5 months of networking, development, exploration, new collaboration and friendship.
The last weeks of my Erasmus for Young Entrepreneurs programme were marked by fulfilment, surprises, and a sense of belonging. I extended the stay, as the COVID-19 restrictions began to loosen up, and the chance to realise projects such as physical workshops arose. After many months of online work, observation, and getting to know the team, I was ready to run workshops and other events, that allowed me to test some of my business ideas.
The main goal of my stay in Italy was to gain new insights into running a social innovation consultancy. Looking back at that journey, I have picked up some relevant for the professional skills, that I have developed during the exchange:
- Proactiveness. When I started the exchange, I had many ideas for what projects I wanted to develop, but without a sense of agency, it was hard to take initiative and turn them into reality. I call it a ‘student mindset’ – which I developed during many years of working on hypothetical projects, without ever reaching the implementation phase. Being given responsibility for projects that were going to be realised, impacting a specific group of people, gave me a new perspective and encouraged to act more proactively.
- Innovation and systems thinking. Through collaboration with my host entrepreneur and the rest of the team, I’ve learned how to create new opportunities by connecting different resources, from people, and knowledge, to places and nature. I realised that I can create solutions to many social challenges, by connecting already existing elements in an alternative way; rethinking the whole system. With that approach in mind, I initiated projects such an English Tea Time, based on Peer-to-peer learning, or a Guided Wild Food Foraging walk, with a goal to create a community interested in wild food culture, hiking, and plant research.
- Guts + Grit. I have realised how much passion and hard work I need to have, to become a true entrepreneur. In the field of social innovation, the impact of the enterprise on our society is as important as the financial benefits. That is both the interesting, and the challenging part, but this program has only strengthened my belief in the importance of new business models that create revenue while considering their impact on the people and planet. Despite the complexity of social ventures, thanks to this exchange, I was able to identify what makes me feel passionate and motivated, and I expect it to play a big role in overcoming the challenges that I will encounter. I’m going back to Denmark, with renewed energy, and a will to find new networks, projects, and communities, that value collaborativeness, knowledge exchange, and most importantly want to create a positive social and environmental impact.
During the program, I developed several projects that helped me identify the relevant skills that I have as well as the ones that I need to develop. One activity, in particular, has boosted my professional confidence – it was a one day workshop that I planned and facilitated for my HE’s venture. After weeks of preparation, I learned how to structure a workshop, discovered useful methodologies, and got ready to facilitate a process that supported the team; helping them to come up with a new strategy. Through that process, I developed the skills required to:
- Create an inclusive environment during a workshop
- Create a balance between group work and individual work
- Make room for warm-ups and energising activities
- Communicate the guidelines and instructions clearly
- Listen actively and observe the behaviour of the participants.
- Networking. During my stay in Italy, I had a chance to network in a completely new to me way. Together with the HE, and 3 other Italian collaborators, we wrote an EU grant application. Our international partners ranged from universities to researchers, co-working places, and organisations. Being the person responsible for contacting and staying in touch with the partners gave me an insight into the process of initiating an international collaboration and helped me expand relevant for my future venture network.
- Emotional and social intelligence. How to build a business based on strong and sustainable relationships? I was lucky to collaborate with an entrepreneur who has some exceptional skills when it comes to connecting people, projects, and organisations; creating an extensive network, both on a local, but also international level. It was not only inspiring to witness the power of that community, but I believe it motivated me to start a search for the right business partner and to create a strong community connected to my business.
Meeting all the objectives that I had set for those 5 months in Italy felt great, but the fact that I will continue to collaborate with my HE feels even more gratifying. During the last few weeks of the exchange, I was asked to become a Vice President of the organisation, which was a beautiful surprise. I’ll continue to develop my facilitation and strategic design skills, and most importantly I’ll stay connected with the team and the whole community that I’ve become part of.