Raising The Bar

Wednesday 19th February. A beautiful summer evening in Wellington and Mac’s cable room on the waterfront is packed with 200 people, all there to listen to the final showcase of NZ’s first Social Enterprise Accelerator programme.

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All 7 teams delivered fantastic pitches – true and worthy reflections of the blood, sweat and fire they have poured into their ventures all summer long.

The blank stares and uncertainty from day 1, distant memories. The nerves of not being able to pitch without notes, a killer 5 weeks ago, also long forgotten. Replaced on the stage with strong confidence and ownership, they all presented like established founders running credible ventures. And so they should.

We designed Live the Dream with clear goals – to radically upskill and grow the capacity of New Zealand’s next generation of social entrepreneurs and help them launch their ventures. The final event showed us not just that the teams learned to pitch, but they learned to build a business, grew in confidence, created networks and partnerships and, most importantly learned fundamental processes and techniques that will hold them in good stead – not just for their current projects, but the next ones, and the next ones, and the next ones after that.

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Pitches aside, a significant highlight of the final event was the diversity of the crowd – a room full of people from large corporate businesses, SME’s and consultancies, local government, NGOs and the vibrant startup community. All of these people – excited, inspired, business cards flying and new connections being made.

The community in Wellington has been so responsive, so supportive of Live the Dream; it seems everyone genuinely wants to see more of this type of thing happen – and quite genuinely, we need it. The more people upskilled to use entrepreneurship to tackle the big social and environmental problems in front of us, the better off we all are.

Social Enterprise, the 4th sector, allows us to break the rules. It is a call to arms, a completely inclusive exercise in wide collaboration, and can be actively supported by everyone: From multinational corporations, to local governments to small non-profit charitable trusts. When designing businesses towards positive impact there is a part for everyone to play.

 

And the game has started.

 

A massive thanks to the partners and contributors to the programme to help us kick this off. If we keep raising the bar for partners, for mentors, for contributors and for founders and their ventures – I’m sure that as a community, we’ll rise to the challenge.

So let’s do it, let’s keep the momentum going, let’s keep pushing. Let’s rise to the challenge and make New Zealand a world leader in launching and supporting impactful, viable social enterprises.

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Week Ten: Urban Kai

In the hectic final days of the programme, WEEK TEN saw me speaking to Ania and Charmaine about one of my favorite topics- food. They are passionate about the way we produce, eat and dispose of food, and are pushing for communities to rethink and redesign these processes through their project URBAN KAI.

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Tell us a bit about Urban Kai- you’re looking to change ideas around food. Why are you so passionate about this?

Charmaine: The whole issue around food is that, well, we all eat food. And we don’t give it as much thought as we should- we don’t think about its production, to what happens when it goes to waste, the impact of these things on our health and the environment.

Ania: People in urban environments are increasingly disconnected to what they eat and where it comes from- we want to reconnect people to their food. There are major repercussions around what and how we eat- what you eat massively affects your health, how you eat has heavy impact the environment. A report coming out of the UN predicted that in the very near future, a substantial proportion of food will have to be produced in urban environments. The current system is in many ways ridiculous, and very unsustainable. So much food is coming into urban communities, but nothing is going back out. Food waste is not going back into fertilizing the land, where it is badly needed.

 

So what will Urban Kai do to address this?

Ania: There are a couple of different areas we will focus on through Urban Kai. Part of it is a food scrap pick up programme, where we will pick up food scraps from small businesses and households that can’t or don’t compost.  We’ll also take other organic byproducts of an urban environment, like shredded paper and coffee grind- diverting organic matter from landfills. We’re hoping to do this by bike- determined actually, even though everyone has told us this is a stupid idea in Wellington!

Charmaine: Then we’ll use this waste to fertilize the second part of the project, which is the urban farm. This space will be used to grow herbs and salad greens and other produce to sell to restaurants and shops like Common Sense Organics. But around and through that, we want to educate people on what they can do in an urban environment to grow their own food.

Ania: We essentially want to create an urban food system, a holistic cycle where food waste can go back into the land. We want to create a more closed loop than currently exists. And we want to make it really transparent where everything is coming from and where everything is going, so that more people understand what happens in food production and waste. I used to be an after school gardening teacher, and know first hand that children are more likely to eat what they make. Obesity rates are becoming a huge problem- we want to get people thinking about how home gardening and food education can change that.

