During the first few weeks, I created the bones of the organization that I would form, and did research on social enterprises and the best way to start a business. I can say for a fact that I have struggled with creating an idea that is a social enterprise compared to a not for profit organization. I’ve spent a lot of time working for NGOs and charity organizations that taking the lessons from my business classes and putting them into practice was more difficult than I had imagined. It wasn’t until week seven that my ideas finally fell into place, and I was able to verbalize the concept that I had into a structured plan for SEFARA.
First off, I had to decide what the focus of my organization would be, and how it would operate. I chose the education of refugees, as it is a topic I am passionate about, and feel there is more that can be done to assist in integrating them into our society. My second challenge was to find a way of helping in a way that is not currently being used, which proved to be a challenge. I had to examine my own skills and what in theory would be feasible for me to accomplish. I ended up deciding that partnering with organizations that are currently doing good work with educating refugees, and corporations that needed skilled workers would be a fantastic way of connecting the two and making a difference. I also have some experience in that area, so it seemed to be a good fit for me.
This assignment has challenged me more than I could have ever predicted, as it has caused me to address my own values and beliefs and figure out how I want to make a difference in the world.
During the past two weeks, I realized that my original order of creating SEFARA needed to change. The budget and the marketing were less important than getting my ideas solidified and getting feedback from people who understand the field. I started discussing SEFARA with my friends and family, and one of my friends suggested I submit SEFARA to a entrepreneur incubator that gives feedback on business and social enterprise ideas.
During the process of creating my application, I realized that there were many things that needed to change such as the two part structure of the organization when it needed to be stream lined. The vision and mission statement also needed to be altered in order to fit this new version of SEFARA. There were also many factors I hadn’t fully ironed out in my original look at the organization. Such as how SEFARA would distinguish itself from other similar organizations, and what resources would be required in order to establish the organization.
Through this process I’ve learned a large number of skills, but the most valuable I believe is the process of getting feedback, and creating an application that could be submitted to an incubator. Having to tailor my application down to a certain word count of 1,000 words and condensing my ideas down have allowed me to better understand what SEFARA’s goals are and how feasible it is to create the organization. It’s been an incredibly challenging process, but I don’t think I could learn how to do this any other way. The experience of creating SEFARA is invaluable, because through trial and error I’ve learned so much about the NZ system for creating businesses.
I’m delighted to announce that SEFARA, out of 317 submissions, won one of the 30 awards given by Velocity. Winning this and the process of having to explain what SEFARA is and stands for has been quite humbling. At the event I got the chance to hear about all the interesting innovations and the different ideas that people are coming out with, and I am honored to be chosen as one of the few to be recognized.
Once at the prize giving event, I found that I was nervous, and excited, but not expecting to win. Looking back, I’m still surprised, as this was an idea that I came up with for class,as an abstract project to force me to reflect on the process of starting a business, and now being given the opportunity to make it into a reality, or at least having people want to hear my ideas and how it came about is terrifying and exciting. I organically had never planned for it to be seen outside the classroom, and now I have people asking how they can help move SEFARA out of the ideas stage into tangible progress.
This whole process has caused me to reflect on why I was interested in this topic in the first place. I’ve always found equality and relevant opportunities for all to be incredibly important. This is an issue that is close to my heart, but I never thought I would be someone leading change, but rather following someone who has set the path. This process has taught me that I can be a leader, I can make a difference and my ideas ARE valid.
This course has ended up being one of the most valuable experience while I’ve attended university. This project was intended to assist in developing skills that relate to my study in International Studies, but also ended up benefiting my minor in International Business. International Studies was difficult to come up with a project due to the broad nature of the study, and so I originally decided to work from my minor in International Business. I came up with the idea of creating a Social Enterprise, which is something that I’ve been wanting to do for a while. Dennis Young, a not for profit academic defines social enterprise as “activity intended to address social goals through the operation of private organizations in the marketplace” (Kerlin, 2009) I’ve always liked the idea of starting my own business, and I believe strongly that business and helping either the community, the earth or individual people should be linked hand in hand.
I set to work researching Social Enterprises, and came up with the idea for SEFARA, which stands for Skills Exchange For Adult Refugees Association. Looking back on my reasoning for wanting to create an enterprise around refugees stems from the global crisis that is currently in the media and is and has been a problem for a long time. One of the main issues that frustrate me is xenophobia, as well as the issue of refugees not being employed in fulfilling jobs. Xenophobia, or the “fear of strangers” stems from a fear of what is different from oneself. (Caliendo, 2010) Refugees and Immigrants also have to deal with fear when reaching a new country, from discrimination as well as simple culture shock. I wanted to create an organization that allowed me to use my intercultural skills and teaching skills to create a place where that fear fell away, as both refugees and kiwis could learn from each other appreciate their differences, and realize they have more in common than they think.
I used Donald F. Kuratko’s Business Plan Assessment quite strictly at the beginning as I didn’t really know where I was going with my project and my papers never covered how to start a business, but as time went on, I used it more as a guide. I marked out my weekly plan of action, but just like an actual business, my entire weekly plan got thrown out of a whack three weeks in. I made some mistakes along the way, realizing I couldn’t come up with a name until I created my aims and goals for the business, and making a theoretical budget is nearly impossible. I got quite frustrated at times, mostly due to uncertainty. I was entirely in charge of making decisions, I didn’t have a sounding board or someone to discuss ideas with, and although the entire idea is theoretical, I was quite critical of myself. Picking a topic was incredibly tricky, as I have many causes I’m passionate about. All of these problems sorted themselves out, most of them by me admitting to myself that creating a business entirely on my own is not something that I want to do. That was quite a revelation, because I hadn’t ever acknowledged consciously that I work better in groups rather than alone. That’s not to say that I didn’t make the decisions that needed to be made, I just found that it was more of a chore than enjoyment.
