The idea for _SocialStarters felt like it came out of Anna’s and my brain like a lightning bolt during the summer of 2014 whilst volunteering in Kenya. But it had actually been there inside us for a lot longer, without us even realising.

Anna and I separately, without knowing each other, had been thinking quite a bit about our futures, wondering what the right path was. We both knew we didn’t want to work for large organisations, at least for the forseeable future, and we knew having spent lots of time overseas, that we wanted to do something abroad. We could see how much opportunity there was to provide a platform for talented young people who don’t have the same access to new ways of thinking.

As it turns out, we nearly could have met a year prior at an Escape The City event in London – a talk given by a corporate ‘escapee’ (as they’ve been coined), who had started a social enterprise related business overseas working with volunteers from the UK. Inspired, I’d carried on working in the UK as a freelancer with no idea that a year later I’d have left my short lived freelance career in marketing and advertising, and started a start-up experiment of my own.

Even though we’ve already started our first programme, I still call it an experiment. It’s the humble beginnings of a business, really. Potentially. Hopefully. No scratch that! It is. I guess we’re all scared (even if just a little bit) about failure… of going into the world screaming ‘I have a new business!’ before we are even a year in and can definitely say ‘It worked’. But it’s the humble beginnings of a new start-up in a challenging space – human capital – and even a year down the line, it still, and possibly always will, be somewhat a bit of an experiment.

Adopting human centred design methods into our approach, we’ve created a platform for like minded people to #JoinUs on our mission. The mission? To bring together people from different worlds to create change.

Intentionally ambigious (we want to do this globally, and with all different kinds of people) – our current mission is in Kenya. A group of international volunteers have joined us in Eldoret, Western Kenya in the role of Social Enterprise Consultants and together we are working with five young people from VSO’s ICS programme and equally four community groups who have been engaged through the YEDF (Youth Enterprise Development Fund) programme. We just spent our first week together learning about social entrepreneurship globally, as well as locally in Kenya (which proved the most beneficial), plus digging deeper into the entrepreneurial mindset, creativity and innovation and what we’ll spend most our time doing – identifying problems and finding solutions to them.

Split into Problem/Solution teams, we will be taking the Kenyan participants on a journey over five weeks from ideation to launching prototypes or MVPs, starting some new social enterprises along the way – and with the groups, we’ll be facilitating them through a process that explores capacity building and increased revenue generation. Along for the ride are two students from Eldoret’s Polytechnic who are studying Social Work & Community Development.

What is it like running a start-up for career changers and volunteers?

Like any start-up, the hours are long. It’s like having two (maybe three) different jobs. No surprises there I suppose. The job I do between 8am-7pm (Training, Programme Management, Consulting) is best described as ‘being in the present’. Then there’s being a Co-Founder of a business with ambitious plans. Sort of like being a futurist. Trying to predict the best way into growth.

Also, given the number one cause of most social issues in developing countries is unemployment, Anna and I are always thinking about how we create something locally run. It’s important to us that we are providing new and local jobs for people. This keeps us awake at night! How do you build people up to be ‘experts’ in a short timeframe and then hand them a programme to run for you whilst keeping quality control? Perhaps this is where our volunteers/Social Enterprise Consultants come in. This could be true learning by doing. A staggered recruitment process, perhaps. The filtering down of responsibility, a three-fold route to being locally run.

So we’ve adopted a model of testing. By seeing who is up for joining us on this unpredictable, relatively unstructured, pivot forward or to the side or back, start-up experiment. And what better way to learn how to start up a social impact business, than to be thrown into the deep end of one right? Many of our consultants are keen to launch their own impact businesses in the near future. So we’re hoping to see the launch of social impact businesses in all directions. From Berlin to Brazil.

I am so excited about working with people who are like me, only a few years ago. Whilst doing amazing work for brilliant people right up to our launch (people who I can wholeheartedly say without having worked with I’m not even sure I’d be here doing this right now) I still so desperately felt like I had more to offer. This actually held me back from really progressing in any organisation, start-up or global (and everything in between), because I was always looking for the next thing – I had an itch I couldn’t scratch.

Starting up your own business, testing ideas as you go to see where you get most traction, is like scratching that itch. In my ‘other’ job (Co-Founder / Futurist) I get to ask the twittersphere:

And we’re really listening. India, our next location, is a result of people telling us they wanted to launch social enterprises there.

Additionally to that, just this morning (it’s a Saturday) I woke up thinking about how we create shorter term career coaching and social impact start-up programmes in Europe (Berlin? Malta? South of France?) for career changers who aren’t quite ready to take 6 weeks out their life. People are asking us, ‘do you do shorter experiences?’. Therefore we are testing the response we could get for a 2 week long programme in India at the moment. Read more about it here. So far we’ve had nearly 500 people view it on Escape The City’s voluntary opportunities portal, and 36 people have clicked to apply.

As much as there are ups and downs, late and restless nights, repeated conversations that go round in circles sometimes and lots of different directions we could be going in; the one anchor that pulls us back every time, is to think about why we are doing all of this in the first place. Which is to remind ourselves, that whatever we do, where ever we are, and whomever we are working with we just want to bring together brilliant people from different worlds to create change.

_SocialStarters is launching a new 6 week long immersion programme in India in February 2015. To find out more check us out on Escape The City HERE.

To find out about our other programmes and opportunities, check out our website


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