• From Heropreneurship to Social Entrepreneur – Being Well for Doing Good

    There is a myth surrounding the field of social entrepreneurship that has embedded itself so deeply that most of us have stopped questioning its existence. While this myth has donned many names, it is most notably referred to as “Heropreneurship”. 

    The myth of “Heropreneurship” puts forth the idea that entrepreneurs are heroes who are capable of leading massive teams, make lots of money doing it, and still have time to attend your favorite podcast for an interview, all on their own. For social entrepreneurs, this myth goes one step further in that they should also be capable of solving some of the world’s most pressing issues. 

    Nascent social entrepreneurs therefore start their journey with an unhealthy perception of what they should be capable of achieving in the coming years. But how does this truly impact them? 

    To explore the topic of “Heropreneurship” further and gain real insights directly from SIA alumni, we hosted a breakfast at the Vienna University of Business and Economics (WU) together with Hil-Foundation as part of our partnership on the broader topic of well-being in social entrepreneurship. 

    The event aimed at addressing the topic from two focal points: data, and experience. Dr. Peter Vandor of the Social Entrepreneurship Center at WU and founder of SIA illustrated the former with his scientific findings on the topic, while Hannah Lux, CEO and co-founder of social-venture Vollpension and SIA alumna, illustrated the latter with her personal experiences during the COVID-19 crisis. 

    Speakers at our "From Heropreneurship to Social Entrepreneurship" event

    The alarm is ringing 

    Results from Peter Vandor’s academic study with SIA alumni showed that 43% of SIA alumni have experienced one or more of the symptoms of burnout such as exhaustion, irritability, sleep and anxiety disorders. 5% even suffered from a burnout to the extent that they could not work anymore at all. 

    Although the specific causes of this vary based on factors such as business model and team structure, most of the stress and burnout can be traced back to the intense workload, the high pressure, and the entrepreneur’s attachment to his or her social mission.

    It’s the constant pressure that you have to deliver, and people are waiting for your products that could saves lives and you are not doing anything about it. It’s a constant thing on your mind, the fear that someone could die tomorrow because you took a break. (RO, 2014)

    These pressures tend to be very strong, and make it difficult for entrepreneurs to disconnect from their work, often leading to the deterioration of their inner well-being. This often renders them unable to effectively work on their project and solve the problems they work so hard to solve.

    Having the courage to take a step back

    The co-founder of Vollpension, Hannah Lux, was faced with this difficult dynamic during the COVID-19 crisis. Vollpension is a chain of cafes employing mostly senior citizens, with the aim of fighting old-age poverty and creating intergenerational dialogue. The crisis forced the cafes to close and put her team, especially the seniors, in a difficult situation. Unfortunately, she struggled heavily with the stress and the fatigue from years of work and was forced to take a step back to focus on her health.

    In such a stressful time like last year, the hardest part was to admit to myself that I needed to take a step back. That it really needs a full team to manage all the challenges a crisis like this is bringing along” – Hannah Lux

    She hopes for more honesty across the industry on this topic and aims to build trust with her partners in one-on-one conversations. She sees a particular need to change the perception of social entrepreneurs, to stop painting them as heroes, as this only increases the need for them to seem invincible. 

    Attendees of our "From Heropreneurship to Social Entrepreneurship" event

    The bottom line on “Heropreneurship”

    Considering how many social entrepreneurs face the struggle between their own well-being and their social mission, it is clearly important to find ways to support them. The data and the personal stories of social entrepreneurs from around the world tells us and other support initiatives for young social entrepreneurs to act. 

    Offering professional counseling and preparing the founders for typical stressors at an early stage of their journey are proactive ways of supporting a healthier approach towards social entrepreneurship and away from “Heropreneurship”. Additionally, nascent social entrepreneurs need more information around the importance of self-care and a strong peer network with whom they can share their experiences and celebrate their successes.

    If you would like to learn more about the experiences of social entrepreneurs with well-being, you can check out the first editions of our “Being Well for Doing Good” series on our Blog

     

  • Consistency as a well-being practice for social entrepreneurs — Being well for doing good

    In conversation with Faith Aweko, founder of Reform Africa.

    Welcome to the sixth and final episode of the Being Well for Doing Well 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 wellbeing at the heart of our work, to cultivate a healthy attitude towards social entrepreneurship amongst our participants.

    This week, we sat down with Faith Aweko, founder and CEO of Reform Africa. Armed with a big heart and a strategic mind, Faith is committed to supporting her community and knows wholeheartedly she cannot achieve this goal without taking care of herself.

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

     

    Tell us a little bit about yourself and what your venture Reform Africa does!

