I think it is mainly about your motivation to help people or the environment. So if you are a social worker and you see an opportunity to provide products or services and thereby solving an environmental or social problem, and you do this ethically, then you still have the social motive.Muhammed Yunus defined a few principles that social businesses have to fulfil to call themselves social businesses.You may read about it here.
And, I think they make a lot of sense. However, I think you can also create businesses that solve social or environmental problems that do not fulfill all of these criteria e.g. that investors get back only the money they put in. Then maybe we can call these businesses “impact businesses” or something else. But going back to the original question: A social worker can become an entrepreneur and still be social by starting a business with a social business objective. Of course this also requires learning about business and entrepreneurship.
2 . What are the kind of social projects that you are passionate about?
I am passionate about projects that have an interesting and inspiring story. I think most projects have these stories but not always are they clearly communicated. But when people start communicating their stories it is great. The difficulties they had to overcome. The challenges they faced. And how they prevailed despite of it. These stories have the power to inspire all of us and show us that it is possible to contribute to better world.
But I am also passionate about social projects that are scalable and have an impact on a wide scale. In a way, I like big visions and dreamers, that challenge our limited thinking and invite us to think about what could be possible. If a social project has a big vision, I get passionate about it. Although big is of course relative and thinking big and still having a tangible local impact is very important.
3.How do you manage to club adventure travel with social causes?
(laughs) I just do it. I have become a passionate adventurer. And I also love to start projects that I feel, matter. So combining these two through campaigning and fundraising activities has been a logical step. The adventures are quite a useful tool for drawing attention to your cause. They make for a compelling story and journalists love that.
4.Narrate to us a situation from one of your travels which inspired you to continue the journey despite the odds.
When I we were cycling through Iran on our way to India in 2012, I received a call that my brother in Germany had died in a motorbiking accident. That really shocked me. Two of our team members had already left the tour. So we were down to two people, only my friend Erik and I. I sort of knew that if I stopped the cycling to India adventure at this point, we probably wouldn’t complete it. So I talked to my mom and asked her whether she would allow me to continue the journey, since she was the only one that could have made me stop then. I sort of felt that my brother would have also wanted me to finish our tour and make the project a success and that I couldn’t do much for him anyways except keep him in good memories and carry him in my heart. My mother gave me her blessings although she was also afraid that something could happen to me as we were approaching the most difficult part of our journey at the border of Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan. But the death of my brother also made clear to me that we only have NOW to experience life. So if we are experiencing life in our bodies on this earth and we will eventually die, we might as well see it as an adventure, do good things and make this journey a good one, for ourselves and others. It became clear for me that I don’t want to compromise on my dreams. That I want to use my time on this earth to help others. And that it is all about the way. So Erik and I continued our journey through the Iranian desert and I am very glad we did.
5.What is your advice to novice social entrepreneurs?
Try to learn as much about business as you can and be very clear about what your motives are for doing it. I think starting a social business can be much harder than starting an “ordinary business”. You do not only have to build an financially sustainable business, but you also want to solve a social or environmental problem. And the people you want to solve this problem for might not even be your direct customers. So maybe you have beneficiaries and customers, that you have to keep in mind.
This double bottom line and possibly even having two target groups, your customers and the beneficiaries, presents a challenge that a social entrepreneur takes on.
6. So how can one learn and get started?
First of all, just start. Talk to your target audience. Talk to your beneficiaries and the people you want to help and really understand their needs and the problems they are facing. Build a small solution for them. A test. An experiment. If the experiment works and actually helps solve a problem, then you can go from there.
Second, learn from people who have already built successful (social) businesses. Meet them, ask them, interview them. Read their books. I am a big advocate of reading to learn about any subject. If you read, one or two startup books a week and delve into personal development literature I think you almost can’t avoid becoming better. Also, you can and should read biographies of people you admire, be that Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Mandela or Professor Yunus. In the end, the organisation you built will, at least partially, be a reflection of your own mindset, thinking and personality. So it makes sense to invest in building your personality and learning from people who have already created enterprises and movements.