• Being well for doing good — Finding peace throughout the social entrepreneurship rollercoaster

    In conversation with Christina Purrer, founder of Weltkindernetzwerk and project manager at Hil-Foundation.

    Welcome to the second episode of the Being Well for Doing Good series!

    Created in partnership with the non-profit Hil-Foundation, this series will tell the stories of alumni from Social Impact Award around the world, and their journeys with well-being.

    Unfortunately, social entrepreneurs are often faced with intense stress and high risk of burnout. With this in mind, we at SIA have worked to put well-being at the heart of our work, to cultivate a healthy attitude towards social entrepreneurship amongst our participants.

    This week, we sat down with Christina Purrer, founder of Weltkindernetzwerk and project manager at Hil-Foundation. Christina’s drive to bring about positive change has taken her on an explorative journey with well-being: from personal motivations, strengths and practices, to a more systemic understanding of well-being and change, she has kept an open mind to question, explore and go deeper into her own inner work.

    We hope you enjoy. Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!

     

    Tell us a little bit about yourself, and what your venture Weltkindernetzwerk was all about!

    My name is Christina, I’m a SIA Austria Alumna from 2016 and the founder of the Weltkindernetzwerk (world children’s network in English), where we organized child care for families with a refugee background. Unfortunately, we did not have enough people responding to our offer so we decided to shut the project down when I finished my Masters.

    I now work with Hil-Foundation, where we support people with few opportunities to lead their lives with self-determination. Another focus area is mental health and self-care: together with SIA, we have created a program to introduce well-being as a central topic in incubator and accelerator programs.

    What got you into the topic of well-being? Why is it important to you personally, beyond the approach of Hil-Foundation?

    When I participated in SIA, the topic was not in my mind that much. I had passion, energy, and I wanted to change the world. In 2017, I took on a job in Germany where I worked with refugees who had been denied their asylum and had to go back to their countries of origin. Not only was this very psychologically challenging in itself, it was also a pilot project, which meant lots of uncertainty, lots of missing structures, etc.

    I went through too many sleepless nights and too much anxiety, and ultimately broke down. I started questioning my inner drive and motivations of making an impact, asking myself questions like “Is it healthy for me to have this drive? Is there something wrong with it?” and so on.

    What did you find out through this questioning? And how did you get back to stability?

    I had previous experience with meditation, which helped a lot. I started journaling every day, and wrote down little things that gave me joy, like “I went for a walk, I picked some flowers, etc.” I also went through a full therapy process, which played an important role in getting me back on track. Even though I felt ashamed to ask for external help, I knew I needed it, and it was an act of self-love to go forward with that process. I also started writing some poetry.

    It’s very common for us social entrepreneurs to push ourselves too far. Many of us tend to adopt the mindset that we need to carry the world on our shoulders. In the process of introspection you went through, did you get any insights as to why we feel this sense of responsibility that so often leads to burnout?

    I think we’re very influenced by the environment we grow up in, from our family setting to our values. My father was always very ambitious, with a fierce desire to drive change, which was passed onto me while growing up. I was also bullied in school because I had good grades and was considered “uncool”. Back then I was often excluded, and I think this in part led to my interest for anti-discrimination and integration. On top of that, I had a friend at 14 who was a refugee from Nigeria, and I did an internship at 17 on the topic. This all gave me more empathy for the people who came to Austria and were discriminated against while they tried to integrate themselves.

    Studies show that lots of changemakers have themselves suffered some kind of pain, which creates a deeper motivation to solve the problem that hurt them. It also leads to a high personal identification with work, which can be risky.

    How do you currently relate to well-being, now that you’ve gone through all these experiences?

    The position I want to take in the social change sector changed quite drastically over the last few years. At first, I wanted to be with the visionaries in the spotlight. Over time, I realized that this wasn’t for me because I was uncomfortable with constantly trying to “sell” my work. Now that I’m a bit more in the background, I feel much better, and I’m able to meet and connect all kinds of people while working on a wide variety of projects. I think a big part of supporting your own well-being is about finding your niche and your rhythm.

    It also depends on what is most meaningful to you. If you think that your only purpose in life is creating impact with your work, you will quickly find yourself in a difficult situation. A nice evening with friends or singing in a choir for example can also be meaningful, even impactful, in its own way.

    You’re exposed to networks from the inside, so I imagine you must be very aware of what coverage well-being is receiving nowadays. How do you envision social entrepreneurship will change in the future with regards to well-being?

    I see a big connection between well-being and collaboration. I think that deeper collaboration helps with well-being – and the other way around. If you feel like you’re the only one who can change the world, you will inevitably burn out.

