_SocialStarters accelerates with support from the EY Foundation

It’s funny how, as a social entrepreneur you sometimes can’t rest.  I remember applying for the EY Accelerator Programme just before Christmas 2014, sitting in my Mum’s kitchen in Sutton whilst everyone was busying in themselves with their festive preparation. After working solidly on the Kenya pilot for 4 months, taking a break from it all felt quite forced.  I tried to stop working, and do ‘normal’ things that people do in the run up to Christmas, but despite an abundance of movies on offer and an attention deprived old age cat – I just couldn’t stop thinking about work. Without realising it I had fallen into the stereotypical routine of someone who has co-founded a start-up: late nights, long hours, noodles for dinner… constantly thinking about how we can improve on what we’re offering, dreaming big but starting small; with less time spent doing unproductive things, working day and night with all the tenacity you possess to bring your service or product into the world. On the outside (to many) being self-employed looks like a difficult path to follow.  However, people don’t decide one day that they want to become an entrepreneur. Trust me, you wouldn’t choose to live this way unless you were convinced you had the solution to a problem, and every entrepreneur will tell you – it’s like you have a scratch you just can’t itch. And they don’t rest until they have. So I decided to stop trying to attempt to do nothing with my cat and the festive movies, and I wrote my application for the EY Accelerator programme. It felt like the most productive thing to do in that moment, given that during most of my work related moments I’m too stretched to have the headspace to write an application for something highly competitive that there’s a chance I just won’t get. If I hadn’t have done it then in that very specific moment, I very possibly wouldn’t ever have. The Accelerator programme is the EY Foundation’s flagship programme for young business leaders, start-ups and social entrepreneurs. You have to be under 30 to enter (at age 29, I just scraped in!) and your social venture has to specifically support young people into employment, training or enterprise. Which was exactly what we had been doing in Kenya. Fast forward to February 2015, a few months later. Andrea and I on a 14 hour-in-one-day road trip to visit an investee of UnLtd Hyderabad, with our client, UnLtd’s CEO and founder Raj Janagam.  We have curry for breakfast, lunch and dinner; we pass temples, rivers, coconut trees, women in colourful saris, herds of goats taking over the road. We sit in on Raj’s meeting with Abdul who is working on his social enterprise We Weave, teaching unemployed women to make woven handicrafts from the troublesome water hyacinth that invades the local lakes, bringing pesky snakes and mosquitos with it. We watch the women outside Abdul’s family home huddled in a group, talking and weaving the reeds. We say our goodbyes and start the drive back just as the sun is setting. It’s a little bit nice. On a six hour drive back to Hyderabad, in the back of a tiny car with a trigger happy horn-honking driver, Andrea and I go into business planning mode and brainstorm our ideas for the year ahead to pass the time.  It was same the day I had been told I would hear back from the EY Foundation and I couldn’t stop checking my phone. Nothing. Then it died. So I just had to wait. The drive home passed relatively quickly, but that last hour really seemed to drag. At 1am upon our arrival back at our guest house, I had received an email – I’d gotten in. EY Accelerator is an amazing opportunity to take part in workshops, access a project support panel, attend networking events and receive support from EY’s experts. But most importantly I get my own business coach for 18 months. In fact have two coaches! Just as Andrea and I are about to enter into several important weeks that we have assigned to ourselves for more structured (and less back-of-a-car-on-a-long-drive) business planning, to plan the future of _SocialStarters, we are now receiving advisory support from Andrew Fernando and Saad Akbar Khan from EY to support us along the way. So I guess it just goes to show – you can’t plan too much in this unpredictable world of social entrepreneurship and start-up. Those late hours, and that restlessness – it might be the universe’s way of aligning itself. And you just never know when that all important itch might actually just get scratched.

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2 thoughts on “_SocialStarters accelerates with support from the EY Foundation

  1. Wow that is so brilliant. Well done Anna and obviously you produced your own belated Christmas present by concentrating on the application. Keep pushing forward

    Margaret

    Like

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