Fiona Smith Tuesday 8 August 2017 19.43 BST
Pitching for funding can be an intimidating business, especially when you are a young woman at a testosterone-fuelled event for startups and your idea is a social enterprise to help save orangutans in Borneo.
When a fellow entrepreneur tried to impress the founder of My Green World, Natalie Kyriacou, by handing her his shiny business card – which he insisted was gold-plated – she knew there had to be another way.
“I took myself out of that environment. It was all men and intimidating,” she says. She now prefers to stay in the more supportive social enterprise sector.
“I’m not going to any Sydney harbour entrepreneur boat cruises ever again,” she says. “I should have known [better], it was ridiculous.”
Kyriacou, who is based in Melbourne, is one of the growing community of social entrepreneurs: people who create businesses to solve social, environmental, cultural or economic problems.
Those businesses aim to be self-sustaining, rather than relying upon government grants or donations, and at least 50% of the profits are ploughed back into their mission.
There is no research, at present, to show whether women are more likely to launch social enterprises than for-profit companies, although spokespeople for the sector say they believe numbers in the sector are pretty much equal between men and women.
However, in terms of age, it does appear that it is the millennials (aged 16 up to 36) and the baby boomers (aged from 52 to 70) that are the most likely to become social entrepreneurs, according to Prof Jo Barraket, who has done a comprehensive study of the sector.
My Green World is what Kyriacou calls a hybrid business model and its purpose is to promote wildlife charities in a crowded market and encourage donations. She also hopes to engage children and young people with ecological issues.
The for-profit side of the business provides wildlife-themed educational content for children, including spending $100,000 developing a game app, World of the Wild, for children.
This month Kyriacou, 28, is also launching Kids Corner, a subscription-based wildlife website for classrooms and families. The social enterprise element is the promotion of the 17 partner wildlife charities featured in the app and the educational material.
Kyriacou launched My Green World after seeing some of the destruction of habitats in Borneo during a visit at the age of 25. (For seven years, she has also been involved in a small Sri Lanka-based charity, Dogstar Foundation, which desexes and rehomes stray dogs and cats.)
In order to raise the funds for the app, Kyriacou sold her car, threw in her life savings and raised funds from family, events and crowdfunding. Two years after starting the venture, she is still working a second job, freelancing in public relations and marketing. “We are not profit-making at the moment,” she says. “I didn’t start My Green World to become rich, it was about having an environmental impact.”
Kyriacou is leveraging her involvement in business networking groups for mentoring and support and says becoming a “social pioneer” for the Foundation For Young Australians has been a turning point in making connections in the social entrepreneurship world.
One thing she has to overcome is the perception that a young woman in the environmental movement is just a “puppy cuddler”, as she calls it. “I’m really trying to guide people and change their perception of wildlife conservation.”
Prof Barraket, the director of the Centre for Social Impact Swinburne, says research has identified a generational shift, where younger people are more concerned with social responsibility than their elders.
According to the Finding Australia’s Social Enterprise Sector 2016 report(authored by Barraket and the not-for-profit consultancy Social Traders), there are about 20,000 social enterprises in this country.
Beneficiaries are people with disabilities (35%), young people (33%) and disadvantaged women (28%).
Barraket says the female millennial entrepreneurs tend to be highly dynamic and energetic: “They have an amazing facility to see latent value in discarded resources, which include people, waste and discarded physical premises.
“They are amazing at turning their head sideways and seeing value in something no one else can see value in – and finding a business model to extract that value.”
Barraket says millennial women become very determined to succeed. “They are trying to model something for their children,” she says, noting that she has observed that many female entrepreneurs have supportive families who share caring responsibilities.
The biggest hurdles faced by these entrepreneurs is coming up with a great model that is both financially sustainable and socially useful, she says. “Getting access to the right kind of advice, because social enterprise is still relatively new, it can be a bit hit and miss,” she says.
Another difficulty is getting access to the sort of peer networks they need for support. “That can make all the difference as to whether something is sustained or not,” Barraket says.
Sam Jockel, who is based in Brisbane, says she was too far ahead of the trend when, in 2007, she started Biddy Bags – a business that aimed to bring elderly women together to make and sell bags online.
“I was doing the social enterprise thing before it was a thing,” she says. “And it was really hard and it wasn’t trendy and it wasn’t well-known and it didn’t work that well.”
She pulled the plug on the enterprise in 2012.
When she launched Biddy Bags, she was also looking after a six-week-old baby but managed to give work to six women over five years. Some of them made up to $15,000 per year from their handiwork. One of them used the money to take her husband on two cruises per year. Started with the help of some grants, including $10,000 from the Uniting Church, that business foundered for a number of reasons, including the fact that the bag-making was too labour intensive for realistic pricing (at $80 each).
It was also before the rise of the online craft marketplace Etsy or Facebook, which would have made selling the bags much easier than having to attract people to a very basic website.
“I was pretty cynical and pretty burnt-out for a while from it all,” Jockel says. “I don’t know if people are making it work better now but it has become more of a trendy thing and you have things like the Thank You group [aid through sales of consumer goods] and Who Gives a Crap [fundraising through toilet paper sales] and all of these other great companies that are really clever and are doing really well.”
Even though Biddy Bags closed, it was a launchpad for Jockel to become a social media entrepreneur: cofounding a social media agency, Good Funny Smart.
Motherhood, however, puts her at a disadvantage when it comes to taking up opportunities. She now has three children, aged eight, six and two. “I can’t just show up for things,” she says. A video shoot in Sydney means she has to have a whole chain of people and arrangements in place to be able to fly down for the day.
Jockel, 33, says she still considers herself a social entrepreneur through her Facebook and blog project School Mum (340,000 followers), which provides information and advice.
“School Mum is a for-profit business but 80% of what we do is unpaid and is part of giveback – but in a different way.”
School Mums has raised more than $10,000 for a health clinic in Cambodia and crowd-funded $45,000 for two families in need.
Souce: The Guardian
Note: this article does not represent the viewpoint of this website.