 

How has it been at Live the Dream for these past 10 weeks? 

Ania: It’s a really great social enterprise community. It’s so good to be around so many people who are being driven by their passion and living it out. Sometimes it’s hard, but it’s encouraging the number of  people that have come in to give their time and energy to help us. And from a practical skills level, I’ve upskilled a lot. I’m really grateful for the opportunity.

Charmaine: I have learned so much- learning by doing is so valuable. My job is at Enspiral is in accounting, so a lot of what we have gone through is what my clients are going through. It’s given me a wider view of how businesses start up and what you need to do to make it successful.

 

What is a thought that has captured you this week?

Ania: I guess it’s really all about looking how to go forward from here. We have been in a really reflective space, reviewing where we have come from, what we have done, what we are going to do next.

Charmaine: Ants was saying to us today, that there are a thousand different ways to do this- but it’s about finding the way that works for us. We are figuring out a model that is sustainable and suits us, thinking about how we can be effective but still get enjoyment out of it.

 

What are you reading right now?

Ania: It’s pretty embarrassing- I’m actually reading this really shitty gardening/romance novel, just to get me to relax and stop thinking about things before I go to bed.

Charmaine: The latest Chartered Accountant’s Journal- that one also gets you to sleep!

 

Do you have any heroes or inspirations?

Ania: Joel Salatin- an American farmer who has developed a farming system that actually builds up the topsoil and improves the fertility of the land rather than depleting it. It’s incredible- what would naturally take hundreds of years to build up he accomplishes through crop rotation. Also Alice Waters, who is a chef in the US that works a lot around food education.

Charmaine: For me, what I find inspiring is just seeing examples of people growing their own food . I love community gardens and when we travel around New Zealand we always stop and look at what people do.

 

What is your favorite quote?

Ania: Grow some shit! That’s from a TED Talks by Rob Finley. He’s also amazing- he’s this American guy who started taking over verges (the little strips of grass on sidewalks) and other grass patches to plants veggies and gardens.

http://www.ted.com/talks/ron_finley_a_guerilla_gardener_in_south_central_la.html

 

What is your vision for world?

Ania: People growing and eating better- in a way that is good for them and good for the environment. Especially in urban environments because it’s harder to do, but so necessary. It’s a quality of life issue. I don’t think people realise how important it is.

 

What is something you want to tell the world?

Ania: Think about what you eat.

Charmaine: You can actually grow things anywhere- it’s not as hard as you think it is!

Week Nine: Boom

In WEEK NINE I had the pleasure of chatting with Jenna about her passions, plans and project BOOM. She and partner Annalise have embarked on an ambitious mission to inspire and empower young people to make an impact.

 

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Tell us a bit about your project..

Boom is about enabling young people to create and implement projects that address the causes they care about.

 

What does it involve?

At the moment, there are two prongs to what we do at Boom. One is a community project program- starting next month, we will go into schools and work with groups of students to address problems in their communities, develop solutions and implement them.

The other side is online campaigns- we work with groups of 13-18 year olds (the Boom Boards) who develop campaigns based on the issues their peers care about. We plan to have a network of them all over the country, one in every region. We discover through market research what it is that young people care about, then go to the Boom Boards and say, hey what should we do to fix it?

 

You obviously really believe in the potential of young people.

We have been contacted by so many young people that want to do something. I talked to this young girl a little while ago, and asked what she wanted to change, what she cared about. She started talking about the war in Syria. It’s crazy how outward looking these young people are.  Young people in New Zealand care about poverty overseas. They know that they are so lucky and they feel a burden and duty to do something for others.

There are lots of youth programs out there – but they’re not always accessible to everyone. Our programs aren’t just for prefects, but for anyone with a passion or a cause. We want to always make sure that young people are the ones to actually lead it- to identify the problem, create a solution, and implement it. Especially with the Boom Boards, they are the ones to drive it.

 

How did you end up here at Live the Dream?

Annalise and I have gone back and forth for the last few years, about cool ideas that we could explore for social change. My background is in law – I worked in criminal for a while, then in tax for four years. But I’ve always get involved in something like this where I can see the difference I make every day.

