Melanie (in the middle of the picture) and me studied Tourism Management in Leeuwarden, The Netherlands. Now, 5 years later she is living in Berlin and plays an active role in supporting Social Entrepreneurship. I am very curious about her experiences in this field and what she has to tell about it…

Melanie Ackerboom at Enactus South Africa Nationals1. Melanie, you are passionate about Social Entrepreneurship (SE). Tell us what it is and why it became your passion.

Unfortunately, there is no universal accepted definition, which always makes it difficult to explain. However, I think this one describes it very well: “A social entrepreneur is someone who recognizes a social problem and uses entrepreneurial principles to organize, create, and manage a venture to make social change. Whereas a business entrepreneur typically measures performance in profit and return on investment, a social entrepreneur assesses success in terms of the impact on society.“

I like that Social Entrepreneurs can be found in all industries and yet, they can have the same mission, like tackling (youth) unemployment, inequality or poverty. Being involved in work that really matters is simply highly motivating and rewarding. Also, if applied in a responsible tourism project, Social Entrepreneurship additionally benefits the local community and economy on side.

2. You were involved in some SE projects in Africa. What was your role?

I first got involved with Social Entrepreneurship through Community Development work in the Eastern Cape in South Africa. There, I co-founded Stenden Enactus South Africa, a student led organisation that uses entrepreneurial business concepts to improve the lives of people in the community. Out team primarily supported existing township based projects and NGOs.

Melanie in KenyaLater on, I moved into academia and acted as Tutor in the Innovative Tourism and Entrepreneurship Minor and I decided to offer a Social Entrepreneurship workshop to interested students. For the first workshop, 25 students from different fields like Social Work, Creative Therapy, Entrepreneurship and Teaching voluntarily signed up. Because I got such a positive response, I decided to offer it again. Now, SE is part of the official Entrepreneurship Minor curriculum.

For the latest project I travelled to Kenya to support the London-based start-up SocialStarters as a Social Enterprise Consultant for their 6 week pilot programme in Eldoret. As such, I gave SE training and consultancy to Kenyan youth and provided feedback on the programme curriculum.

3. You are also blogging about SE and social startups. What do you want to achieve with this?

I see the blogging as something I can do now, a role I can play to support and promote the idea of SE, without the need to launch my own business. There are many people who are not aware of SE as it is not really taught in school. Others don’t know what to do, or where to start, and I hope to give them some inspiration with the blog.

Which means, on the one site, this blog can help existing social entrepreneurs and startups to gain more publicity and on the other site, it can serve as an information platform to aspiring social entrepreneurs and startups. They can look for inspiration, information and learn from those “who have been there before”.

Putting that aside, researching and writing about SE and start-ups helps me to understand the field more and more; I’m constantly learning new things.

Melanie at Entrepreneurship Centre in Nemato (Nelson Mandela Township)4. What are your future plans or projects related to this topic?

In the future I would like to combine my passions and interest in tourism, photography and SE more and make a living from it.

Concerning the blog I plan to have more articles in a photo documentary style, like visual storytelling, and perhaps run the blog with a small team of international contributors.

I’ve started a photographic project called SpotlightsOn! that captures the stories of inspirational people in Germany. This project is still running and I’m currently working on the website.

I’m also working on the idea to offer educational tours in South Africa or to offer a SE Training & Consultancy programme that practically and in-person teaches the essentials of SE, creativity and innovation in a fun and creative way.

I’m also part of the organising team of the Start Up Weekend Berlin Social Innovation, which will take place from the 20.-23. March in Berlin. Start Up weekends are 3 day events where aspiring entrepreneurs can turn their ideas into reality, pitch their ideas, find co-workers and receive coaching by experienced entrepreneurs and experts. This one is focussed on creating social startups or projects.

Thanks a lot for sharing your experiences and educating us about Social Entrepreneurship, Melanie. Looking forward to catch up with you at ITB Berlin. If you got interested and want to find out more about Melanie and her passion you can do so on her blog.