainstreamed and its principles should be brought into the European economic model.

     

     

    To build on the last part of your statement, what are your demands for the social entrepreneurship ecosystem?

    I think social entrepreneurship as a philosophy has much more transformative power than is being recognized. For the long-term health of our society, if we want to live in a healthy environment, with an economy that functions well, without putting too much pressure on people and the planet, the principles we preach as an ecosystem are the way forward. For now, it seems like social entrepreneurship is still too marginal for people to recognize its power.

    When politicians think about labor rights or marginalized communities, they think of compliance. They try to make businesses more compliant with a set of issues. It should, however, be the other way around. The social entrepreneurship model already embeds these issues at the core of its work, which should be supported by governments and institutions through funding and policies to solve the issues at hand.

     

    I want to focus on one element that is particularly important to us at SIA: youth. French President Emmanuel Macron emphasized the role of youth in the recovery effort. What do you think youth’s role should be in this and how can SIA support?

    I think there is much more recognition on why it’s important to work with youth at all different levels than why it’s important to support young social entrepreneurs. SIA is in a good position because it works directly with young people, helping them build important skills and knowledge that will play a key role in the transition. It’s really crucial for SIA and other members of the ecosystem to keep engaging with young people on the implications of this transition and help them build the necessary skills that will help them stay valuable over time.

     

     

    What would be your message to our more than 1000 alumni ventures working across the world whose business and impact models were and still are under substantial pressure from the pandemic? Can they be hopeful that leadership will recognize their importance and value?

    I don’t want to sound unrealistic and say that everything is going great. However, I do think that social entrepreneurs across Europe should be hopeful, because there is definitely a clear understanding both at the country level and at the EU level that there should be more instruments out there to support and fund social ventures.

    On the negative side, the wheels of EU bureaucracy move quite slowly. I am still quite hopeful after seeing how quickly they moved during the pandemic to mitigate the crisis. There are already policies in place, so it is just a matter of time until they become more comprehensive.

    Finally, this leaves me with what we need to do as actors. We need to push harder. Some of the stakeholders were very well prepared and have been in the conversation with policy-makers for a long-time. Our goal should be to come together as an ecosystem to ensure our voice is heard and put positive pressure so the entrepreneurs we work with get the support they need.

    Photos sourced from 2021Portugal’s Flickr

  • What Does It Take To Internationalise A Social Venture?

    This article comes from the Enabling Social Entrepreneurs Scale Their Impact Internationally (ESESII) project, which includes a number of different actors from the global social impact ecosystem. More details can be found here.

    This article was written by Peter Vandor, Magdalena Winkler, and Martin Mehrwald.

    Recent years have seen a rapid increase in the number of social enterprises across the world, introducing a broad range of innovations to different industries. Recent estimates suggest that already 21% to 26% of start-ups in Europe operate with a social, community or environmental goal as a primary organizational purpose. Many of these ventures innovate and create novel approaches to address such challenges.

    However, even the best innovations can only unfold their impact potential when they are brought to scale. In light of the many pressing challenges global society is facing and the limited availability of resources, time and attention to solve them, scaling of the most effective and efficient solutions has been argued to be an ethical imperative. As popular quote, attributed to former US president Bill Clinton, puts it:

    Nearly every problem has been solved by someone, somewhere. The challenge of the 21st century is to find out what works and scale it up.

    In spite of this clear need for internationalising innovative social enterprises, the vast majority of social entrepreneurs operate only on a local scale. A survey of social entrepreneurs we conducted in the global Impact Hub Network showed that only 5.7% of early-stage social entrepreneurs declared having been actively internationalising their work in the past year, and only about 17% of organizations reported attempts to scale their activities overall (locally or internationally).

    Why is internationalisation a challenge for social entrepreneurs?

    The small numbers of internationalisation and scaling efforts among social entrepreneurs can be attributed to a number of reasons. First, there are fewer monetary incentives for growth in social entrepreneurship than in commercial entrepreneurship. Unlike for-commercial entrepreneurs, social entrepreneurs often serve disadvantaged groups and address problems affecting disenfranchised groups or future generations – in these cases the need for their services does often not translate into (financial) demand. Second, in comparison with commercial enterprises, growth is not as strongly driven by investors and shareholders, who often have more space-bound interests or mandates. Similarly, founders’ motivations can be hard to scale as well, as they often stem from a sense of responsibility towards their local community and the desire to fix a problem that they experience themselves.

    Social entrepreneurs who aim to scale nonetheless also face a variety of challenges. Social ventures are often embedded deeply in complex and regulated service systems (e.g. secondary education) which are organised along the bounds of federal or state-level administrative units. In contrast with commercial markets, these systems are often less permeable for non-local actors, which provides another barrier to internationalisation. The broader ecosystem perspective shows that international support networks are disjointed and differences between countries’ policy frameworks can hinder SE internationalisation. Finally, current research has identified a lack of skills and competences as well as templates about modes of internationalisation for social entrepreneurs. In their study of social enterprises across Europe, Weber et al. (2015, p.53) make the rather pessimistic prognosis that “scaling across national borders is a major challenge for the social entrepreneurs of Europe and will remain so for the immediate future”.