We found out about the program through KPMG, which is a sponsor, and we actually had other ideas that we were going to apply with. But a week before the pitch we learned about a program similar to Boom, that was happening in America. And we had recently talked with some young people, and saw that they felt somewhat despondent about their role in the world – they saw all these issues but didn’t know what to do about them. So we applied with the idea of Boom, got in, and I quit my job and came here.

 

That’s a big jump- what drove you to quit a steady job and take 10 weeks of your life to be here at Live the Dream?

I just couldn’t shake the feeling that I needed to be putting my time and energy into something that really aligned with my personal values. I wanted to do something I was passionate about. It was definitely one of the scariest decisions I’ve ever had to make. But it turned out so good.

 

That’s very brave..

Kind of! That is what everyone says, but really I just reached a point where I had to – where I needed to do something that I cared about, where I felt like my passions and energy could be used to their full potential.

 

And what impact has being here had so far?

Awesome. It’s the best thing I’ve ever done. There’s just so much learning, so many new people. My background – in the legal, corporate world – had trained me to have certain mindsets, to think in a certain way. But these 9 weeks have opened my mind to so many so many new ideas. It’s tiring- but such an awesome time. I’m so stoked that I did it.

 

No regrets?

No, absolutely not! Definitely not.

 

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What have you been doing this week at Live the Dream?

This week has been a really big week for us – we have had meetings with the government and pitching at KPMG. And we are preparing for our first event, which will be on March 2nd. It’s called Drop a Line, and takes place at the beginning of Sea Week – a music competition for teenagers down near the Viaduct in Auckland, aimed to get people involved with issues around the ocean.

 

What have you learned this week about starting a social enterprise?

Something that I’ve thought about a lot this week is our ability to keep going, in the long run. Last week I almost lost the plot, just with how much work we had been doing! This week I’ve made a point to go home at a certain time, leave my computer here so I can’t stay up till who knows when answering emails. Those few hours of off time have made me so much happier and more productive in the mornings.

 

What is your vision for this world?

My personal vision is that everyone would be working at what they love, and putting their motivation and energy into what they find meaningful.

For Boom I want to see young people in New Zealand doing just that thing- funneling their motivation and energy into good- You can only imagine what the country would look like if everyone did that.

 

Who are some of your heroes?

There are two guys who write this blog called The Minimalists. They did the same thing as me, quit their jobs- and then started blogging about trying to make your life more meaningful.

Also this guy named Dean Karnazes, who is an ultra-marathon runner. He was in the corporate world as well, decided he liked running, and just quit his job and started doing what he loved. He ran 50 marathons in 50 days.

 

Why these guys?

I just love people that are doing things that they really enjoy – and making people’s lives better as a result.

 

Favorite movie?

Life as a House.

 

What are you reading right now?

Richard Branson’s Screw Business as Usual.

 

What’s your favorite quote?

There’s a few- I used to quite like A diamond is just another piece of coal that has done well under pressure, and also – Opportunity knocks, but doesn’t always answer to its name.

My favourite at the moment is one we kind of made up ourselves- It’s more than ok to colour outside the lines.

 

What is something you’d like to tell the world?

Go and do things that you enjoy and that will make the world a better place.

Week Eight: Social Lab

In WEEK EIGHT I chatted with Carrina from SOCIAL LAB, a project dedicated to reducing waste and changing attitudes towards recycling. Using the platform of ALES AND NAILS events, they combine good old fashioned Kiwi DIY with creativity, fun, and community (with a few craft beers thrown in!)- to influence behaviours around waste in New Zealand.

 

Tell us a bit about your project..

We are trying to encourage young urbanites to realise the value of what is usually considered waste. We do this by running events called Ales and Nails, where people come and build furniture from pallets, and have a couple beers after.

 

What triggered this?

It came from a conversation I had with a friend who had just made a table from waste wood. After that I did some research and found out the huge amounts of woodwaste going to the tip, wood that was perfectly usable but not being used. We tried to figure out what to do about it, how to reduce that number. We really wanted to have this social aspect to it – it is about people and attitudes and behaviours and not just waste – and decided to run events.

 

What is the philosophy behind the Ales and Nails events?

I think it comes down to both of our personalities – we’re pretty honest, down to earth, laid back. We like puns as well, and have this phrase – we want to create a space that’s as chilled as the beer. We don’t want anything too formal. And we are part of the target market for these events. We want it to be like a creative jam sesh.

