2016 has come to an end. A challenging year for many of us. The city terrorist attacks we have experienced in Europe, coupled with the multiple democratic results including Brexit, “Spain” and most recently Trump’s victory have been a tremendous disillusion and a feeling of step back for humanity.
I have to admit these events have saddened me this year more so than in other moments. You see, the last 7 years since I left my last job at GE, I have put all my energy, money and time into bringing forth social innovation to place a little grain of salt on issues around climate change, immigration, women entrepreneurs, poverty and education. My first project, which some of you might remember, Bloom Microventures in Vietnam which we set up as a UK charity in 2009 is operating and ran by two local women, and has given stable jobs to a young team in Hanoi, microfinance loans to +700 women in rural areas to develop their microbusinesses, as well as educated thousands of travellers into the consequences of war zones. I am very proud of this project to which we founded and planted the seed, yet in the myriad of things happening, it feels like a small victory towards the work we have ahead.
And yes, they say the sum of small victories is what will make a change. But seeing the turn of things a sense of urgency has come about me. I truly believe that there are two main ingredients to producing change that are absolutely necessary: our education and the way we do business. Let me explain.
Education: Since my return to Spain, my curiosity to understand why the institution of universities has remained unchanged, has led me to get guest teaching assignments in all major universities in Barcelona, including top level business schools. I also got a scholarship to do a master’s in a finnish university, exploring their educational system. What I have seen: we are not creating young people with critical minds, able to question the status quo. We are not building the confidence from this “lost generation” in a typical classroom setting. And quite frankly, looking at my own education, if I had to pick one thing that has completely transformed my worldview, opened my eyes and most importantly my heart to life has been travel and the fact I have lived and can call friends people from different backgrounds, religions, beliefs. Yes, empathy has come from having that one opportunity to speak to a young israelian boy coming out of his two year mandatory army, where we shared the heart breaking experience of seeing someone shot in front of your eyes during a war period, as we hiked up a Himalayan mountain. And from travelling to Dominican Republic to work in rebuilding Haitian housing in a group I lead when I was 20 with my university classmates. And from travelling to Syria and having experienced a level of hospitality in their country I had never experienced before. If you had lived that, the conversation on refugees would be so very different. Travel is for me the one activity that has the most value in terms of experiential learning and peace-making possibilities. Empathy can’t be taught in a class, it must be lived.
Business: Until now, we have left it in the hands of NGOs and foreign aid to take care of the most pressing societal problems we have as a world. Having volunteered, consulted, worked with and even founded my own, I believe NGOs have a limited reach and transformational power to produce real change, and that’s for one obvious reason, they spend 80% of their time fundraising, and they themselves can’t be drivers of deep change because they are fully dependant. I don’t want to say with this NGOs play no role in society, they do, but we have seen a transformation in our economies where NGO’s are becoming more “businessy” and companies are starting to invest more and more in their corporate social responsibility and how they reach out to humanity. Both changes are significant, but they are slow. Thankfully, a new movement has arisen called the B Corp movement, which are businesses that “meet the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, public transparency, and legal accountability, and aspire to use the power of markets to solve social and environmental problems.” I believe we need to change the how and why we do business. Business is the vehicle that can really drive change at the scale and efficiency we need. We need the most talented of people working together to solve what is to come.
Friends, even in writing this I feel a sense of hope coming back. I know my ideas lie more in the arena of an entrepreneurial activist. But I know this is my life mission. An optimist at heart, I keep to myself the long days, the unpaid hours, the nights I lay in bed thinking how I will make it to the end of the month, and the amount of energy and patience and dedication that in days like the ones mentioned above seem to be going to a bottomless pit. But the drive within me to experiment new educational and business models the call to speak for those that have less voices in our society and, my deep desire to engage with companies, governments and ultimately people is stronger. We cannot continue to do this alone, because we are not going far nor fast enough. And more importantly, because we are not alone. Now it’s the time to bring collaboration, cocreation and coentrepreneuring to a new level. I know many of you have supported and followed my work through the years, words of wisdom, hours of brainstorming, and nights in your homes. Thank you, we couldn’t have done it without you. And this is why I now want to invite you the next level of the project, Authenticitys.
Authenticitys is B Corp certified Spanish company that is looking to bring educational experiences through travel that make cities better. How? We connect with NGOs and B Corps around the world and help them design an experience that we can then sell to travellers, and millennials. What type of experiences do we have? For example, in Barcelona we run an experience with an organisation called Diandé Africa, where Mamadou, a 23 year old immigrant from Senegal takes us through a bike tour of El Raval (an immigrant neighbourhood) and he tells us his story of how he became a social entrepreneur. Mamadou has his own bike rental shop and employs vulnerable youth in the city, he also set up an NGO in Senegal to change education. The difference here is that together, we have a product, that we can sell. The tours don’t belong to Authenticitys, they belong to the 20 partners we currently have in 11 cities in Europe. Other examples include tours where ex-homeless people in Vienna are your guide, in Berlin we are developing tours where refugees can tell you their perspective upon arrival, and environmental tours like the one we run with Surf&Help which include a beach cleaning activity. You can read all about the work and press here.
And I have good news. We are now ready to grow. Authenticitys needs to be available in every city in the world, and offered as an educational experience to as many youngsters (and travellers) as possible. To do so, we need all the collaboration and support we can find: economical, mental, emotional, through our networks and our skills and find ways to join capacities together. The “how we do things” is for us, as important at this time, as what we are doing. The network of our customers, partners, providers, advisers, friends, investors as an active part of the journey itself is what differentiates us. This is our project. Everybody can play a part. And so many of you have! If you want to participate in one way or another you can follow us on Facebook and Twitter to be updated with the most current news and how you could join!
Every year brings forth its valleys and its mountains. The important thing is to keep walking in good company. That is what 2017 will be for Authenticitys, we will keep dreaming, building, doing, sharing, and putting our two cents of change towards business and education, all the while being mindful and conscientious in how we do it (see my TEDx talk for lessons learnt).
Thank you to everyone that has been a part of this great journey so far. I wish you love, peace, happiness, health and joy every single moment of this year to come.
Elena and Authenticitys