    Inner work will help you take the pressure off of yourself. This, in turn, will make it easier for you to delegate tasks and responsibility and to work more collaboratively (the Wellbeing Project Research Report dove into this correlation in detail, it’s very interesting). Social ventures also often compete with each other to solve similar problems. Collaborating and spreading responsibility on more shoulders will really help take pressure off. If your venture fails, you won’t blame yourself personally if you see the broader web that led to this point.

    I hope that people will take a wider view in their work in the future, really considering the whole system. I am convinced that we need (self-)caring collaborators rather than lone warriors in order to bring about systemic change.

     

    In a study, entitled The Possibilists, conducted in 2021 by an alliance of 16 of the world’s leading youth social innovation networks, we found out that 54% of the more than 800 respondents experience a high risk of burnout. To ensure social entrepreneurs are supported, and adopt healthy work and team cultures, it’s crucial the entire social entrepreneurship ecosystem takes action on these findings. For more information on the study and other fascinating data, take a look at The Possibilists website.  

  • Being well for doing good — Transforming the discourse around well-being

    In conversation with Daniel Barbu, founder of I’m Fine.

    Welcome to the first episode of the Being Well for Doing Good series!

    Created in partnership with the non-profit Hil-Foundation, this series will tell the stories of alumni from Social Impact Award around the world, and their journeys with well-being.

    Unfortunately, social entrepreneurs are often faced with intense stress and high risk of burnout. With this in mind, we at SIA have worked to put well-being at the heart of our work, to cultivate a healthy attitude towards social entrepreneurship amongst our participants.

    This week, we sat down with Daniel Barbu, founder and CEO of I’m Fine. Embodying the concept of “vulnerability as strength”, Daniel aims to change the discourse around our approaches to well-being and mental health, knowing personally how well-being practices can change one’s life.

    We hope you enjoy. Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!

     

    Tell us a little bit about yourself, and what your venture I’m Fine does!

    My name is Daniel and I’m 27 years old from Bucharest. I started I’m Fine with my two best friends two years after graduating from University.

    I’m Fine’s mission is to improve people’s mental health by improving access to psychotherapy and improving the results of psychotherapy. In Romania, like in many other developed countries, mental health services are a luxury. Our app provides support services to users for free, and connects users to therapists based on their needs and their preferences.

    I started the venture at a low moment in my life, when I personally experienced how difficult it is to get help. We applied to SIA with only an idea, and by the end of the incubation had a minimum-viable product (MVP) for our app. We’re now working full-time on the venture!

    How did your mental health challenges progress during the creation of your venture?

    It’s hard to truly get rid of these kinds of issues. There’s no nicotine patch, where you lose interest in smoking. I think I needed to find a deeper sense of purpose, something to sink my teeth into while at University. Working on your social venture is very rewarding and versatile, and in a way it’s helped me with these challenges.

    We also do quite well inside the team when it comes to taking care of our mental health, better than most other ventures I know. We are all great friends and know each other’s needs, so it’s easy to understand where we’re coming from. On top of that, our work focuses on mental health and therapy, so we have no problem being vulnerable about this, unlike the culture in Romania.

    What kind of challenges do you run into when it comes to taking care of your well-being while running a venture full-time?

    Uncertainty of cash flow and financial viability puts pressure on us. We charge the therapists who use our app a subscription fee, but we don’t monetize users who need access to therapy. It would help us to do so in the future, but it’s hard to strike a balance between being financially viable and keeping your customers happy, while still making sure they can use our services.

    We also decided to wait for investments and put our own money into the project. However, building our app requires lots of programmers, so we work with freelancers, which tend to be very expensive. This isn’t sustainable in the long-term, as it creates long-hours, uncertainty, and stress.

    What kind of practices have you put in place to keep your well-being in balance while still moving forward with your venture?

    I personally use our product, and go through the therapy process for trauma and social anxieties like public speaking and letting my colleagues down. I also have a strong support network in a supportive family and girlfriend. I was very honest with them about why I am doing this from the get-go, so they understand my reasons for it.

    I think this understanding is really crucial. I urge every new social entrepreneur to take the time to be vulnerable and really explain to those around them why they are embarking on this journey and why it’s important to them. I often see founders directly infer that their loved ones will not be supportive, which can only lead to a negative outcome.

    I also use I’m Fine for guided meditation, and to note down my anxious thoughts. It greatly helps to write down what that negative voice in my head says and break it all down once I am out of an anxious state. Later, when I am in a bad place, I can come back to these positive thoughts, and they help calm me down. I would also encourage anyone who struggles with anxiety to use this practice.

     

    In a study, entitled The Possibilists, conducted in 2021 by an alliance of 16 of the world’s leading youth social innovation networks, we found out that 54% of the more than 800 respondents experience a high risk of burnout. To ensure social entrepreneurs are supported, and adopt healthy work and team cultures, it’s crucial the entire social entrepreneurship ecosystem takes action on these findings. For more information on the study and other fascinating data, take a look at The Possibilists website.  

  • 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 

  • 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.