 

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What have you been doing this week at Live the Dream?

We launched our website! It’s at http://www.sociallab.co.nz
And we have got our events up and running- tickets are live. We are now getting ready for final pitch. We are developing our marketing, and trying to figure out the best way to tell our story, as opposed to just facts.

 

What have you learned so far about starting a social enterprise?

It’s a massive commitment – the people we hear from keep reminding us how much work there is to be done when you are starting something like this. You’ve got to know your purpose. And you’ve got to be smart about reaching your target audience, using the right channels to do so, utilizing strategic management and planning.

 

What is driving you to do take 10 weeks of your life to dedicate to this?

Really, the learning from it – it’s called an accelerator program for a reason. There is no way that Social Lab would be where it is now without it. It might have taken a year for us to get to where we are now. It’s a space where we are challenged and put out of our comfort zone. We wanted to make the most of the opportunity we had been given.

 

What is the impact that being here has had on you?

Heaps! We have both built a really good network of people around us – mentors and people that have fed into our business and helped us define our focus. Learning the process of building an enterprise, developing what we are doing, has been really beneficial to both of us. It can be applied to any business, not just this one. It’s going to be a massive benefit to us in whatever we do.

 

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What is your biggest take away from this week?

One of the contributors this week spoke about how perceptions lead to beliefs that lead to behaviour. We are very much focused on encouraging behaviour change, not just running events. So we are trying to be conscious in planning the events, of the goal of changing perceptions- in order to see long term behaviour change.

 

What’s a thought that has captured you this week?

Kate from All Good was talking to us about ethical marketing- one thing that I found interesting and have been grappling with, is whether it is the same to be an enterprise with a good social purpose or just be a business that puts a profit towards social purposes. It’s a hard one to figure out, but it was a good thing to think about. I don’t know if they are… I think to me, the purpose matters and not just the impact.

 

What is your vision for this world?

For Social Lab, it is to know that people who have been at our events being influenced by the activities we are running. We want to see the behaviour that comes of that, to see more re-use of wood and other waste.

For me personally, I’m really passionate about child poverty, and the situation for families in New Zealand. So I think what I want to see is just general equality. A much bigger middle class, that middle class would be the norm again. Essentially, zero poverty.

A Vision Worth Realising

When we started planning Live the Dream it seemed impossible. I’d tried to get it off the ground the previous year, unsuccessfully pitching it to one of the big banks to come on board as a partner because there was ‘too much risk’ for them. I became increasingly aware of the unrivalled passion, energy and idealism that young people have and thought New Zealand could be doing a better job of supporting this. And that, whilst we had great supports for high growth commercial enterprise there were big gaps around supporting more holistic entrepreneurship for social and/or environmental impact.
 

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So in 2013 in the lead up to our third Festival for the Future, on the back of a lot of conversations and research looking at various social enterprise accelerator type programmes it felt like the right time to take the next step. Even though we had no resource to make it happen, we put a stake in the ground and made a commitment. We built the brand & website, and put the call out for for ideas all with less than $1,000 – still with no way to resource a programme, but knowing that we would do whatever it took to make it happen. If we didn’t take that risk, Live the Dream wouldn’t exist.

Fast-forward to now and the partners who share our vision and stepped up to support have been amazing. The participants and their early-stage ventures have gone from strength-to-strength. I love this piece of feedback from Otago participant, Lindsey Horne who has moved her life to Wellington for summer to take part – “I honestly feel like I’ve learned more in past 7 weeks than in the past 3 years at university.”
 

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We’re now in the final three weeks of the programme. From here those teams that have ‘validated’ their idea will fine tune their business models and strategy moving forwards. We’re also working towards our ‘Final Showcase’ event for 19th February in Wellington – drop Charlotte a line if you’re keen to come along. RSVP’s are essential.
 

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It’s common knowledge that 90% of start-ups fail, but whether it’s the third, fourth or fifth venture – the amount of applied professional development these guys have had has been amazing, and whatever they go on to do they’ll be in good stead. Even though it’s still early days, Live the Dream has already exceeded expectations. I honestly feel like the scope for this type of programme is huge – there’s no reason why this couldn’t be rolled out on campus in every region of New Zealand. Imagine the possiblities!