EYE: getting started!

My name is Catarina, and I’m a social worker that have been working almost exclusively for 12 years with youth at risk in an urban area. However, for the last year I challenged myself to experience other settings and possible routes for my career. I ended up doing volunteer work for more than half 2020 in Scotland, within a residencial farm for adults with intellectual disabilities, in the countryside. This was a wonderful experience, where after so long in the same profession I discovered new professional skills and interests.

Having developed an interest in the countryside, and observing its advantages in terms of sustainable living, at the same time I realized that youth has been systematically leaving their homes in those regions, especially due to the lack of work opportunities. Which, besides families disengagement, keeps a vicious cycle, because if people are leaving, business cannot flourish and opportunities keep lacking.

And so, keeping the dream to “change the world”, and still believing social work is the most appropriate way for me to pursue it, I started to think about creating my own social enterprise, one that would serve as a hub for young workers in (semi-)rural areas, helping and connecting them with businesses in their home town. Then, the doubts started coming: how do I run a business?

Luckily, a friend from Edinburgh I happened to share my idea with had some experience with Erasmus+ programs and told me about the Erasmus for Young Entrepreneurs (EYE), which seemed too perfect to me at this point. Because it would allow me to learn in depth with an entrepreneur already operating in the field, or pretty close, while benefiting from the supervision and support from intermediary agencies, ensuring safety during the process.

That’s how my adventure in the EYE first started, almost by chance and with a little bit of suspicion, being totally ignorant about E+ as I was at the time. However, after the first contact with the intermediary organization, I started to believe it could really be possible.

And here I am! I arrived in Paredes, Portugal, at the 19th of October, just two weeks ago, and I will be here until April of 2021, benefiting from a full 6 months exchange. I joined a youth organization, called Embaixada da Juventude, whom I got to know through the same aforementioned Edinburgh friend. So, one could say he’s like my fairy godmother in this journey!

My host entrepreneur from Embaixada is Daniela, and she was totally welcoming from the beginning of the process, explaining to me about their activities within youth skills development, citizen participation and entrepreneurship.

When I first got here I was afraid that activities would be very limited due to the Covid-19 pandemic. However, they have several contingencies ongoing which include a mixed working schedule, both in person and remote, allowing for constant contact between the staff.

Furthermore, I got to know the whole team in a very fun team building exercise they arranged in a wooded area, so it would be securely outside and I got acquainted with the natural landscape of the region.

This first days, we’ve been assessing my skills and needs so that the rest of the exchange activities meet my expectations and learning gaps.

So far, I’m really enjoying this experience, and believe this will make a great impact in my career in the future, bringing me much closer to develop my own social business with much more precious knowledge and confidence.