    My name is Faith, and I’m the founder of a social venture from Uganda called Reform Africa. Reform Africa employs marginalized youth and women in local communities in Uganda to repurpose plastic waste into sustainable bags.

    When did you first get in touch with the topic of well-being?

    I first got introduced to the topic in 2019 after joining Ashoka’s Changemaker community. We had a session on well-being which fully opened my eyes to the topic. I started focusing more heavily on it when COVID-19 first started, as I had more time to read into productivity, daily habits, and the overall topic.

    What are some of your struggles when it comes to wellbeing?

    I’m always excited to try out new habits around well-being, but my problem is consistency. Over time, I realized that my struggle with consistency came from not having a strong enough end-goal. I want to be able to run a marathon when I will be 70 years old, and this goal keeps me focused on running every morning.

    I also try not to be too hard on myself when it comes to staying consistent. For me, consistency is not about pushing myself, but keeping a steady pace so you can ultimately run the marathon.I also found that caring for something helps me with consistency. I started a garden 6 months ago, and seeing my plants grow keeps me motivated to take care of them every day.

    How does consistency also apply to your venture?

    Consistency is key to maintaining the health of our venture. When someone who is in a very difficult situation, like a parent with no money, comes to us looking for work, it’s very hard to turn them down. When you do give them a job, it creates extra pressure to stay consistent and take care of these people. If the venture fails, these people will lose livelihoods. This is sometimes hard to deal with.

     

    What kind of relationship does your team have with well-being?

    When it comes to the members of my team, we all understand well-being in our own way. We try to keep our relationship as a team open and understanding to fit our needs. For example, one of my colleagues enjoys spending her mornings reading and learning about creative people and creative fields, like architecture. She finds that it widens her mind and heightens her creativity, which helps the quality of her work.

    We also take time to go on walks, and occasionally do some yoga and meditation.

    What advice would you give to your younger-self and to younger generations getting into the field on taking care of their well-being from the beginning of their journey?

    Social entrepreneurship is not an easy journey, but it is so fulfilling. You get to support hundreds and potentially thousands of people in your community. Unfortunately, we often spend so much time focused on these people that we forget to take care of ourselves. If we take this too far, and have a burnout, we might not be present for our community when it needs us most.

    Taking care of your well-being and your health is crucial to making sure your impact is long-lasting.

     

    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.  

  • Balancing passion and self-care when your social venture is growing — Being well for doing good

    In conversation with Dita (Přikrylová) Formánková, Director and Founder of Czechitas.

    Welcome to the fifth 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 wellbeing at the heart of our work, to cultivate a healthy attitude towards social entrepreneurship amongst our participants.

    This week, we sat down with (Přikrylová) Formánková, Founder and Non-Executive Director of Czechitas. After years of working as a very passionate social entrepreneur, Dita is still very much committed to her work, even when her team and venture have stepped into a new phase. With new roles and challenges ahead, she continues to integrate self-care practices into her daily 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 Czechitas does!

    My name is Dita, I come from the Czech Republic and I’m the founder and non-executive director of the social venture Czechitas. We help women and children explore the world of information technologies by offering courses and workshops at an affordable price, ultimately helping place new talents in the IT industry and strengthening diversity and competitiveness.

    I really love my work. I can get up in the morning and be in flow all day long, in the blink of an eye it’s already the evening.

    How do you balance being in flow and losing yourself in your work with taking care of your well-being?

    My husband helps me quite a bit with this. Even though he is a marketing strategist and works solely online, he’s very much an offline guy, focused on high quality nutrition and high quality sleep. I started tracking my sleep more closely since 2017, and I now never sleep less than 7 hours, which has helped quite a lot. I also do lots of exercise, like running every day at lunch. Over time, I realized that “work-life balance” as we know it is not feasible in the digital world. I’ve since shifted my focus away from this concept towards making sure that I am fulfilled by creative and rewarding work, while making sure I have enough “me time” outside of work. In the end, what is important is finding the balance between how much time we spend giving to other people and how much time we spend giving to ourselves.

    Galavečer DA Brno 13.12.2018 | David Poul | www.davidpoul.cz

    I’d love to go deeper into the challenges you are facing with well-being. What do you think is challenging you the most at the moment?

    Right now, the biggest challenge for me is how many times I need to change contexts daily. I decided to take a step away from my work at Czechitas, so I’m currently leading that transition, and I recently joined Avast as Director of Diversity & Inclusion and Communities. My head never stops. When I want to relax, I just start doing something else and get my mind busy again.

