_SocialStarters Day One

In Switzerland we have this joke that goes: yesterday I did not know how to spell engineer and today I am one’. Well, replace “engineer” with “social impact consultant” and you get an inkling of the adventure we are on.

I did not know a lot about social entrepreneurship before I came to Rio. I had read all the pre-programme articles sent to us and that was helpful, but apart from a strong gut feeling that I absolutely had to be on this specific _SocialStarters programme at this point in my life, I was rather unsure of where I might fit in and be useful, having no experience working with charities or NGOs. I needn’t have worried, I guess, because the people at _SocialStarters do vet and interview potential participants and part of the six week programme consists of working with their help on your personal development in this field. And I got some really interesting pointers today.

We had a blessedly interactive introduction to social entrepreneurship in general and to some of the active parties in Brazil and Rio in particular. We did this in our new “headquarters” at Eixo Rio’s office, a mixture between art space and co-working location in a wonderful old house only one metro stop away from our temporary home. And I think I finally got it: social entrepreneurship happens in the sweet spot where business interests and social causes meet and instead of having a mercy  f**k or a fleeting affair, they have consensual, wild, mutually satisfying sex. Repeatedly. It’s business that has at its core to make the world a better place. Or social work that does not depend on someone’s generosity, but generates its own funds. I am very probably simplifying things by saying that, but that’s how I understood it.

We spent the afternoon with one of our clients in the favela of Santa Marta. This blog is too short to share the whole experience, but I am sure that Sheila, our charismatic client, will come up again and again in our writings, especially since we kind of decided to take her on as a group project so we all get the chance to work with her and give input to the many causes she champions/supports/embodies.

Going on a tour through a favela can be an uncomfortable thing, and not only because to actually get there you have to take the steepest, hottest and most claustrophobic funicular you could imagine. You do not want to behave like people on a safari watching exotic animals in their natural habitat and taking photos of picturesque details, but you also do not want to look away. Having the outspoken Sheila, who has lived all her life in Santa Marta, as a guide, and knowing that we need to understand as much as possible about the realities of the place because we all will be thinking up possible ways to support them, made for a unique, often funny, thought provoking experience. It also made us desperately wish for a cold beer on coming home, so that’s what we all will get now.

Would you like to #JoinUs in either Brazil, India, or Sri Lanka in 2016? APPLY HERE. Immersion Programmes are running throughout the year as well as a new programme format for people who can’t take 6 weeks out of their lives – our 2-3 week Inspiration Programme in Rio in August/September, and our flexible volunteer programme _TheAssignment. See our website for more details www.socialstarters.org.