Start-Ups & Social Enterprises

Written by Deborah Ives, Social Impact Consultant, Brazil June 2016.

After ten days or so of being a tourist, it’s time to work. I have come to Rio to volunteer as a Social Impact Consultant with _SocialStarters, a startup company set up to match volunteer career breakers like myself with talented social entrepreneurs in India, Sri Lanka, Brazil and the Philippines: six weeks working alongside creative and cultural youth and community projects, providing business mentoring and transferring business skills, while also enjoying the fun and cultural experience of being in a new city. Perfect – travel with a purpose!

Monday morning, and after a tentative start on the metro, we make our way to our new base for the next six weeks, a community work space in a great part of town, Botafogo. First impressions from the outside are favourable – beats some warehouse in Shoreditch – and inside it’s what you’d expect from such a work space – vibrant and cool.

I am very familiar with the startup world, having worked in numerous high tech startups over the years, but not exactly sure what a social enterprise is? I’ve read a lot about it but it seems a bit confusing. Is it a charity? Is it a company who makes donations to a local cause?  Something in between? All becomes clear during the next few days as we set about working on our own understanding and definition.

A Social Enterprise is an entity, which provides a service or product that adds a social value while making a profit

The three day intensive orientation programme is incredibly interesting and a bit overwhelming and on Tuesday we break the day with a visit to our first favela to see one of the art projects in action. Problem number 1 – actually getting there. The favelas are perched up on hillsides with little or no access by road and ultimately, after dicing with death in a van/taxi, we arrive at the bottom of some steep steps and it’s time to walk. It’s pretty clear how these favelas are run and hard to remain totally unmoved by what we see, but this is life here and as long as we respect the rules we’re assured that we’ll be fine.

This is just a taste of what’s to come during our stay but at the end of our orientation programme we’re keen to hear who our clients will be and find out exactly what we’ll be doing over the next six weeks. I’m excited to find out that I’ll be working with a young girl called Elisa who has set up a project called Horta Inteligente – a community garden in the favela Providencia, which uses the space to educate young children about healthy eating, recycling and waste management.  Elisa has built a great programmes that she runs with volunteers and wants my help in building a strategy that will enable the project to generate income from products or services allowing it to be self funding.  This is right up my street and I’m motivated and excited to get started.  My team mates will be working on projects related to favela tours and children’s education and we will all help in each others work, which is also great news.  I’ll meet Elisa tomorrow to plan how we’ll move forward but before that there’s an urban art exhibition to attend, hosted in our workspace. It’s impressive but God, I feel old!

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