Alumni Interview: Meet Our 1st Ever Volunteer, Mel

Melanie Akerboom was the first person to ever sign up to _SocialStarters. Since then she’s evolved her career from being a professional photographer into being a social enterprise specialist and she runs a start-up incubator in Berlin.

Her blog (and brand) What A Mission was developed whilst in Kenya, and now includes a directory of social enterprises and support organisations. As if that wasn’t enough she’s recently launched Social Innovation Meets School an initiative aiming to foster creativity, teamwork, problem-solving skills and (social) entrepreneurial thinking amongst youth. Melanie is dedicated to the development of social impact and start-up skills in both her home country and overseas.

We caught back up with nearly 2 years to the day that she joined us in Eldoret in Kenya for our pilot of the first ever 6 week Immersion Programme…

Tell us about yourself, what career were you in before you did _SocialStarters and what prompted you to seek a career in a purpose driven start up?

Right before joining _SocialStarters, I worked as a portrait photographer. Before that, I completed a Masters in Social Entrepreneurship in London and worked for a university in South Africa.  First as an intern and later as an academic assistant in the field of innovative tourism and entrepreneurship. My work included research, tutoring students and managing joint projects with local stakeholders, township based entrepreneurs and social workers. I really, really enjoyed it.

I think my interest in a purpose driven career started already during my studies when we talked about sustainable, responsible and community tourism. I realised, that it is possible do business as well as having social or environmental impact, which somehow I didn’t really consider before.

What were the Top 2 things you learned on the Immersion Programme in Kenya?

People in countries like Kenya are much more community oriented. Due to the need of earning on income, there is a higher entrepreneurial culture than in Germany. People don’t worry too much about failure when starting a (social) business. They just try things out and go for it. And if something doesn’t work, they just move on with something else. It would be great to get that attitude to Germany.

How did the programme affect the way you viewed your career?

The programme confirmed that I want a career with purpose and that I see running my own social business as a viable career choice.  

After completing the programme nearly two years ago now, what’s changed for you, if anything?

I continued seeking a career with purpose and now work as a community and incubator manager at Social Impact in Berlin, Germany. I also recently started my own initiative “Social Innovation Meets School” with a focus on social entrepreneurship education in schools.

What advice would you give to anyone trying to get a career in the world of social impact or start-up?

Find out what issue interests you, get to know the scene in your city and build your network! It may not be possible to get a job straight away, but it is important to network and use the time to better understand the issue. I for instance joined MakeSense Berlin, which is a global community committed to support social entrepreneurs with their challenges. They also raise awareness of global issues and existing solutions to i.e. the refugees crisis and food waste.  

What would you say to someone thinking about travelling with purpose and looking to volunteer?

If that’s something you can afford, then I’d always say go for it! It’s such a great opportunity to get out of your daily routine, help someone with your skills, and learn more about other countries, cultures and way of doing things.


You can find out more about our flagship Immersion Programme, which Melanie was on the pilot of in Kenya HERE. Our deadline for the next two programmes, possibly the only two we run in 2017, is 7th November. Interested? You can apply HERE


One thought on “Alumni Interview: Meet Our 1st Ever Volunteer, Mel

  1. Pingback: How and where to find social impact jobs - Whatamission

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