    The other challenge is balancing the well-being of my team members, especially in the context of the pandemic, with the growth of the venture. There are more women than ever who need the support we offer, but our internal resources are of course limited, so we need to slow down in some areas of the business.

    How are you relating to the topic of growth at the moment?

    From the venture’s perspective, we opened completely new markets and reached smaller cities in the Czech Republic. We’re reaching more women than ever before, and maximizing our impact. Over the long-term, we don’t want to focus only on IT transit, but also on giving technical & digital skills to women so they can perform in other professions as well. We’re also working with teachers to help them understand the possibilities of remote learning. We try to stay in love with the problems we’re solving and not with our solution, allowing us to adapt to the ever-changing circumstances.

    For my personal growth, my main focus is learning. New adventures fuel me. To be honest, after 7 years of leading the organization and going from 0 to 50 employees, I fell into a routine with Czechitas, and I wanted to explore something new. I also learned that I’m not made to be a manager, but that I’m more of an innovator, a facilitator. My growth away from the company is completely normal, as I became more of a disruptor rather than adding the necessary value.

    Moving away from the venture you poured your heart and soul into is not easy. I struggled greatly with this last year, when I tried to transition away and failed. The network I created at SIA helped me with this, as there were others going through similar experiences. In the end, it’s about letting go of your ego, creating room for trust for your successor, and following your strengths. 

     

    As part of our collaboration with Hil-Foundation, we will be running a breakfast on the topic of well-being with members of the ecosystem in Austria on September 14th. Stay tuned on our social media channels for the outcomes!

    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.  

  • You are much more than a social entrepreneur — Being well for doing good

    In conversation with Andrea Bohačíková, founder of M.arter.

    Welcome to the fourth 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, both of which are exacerbated by the COVID-19 crisis. 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 Andrea Bohačíková, founder of M.arter. Her passion and positive energy drive her every step and help her overcome crises and challenges. Although the COVID-19 pandemic was a roller coaster for Andrea, it gave her the opportunity to slow down and connect with herself in aspects of her life beyond social entrepreneurship.

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

     

    Tell us a bit about yourself, and what your venture M.arter does!

    My name is Andrea, I’m from the Czech Republic and I’m the founder and CEO of M.arter. We run an educational platform for women and men on parental leave. We help them not only get back into the labor market, but also help them with personal development and entrepreneurial skills.

    What is the story behind M.arter?

    I’m a crazy girl without kids (yet). However, in the Czech Republic, women who do have kids go on parental leave for 4 years. In this period, they often become socially isolated, and end up unemployed at the end of their leave. Before COVID-19, 60% of women coming out of parental leave became unemployed.

    In 2018, I went to a SIA workshop to validate a potential solution to this problem, but felt that I was too old to get started. The coordinator of SIA Czech Republic at the time encouraged me to give it a try, so I spent a few weeks doing deep research on and meeting my target audience, while exploring different solutions.

    We’re now a team of 16 people running and contributing to the venture.

    What keeps you motivated to work on this project?

    I often ask myself why I decided to start this venture, as a woman without kids. What I always come back to is the impact of our work, and the feedback we get from our target audience.

    I connect very strongly with nature, it gives me lots of energy. I’m introverted, so I also need time away from people to relax and stay calm.

    How did your relationship with well-being change when COVID-19 hit?

    I have 4 projects, not just M.arter. Before COVID-19 hit, my days were fully packed from morning to evening, meeting different stakeholders and pushing the ventures forward. When it happened, I stopped taking the small steps I usually took like spending time alone in nature. I felt like I needed to work, work, work. This ended up being quite toxic for my mental health, my partner, and ironically also for my work.

    Something that also helped me greatly with my well-being during the pandemic was receiving feedback from my loved ones, colleagues, business partners and my team about myself as a leader. I was doing a leadership program, where we needed to get feedback from people close to us, and this really helped me learn about the dangers of my intensity, in both energy and attitude. As a social entrepreneur, you’re so focused on your mission that sometimes you make irrational decisions. The feedback gave me a different perspective, allowing me to slow down and learn alot about myself in this chaotic time.

    How did you realize you needed to make a change? What came to you at this moment?

    The first days of COVID-19 in our country were very chaotic, as they were in most countries. Fears in the team were high, and I recall having a meeting with our Marketing manager who was particularly worried our venture would not survive the crisis. I promised her we would, but we lacked a strategy to deal with the situation.

    At that point, our long-term strategy was out the window because of COVID-19, so I started recreating a strategy every 3 weeks. This allowed us to adapt as much as possible, and gave a sense of structure to our work. I also acknowledged that I didn’t know what would happen after 3 weeks and told myself it was ok to experience this. This was very liberating and helped me move forward.