    Key competences of social enterprise internationalisation: first impressions

    Against this background, Euclid NetworkmaterahubSynthesis Center for Research and Education, the International SEPT Competence Center at Leipzig UniversitySocial Impact Award and the Social Entrepreneurship Center at WU Vienna have teamed up in the framework of an Erasmus+ KA 2 Project. The main objectives of this project are to identify the skills and competences gap impeding social entrepreneurs to internationalise. Building on these insights, we aim to develop an innovative training curriculum for internationalising social entrepreneurs, as well as support national social enterprises support organisations’ and advise European and national policy-makers to enhance the capacity of social entrepreneurs’ to internationalise.

    As a first step, we used the past months for a deep dive into the topic. While data collection and analysis are still on their way and will help us gain a deeper understanding of the competences needed for internationalisation, some first insights are already worth noting.

    Amongst others, we build our analysis on a reading of over 150 research papers, seven case studies and an analyses of 579 social enterprises from the Impact Hub network, as well as insights and experiences in the consortium.

             1. Internationalisation is mastered by generalists and teams, not savants

    Internationalisation is a complex process that can take several years and requires a lot of attention. Rather than being yet another job to be done, internationalisation can present a set of new tasks and processes that remain with the organisation, including understanding one’s own services on a very deep level, building and maintaining relationships abroad, impact measurement, managing distributed workflows, and more. In addition, entrepreneurs face a myriad of new questions associated with working in a different country, from language, social and legal differences to the big and small cultural differences.

    Given the breadth of these demands, internationalisation is fairly demanding. As one of our interview partners, a social entrepreneur in the field of social inclusion put it:

    We were facing questions like ‘how do we build a working micro-climate with our partners’, ‘how do we navigate cultural differences’, ‘how do we develop strategy’… we never received external support, we had to learn these skills the hard way.

    Our reading of prior research confirms this point, with dozens of (sometimes very different) skills and competences highlighted as “important” or “critical” by respective articles that look at the phenomenon from their respective angle. This suggests that, as it often is in entrepreneurs, there is no one single silver bullet. Instead, expanding a social enterprise across borders requires a broad set of different competences in the entrepreneurs’ team and ecosystem.

            2. It takes a village to internationalise

    Given the many different competences needed for successful internationalisation, social entrepreneurs typically seek external support to make it happen. This support is not limited to funding, but often includes aspects of learning and building social capital. Our survey of internationalising social entrepreneurs in the Impact Hub networks provides us with some valuable clues (Table 1). Respondents indicated many areas in which external support was very important, including “building visibility and credibility” in the target country as well as its ecosystem, “feeling part of a larger community and network”, “find and keep good talent and staff” and “accessing new clients and beneficiaries”.

    Accessing these resources and competencies requires a broad network of relationship. Some resources can be best provided by expertise in the respective target market, others by training institutions, again others by advice from strong peer-networks. Therefore, any intervention aimed at supporting social entrepreneurs in international scaling will need to provide access to diverse networks of skill and expertise.

           3. Different paths require different vehicles

    Internationalisation can take different forms. Social entrepreneurs can decide to openly disseminate their knowledge by open sourcing their information and sharing their learnings live with anyone who wishes to replicate their learnings. A good example of this is provided by Cola Life, a successful innovator in health and development who has recently codified and shared freely their key insights in an open source “playbook”. Social entrepreneurs can also disseminate their knowledge internationally by offering trainings, advocacy and consulting, as exemplified by the Viennese food bank Wiener Tafel, member of a European network of food banks, which has provided consulting to dozens of entrepreneurs replicating their approach across borders.

    Other paths to internationalisation can provide more control and participation in the upsides of the venture. For example, the Styrian social enterprise atempo has pioneered franchising as a tool to grow their innovations in the field of inclusion and learning beyond country borders. Setting up and managing a franchise relationship requires a lot of investment and risk-taking from the entrepreneurs, but allows scaling atempo’s services and the tacit knowledge embedded in them while providing opportunities for mutual learning and quality assurance.

    Our survey data shows that these different approaches call for different competences. Organisations that internationalise though branching (i.e.: open subsidiaries abroad) reported high levels of support needs in many areas, in particular with respect to “gaining visibility and credibility”, “accessing new clients and beneficiaries” and as “finding and keeping new talent”. Entrepreneurs who chose more open approaches to internationalisation showed different priorities. While gaining access to communities and networks was reported as highly important by many respondents, topics related to funding and human resources were important to only a few respondents.

    Taken together, these findings underline the need to provide targeted support for internationalising social entrepreneurs. Support provisions need to be tailored to the respective internationalisation path chosen by the entrepreneurs, as well as to the challenges that arise from the fact that they scale impact and not merely commercial operations. Such support structures need to embrace different forms of learning, including learning from experts as well as successful peers. Doing so can have an essential effect on entrepreneurs, their ventures and their subsequent social impact.

