[Editorial note: Eppie Lau, our staff, attended this year’s Global Social Entrepreneurs Network Conference in Mumbai in October. She met lots and lots of social entrepreneurs all over the world. They are determined to create social change. Read her second post here, and the first, and the third!]
Day 2 kicked off at 8:30am with some much needed coffee and mingling.
One of the first exercises we did as a group, was to write down on a large sheet of paper, ‘Our Dream’, and pin it on our name badges. We then walked around the room, and tried to categorize among ourselves the various themes that emerged from our writings.
The exercise turned out to be a lot more revealing than I had initially thought. Walking around the room, it was a strangely intimate experience, as I felt that I was both learning and sharing something very personal about myself and others.
After this initial ice-breaking, we were all divided into three main groups. My group decided on the name ‘Zen Zone’ (wonderful alliteration, we know!), to symbolize the safe space we hoped to create during the next few days.
After lunch, we did a session called the Trade Shows, where members of the group would share any practical tips & tricks that have helped them in their work.
The first session I attended was Personal Branding. Hosted by Federico Costa, Founder of the SEA – Social Entrepreneurs Agency in Portugal, Federico’s organisation helps train youth and low skilled workers in developing their personal brand for better job opportunities. Federico himself actually had a very inspiring story regarding his journey to social entrepreneurship. When he was 19, Federico lost both his parents to a car crash accident. Originally intending to attend university, Federico suddenly had to stay behind instead to take over the family business. Since all the men traditionally had been entrepreneurs in Federico’s family, Federico decided that if he was to continue the same path, he would want to at least want to create a business that could also benefit others socially, eventually leading to the creation of the Social Entrepreneurs Agency.
Conventionally, we often associate branding with large corporations in their marketing campaigns. We think of advertising agencies, and PR campaigns, all designed with the purpose of having you purchase their products ultimately.
In the start-up world however, things are a bit different. Personal branding IS important, and not just for vanity. A lot of the times, when people or organisations invest in start ups, they are actually investing in the people, and not the start ups. As an entrepreneur, you ARE your company, and the company IS you. Hence, before even having someone trust in your start up, you first need people to put their faith in YOU.
As an employee, this is also relevant. Given so much talk on finding passion at work these days, therefore understanding how talents and passion combine become key to finding satisfaction at work.
Fulfilled employees who enjoy their work often make happy employees, and happy employees often make more productive workers. Productive workers contribute better to an organisation, and thus there is a positive cycle for both the individual and the organisation.
Some tips from Federico:
1) Start by knowing yourself! Do a few personality tests to understand what your talents are.
2) Do you have any other skills? Pair them with your talents to see how they define who you are.
3) After you have figured out your talents and skill sets, figure out what you motivates you- where your passions lie.
4) Lay out your talents, strengths and passions together to see where they intersect.
5) The intersection is where your unique identity lies, and with that you will be able to set goals for yourself to improve your personal brand.
Another session that I appreciated had to do with building a training/mentorship programs within the incubator organisation for staff themselves. Hosted by UnLtd India (link), this session focused on how to ensure that their associates would grow with the start ups.
Realizing that whilst many new associates had the right mindset and passion for their work, they also lacked many skills and experience. Therefore, it was imperative to invest in their own associates as much as they invested into their own incubatees, as the quality of help their incubatees received could only be as good as the quality of their staff.
By identifying the different strengths of their entry level employees, UnLtd India leverages the existing strengths of their staff whilst simultaneously helping them develop other skills.
Although the turnover rate amongst fresh graduates and young professionals is around 3 years these days, Unltd India does not to view training their associates as a sunk cost, but instead an opportunity to make these three years count, so that their associates can be well equipped to move onto other organisations.
The conversation also drifted into the terrain of retaining talent- how did organisations know if they were doing well enough for their staff? It all boiled down to ‘People, Purpose, Passion and Performance’. As one participant put it, ‘it’s okay if people walk away from my organisation if they don’t feel it’s a good fit, but I worry when the right people leave.’
This session definitely struck a very strong chord with me. As a junior staff working in communications, development and capacity building for start ups, I definitely love and enjoy my work, but at the same time it can be a very overwhelming process where I sometimes feel that much of what I’m trying to do is beyond my capacity.
On the one hand, it’s extremely exciting to be in such a new field, like the social start up eco-system in Hong Kong.
There is lots of space for experimentation, and lots of freedom even as a junior staff member to lead projects and develop new ideas, so long as initiative and responsibility is taken for projects.
On the other hand though, because there is so much freedom and that the entire eco-system is quite new, asking for feedback, and learning how to improve can also quite difficult. There’s no straight path, no direct formula for how to ‘succeed’ in your project. No one can promise you a ‘fail proof’ path, and hence the best you can do is approach it with the right attitude and willingness to reflect, evaluate and learn more constantly about how to do better next time.
For us in Hong Kong, this is both a blessing and a curse then. We have the ability to take part in shaping the future and contribute to the creation of the Hong Kong we envision – but at the same time, it can also feel like quite a long and winding path.
Realizing however, that personal growth of junior associates were considered just as integral as the development of the start ups themselves, definitely make me a lot more confident in my abilities to do better work in the long run for the Social Impact Sector.