    What do you tell yourself in the morning to help you take on so many projects while still catering to your personal needs?

    I usually start my day with exercise, even if it’s just for 10 or 30 minutes. I have breakfast and go for a walk with my dogs without checking my messages. I then start my day with “deep” work, doing my creative work uninterrupted. I use a timekeeper and commit to a certain amount of time for each task, which helps keep me focused. Of course, there are days where my focus is low, so I do easier tasks that require less energy and creativity.

    What would you say to a young person who is getting started with their social entrepreneurship journey to encourage a positive relationship with well-being?

    Find a mentor, consultant or adviser, and try to adopt a growth mindset in your work. Most importantly, don’t lose your direction. Entrepreneurship is a great tool for personal growth but remember that time is a limited commodity. It will be a rollercoaster of a journey, but if you truly believe in your work, you will find a way to succeed. I’m keeping my fingers crossed for you!

     

    As part of our collaboration with Hil-Foundation, we will be running a breakfast on the topic of well-being with members of the ecosystem in Austria on September 14th. Stay tuned on our social media channels for the outcomes!

    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.  

  • Embracing our inner self to create outer change — Being well for doing good

    In conversation with Ema Barba, founder of Bright Living.

    Welcome to the third 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 Ema Barba, founder and trainer at Bright Living. No stranger to adversity (as you will find out further), well-being practices transformed her life. She now endeavours to share these practices with the world, and understands better than most the importance of taking care of one’s own well-being.

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

     

    Tell us a little about yourself and what your venture Bright Living does!

    My name is Ema and I’m from Romania. I founded Bright Living in 2019 with the goal of raising awareness about mental health and bringing people closer to yoga and meditation as a practice for dealing with mental and physical health issues. My work focuses mostly on people who would not normally have access to these kinds of practices, like vulnerable children, people with chronic illness, and low-income households.

    What inspired you to start your venture?

    I had health issues all throughout my childhood, since birth. I had asthma and all sorts of chronic illnesses, which resulted in lots of insecurities and anxieties. For example, I could not play in the snow because I would get pneumonia and end up in the hospital. When I moved to Bucharest, I developed asthma, and thought to myself: now I have every illness, I can’t even walk up the stairs.

    In 2015, two things happened that changed my life. First, I was working in a start-up in education at the time, and one of my colleagues invited me to do yoga every morning in the office before starting work. I accepted, and the more we did this, the more relaxed and focused I felt – I became addicted to yoga. Second, I was going through therapy to work through some emotional issues, which helped me understand how to release negative emotions and how to view the world differently.

    I kept these practices going for some time and in 2016, I was diagnosed asthma-free. I thought this was a miracle, but after more research, I found out that many people with chronic-illnesses had cured themselves through yoga and breathwork. I decided to jump fully into this world and moved to India to study these principles. For two years, I traveled and guided meditation and yoga.

    However, what really inspired me to start Bright Living was a tragic event that took place in my family, where someone was killed as a result of someone else’s anger outburst. I was so sad, and so angry, but not at the event itself. The event showed me that so many people, especially marginalized groups, did not have spaces where they could learn to manage their emotions and deal with anger. Bright Living was my way of helping those people, and doing my part to solve this issue.

    You decided to dive fully into your venture when the pandemic started, which must have been very stressful. With all the experience you gained with your own practices, were you able to successfully manage the stress and the uncertainty?

    I had my moments of difficulty. My parents were some of the first to be diagnosed with COVID-19 in Romania, when the disease was still full of unknowns. In the end, I am human, and I experience stress and panic, but I just have the right tools to deal with them. I focused on being compassionate with myself, and accepting my emotions as they came.

    What advice would you give to someone going through adversity right now on taking care of their well-being?

    Imagine your emotion as a small child that you are holding in your arms. You need to make it feel safe, feel like things are going to be ok. You need to be completely present with it. If you tell it to shut up, and push it away, the child will cry louder and louder because it does not feel heard. I’m also a strong ambassador for crying. I find that crying helps me release the energy that’s flowing through my body. There are many ways of releasing that energy, so it’s about finding the one that fits you best.

    Ultimately, challenges are inevitable. Trying to be kind to yourself through these difficult times can go a long way. Always remember that challenges always turn into growing opportunities, even when they don’t seem like it in the moment.

     

    As part of our collaboration with Hil-Foundation, we will be running a breakfast on the topic of well-being with members of the ecosystem in Austria on September 14th. Stay tuned on our social media channels for the outcomes!

    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.  

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

    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.  

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

    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.