    As one respondent put it in an interview:

    What would I do differently if I were to do internationalisation all over again? I would allow myself or the team to reach out to people who have done it before, instead of thinking we need to go through the process all by ourselves.

    Going forward, creating and communicating such learning opportunities will be the main goal for the ESESII consortium.

    Supported by:

     

  • Global Impact Report 2020 is out now!

    A year of crisis filled with uncertainty and hardship, 2020 saw the loss of many lives and livelihoods. The international Social Impact Award community faced an unprecedented threat – the business and impact models of our alumni, the access to our offerings for participants and more were in danger. However, by coming together as a community, we were able to not only adapt to the challenges but also improve our work and our offerings.

    The success of this approach was quite significant. From stories about providing internet access to marginalized youth in Georgia, to launching a social venture in COVID-19 times, the report showcases all of the incredible challenges that our community took on during this difficult time.

    Our experience during the crisis made one thing clear:

    Social innovation does play a vital role in rebooting our economies and societies, and this world’s youth is ready to take on the challenge.

    Jakob Detering, Managing Director, Social Impact Award International

    A big thank you to all those who supported us in these difficult times and who took part in our offerings. We hope this report gives you strength and confidence to keep marching onwards knowing that you have the support of this amazing community.

    Click the cover below to explore the report

    👇

     

     

  • An honest and intense look inwards and outwards

    Strategic planning is a fascinating process. It forces you to zoom out of your day-to-day operations and to take an honest and intense look both inwards and outwards. When developing SIA’s strategy for the upcoming four years (2020 to 2023) we did both. We directed our attention inwards by reminding ourselves of SIA’s core principles and by reflecting on the path we have taken over the last ten years. What we looked at was highly encouraging: over the past decade, SIA has grown from a small initiative in Vienna to a globally active community empowering thousands of young social innovators to turn their passion into impactful ventures

    However, it is not only the sheer scale of our activities that gave us a sense that we are heading in the right direction. It is also the individual feedback we have received and the stories we have witnessed throughout the years. Looking into the evaluation results and impact data collected from our community (learn more about these results and impact data in our annual impact reports), we can state with confidence that we are perceived as a truly accessible entry door to the field of social entrepreneurship that not only inspires youth to take action but also guides young innovators from vague intentions to concrete and sustainable action. That is an incredibly high expectation, but also a great base to build our future strategy on.

    At the same time, we looked outwards trying to better understand if SIA’s propositions are still relevant and up-to-date for the youth in an ever faster changing world. This perspective was frightening at first sight: Youth unemployment rates reach new records, the polarization of society has increased around the world and civic spaces are shrinking in many of our core regions. Nevertheless, this constant state of crisis also bears its opportunities. Confronted with a growing distrust in the functionality of our economic, political and social systems our society begins to accept that “something has to change”, as our board member Hinnerk Hansen points out in our Global Impact Report 2019. It needs fresh voices to weigh in on the discussion. Voices that point us to new ideas that tell of progress being made, that get us excited and inspire us to hope again. SIA is dedicated to not only making those voices heard, but to amplify them into actions with an impact. Every year, it seeks out young people with bold, new ideas, and nurtures them to develop solutions that will make a positive impact on the world.

    Based on all these observations we initiated our strategy process in early 2019 on SIA’s board level. From the beginning, SIA’s international management included all key stakeholders in the strategy process. Hundreds of meetings and calls as well as several multi-day retreats took place over the course of 2019. Whether it is SIA’s licensees in all 15+ countries we operate, our Global Advisory Board, the team of SIA International, or our strategic partners from foundations to academia – all of their voices were heard and their ideas and suggestions integrated.

    If you ask me how we will apply this strategy in our daily work in the upcoming years, I would probably use the metaphor of a compass. It is not a roadmap that informs us on how we get from A to B. It is rather a compass that provides us with a sense of direction. It is a tool to help is in making critical decisions and trade-offs. In uncertain and dynamic times like these, I believe that a compass is probably a more useful tool than a roadmap to navigate through the complexity of our societal challenges and opportunities.

    When SIA was founded back in 2009, the world looked very different than today. How will it look like ten years from now? What will be the role of social entrepreneurship in that future? How will the youth contribute to social change? And how will SIA be able to support them in doing so? We are not able to answer these questions today. However, – with this strategy, with this compass, in our hands – we feel ready to continue our journey by exploring the future with clear intentions. 

    We invite all of you to join us on this journey. At least for the next four years, we have a clear idea of where we want to go. We might not know exactly how the way will look like, but we know for sure that we will walk it together – as a diverse international community dedicated to SIA’s mission.

     

    This is the eighth, and last, 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

  • 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

  • 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 

  • 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
    Strategizing with multiple stakeholders: An honest and intense look inwards and outwards 

  • 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 

  • 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

  • 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