Around this time, I started talking to my friend Jade Crawford who studies Finance at the University of Auckland about SEFARA and how I was struggling. She suggested that I submit my idea to a program that UoA runs called Velocity, which is New Zealand’s leading entrepreneurial program. (Velocity, 2016) In order to submit, you have to have a University of Auckland student on your team, so I asked Jade if she would help me refine SEFARA, and be my co-founder in this endeavor. I was quite nervous to submit my idea to a professional organization, as I had no idea that to expect, it was simply a class assignment and I freely admit to having perfectionist tendencies. The idea of submitting to Velocity was to be able to get the judges feedback, but I found that filling out the application was the better teaching tool. During the processes of completing the application, a huge number of problems got solved that I couldn’t have figured out on my own. With Jade’s financial background and her experience in the corporate world, she was able to help guide my thinking in understanding aspects of how I wanted to fund SEFARA, and I was able to bring in and refine ideas about the charity aspect of the social enterprise. I have difficulties being able to visualize the financial aspects of businesses, and they make me nervous as I am completely unsure of what to do. Together we were able to come up with a pipe line for the organization, create allocations of responsibilities, understand both target markets better and create a holistic vision for SEFARA. The application was very similar to Kuratko’s Business Plan Assessment, but also had questions that I would never have thought to answer without them. The application was a challenge, but SEFARA wouldn’t be as complete and polished as it is without the opportunity to submit to Velocity.
In terms of feedback in class, it was difficult to relate to the other projects that others were doing. My project was vastly different from anyone else’s, and the direction that the fellow International Studies students was more cultural than business. My affinity group ended up dispersing, but I felt that I was able to give relevant feedback to certain members of my class, especially those who were from International Studies. In giving feedback to others, I reassessed my own work, which was a valuable experience.
I’m delighted to say that we won an award from the Velocity Prize giving, it was a real boost of confidence to learn that other people were supportive of my ideas and believed that they were valid. I found that getting that validation was a big part of actually believing that this could be implemented outside of the theoretical stage. A lot of the learning that came out of this project was personal learning and was directed by my values and belief systems. Two values that I hold strongly, and I’ve based them on Schwartz’s value type model, are Universalism and Self Direction. (Schwartz, 2012) I felt that this project was impacted by those two in particular because I strongly believe that everyone should have the opportunity to have a fulfilling life, and learning to create an organization to help refugees do that helps my goals and aligns me closer to the person I want to be. This project as a whole has opened up new opportunities that I hadn’t quite considered before, especially when it came to my career. Many times I’ve thought that creating a business would be too hard, and it would be easier to make an impact on people’s lives for the better by going through and refining other people’s ideas. Although I valued Self Direction in practice, I hadn’t been able to apply it to career possibilities in reality.
After winning the award, a lot of new questions were asked about SEFARA’s future, and I don’t have the answers. We won one thousand dollars to start up the enterprise, but after the judge’s feedback telling us that we needed to do more market research, I’ve decided that starting the organization on my own would be difficult, and wouldn’t be sustainable. That being said, I still want SEFARA to survive in one form or another, so I’ve decided that I wouldn’t be creating an investor’s proposal as I had initially planned. Instead, I’ve created a pitch as my “final submission” for this project, specifically aimed at the AUT Refugee Learning Centre. I think integrating my idea, as it was created at AUT and with the amazing work already being done at the Refugee Learning Centre it would be a good compromise.
This final change is representative of the entire project, constantly changing and never ending up where I intended it to go. One of the main lessons I’ve learned from this project is that taking opportunities where they come is smart, and being flexible and willing to change is necessary. I originally thought my learning would be focused around the actions of the business plan assessment, but in fact most of my learning came from understanding myself and where I want to be in life. If I continue to go forward with this project, I expect that SEFARA would continue to change, as I have much to learn. I may understand the basics of how to create a business plan, but in fact there’s a key creative element, and links strongly to the values and beliefs that the creator of the business holds. In light of this learning taking place, I am grateful for the opportunity to grow and change, and learning how to create a business in a safe environment is invaluable for my future.
Auckland University of Technology. (2016). AUT Centre for Refugee Education: What we do. Retrieved June 11, 2016, from http://www.aut.ac.nz/community/aut-in-the-community/centre-for-refugee-education
Caliendo, S. M., & McIlwain, C. D. (2011). The Routledge companion to race and ethnicity. London: Routledge.
Frederick, H., Kuratko, D. F., & Hodgetts, R. M. (2006). Entrepreneurship: Theory, process and practice. South Melbourne: Thomson Learning.
Kerlin, J. A. (2009). Social enterprise: A global comparison. UPNE.
Schwartz, S. H. (2012). An Overview of the Schwartz Theory of Basic Values. Online Readings in Psychology and Culture, 2(1). doi:10.9707/2307-0919.1116
The Department of Internal Affairs. (2015). Government Position Statement on Social Enterprise. Retrieved May 31, 2016, from https://www.dia.govt.nz/government-position-statement-on-social-enterprise
Velocity. (2016). About Velocity. Retrieved June 11, 2016, from http://www.velocity.auckland.ac.nz/about/about-velocity
What is Social Enterprise? (2015). Retrieved May 31, 2016, from http://www.centreforsocialenterprise.com/what-is-social-enterprise/
Ākina Foundation. (2015). Retrieved May 31, 2016, from http://akina.org.nz/