The collaborative spirit of the elea Entrepreneurs’ Community
A network of inspiring business leaders
elea invests in entrepreneurs and their ventures with innovative business models in Asia, Latin America, and sub-Saharan Africa to maximize social impact. Over time, we have accumulated vast knowledge, practical know-how, and a rich network of inspiring business leaders. To facilitate exchanges, the sharing of best practices, and a sense of belonging, we created the elea Entrepreneurs’ Community, which met for the first time in September 2022 at IMD in Lausanne.
This unique experience further shaped the community, positively impacted its members, and started a new, even more active chapter for everyone involved. Here are our reflections on how the so far mostly virtual community benefited from the experience of meeting with fellow members during the Immersion Week in Lausanne.
Exchanging ideas with like-minded peers on a personal level
Being a social entrepreneur and setting up a company for success can be a long, challenging, and somewhat lonely journey. The endeavor to build a company that focuses on social impact and poverty alleviation is quite unique and differs from the omnipresent profit-first thinking. Inspiring role models are scarce; even family members and friends might question this purpose-driven approach. That is precisely where the elea Entrepreneurs’ Community comes in, as a safe space to talk to like-minded peers worldwide who have likely been in comparable situations with similar observations and feelings.
"For me, the elea Entrepreneurs’ Community is really an opportunity for deep reflection, growth, sharing experiences, supporting each other, mentoring, and inspiring each other to continue to do the difficult work that is required to make the world a better place and the way we would like to see it”, Mahmud Johnson, J-Palm Liberia.
Learning from one another’s experiences
There is extensive professional knowledge in a community with more than 30 entrepreneurs, while skill sets are genuinely diverse. The challenges are rarely unique to a specific business model, although one might think so. Hence, the best way to solve an issue is not to take a heads-down approach or apply oneself even more. Taking a step back and seeking strategic or operational advice from fellow entrepreneurs who have an external, non-biased view of the situation could be a game changer if one is willing to accept being challenged in their way of thinking, leadership style, and business operations.
“The Entrepreneurs’ Community is about contributing from our work, our vision, and our ideas. It’s something like a very virtuous circle of giving and taking”, Paula Cardenau, Arbusta.
Being open to constructive feedback and sharing advice will result in productive get-togethers, which should eventually positively impact one’s business. Conversely, acting as a mentor for other entrepreneurs also increases the social impact beyond one's own business and customers. Furthermore, if the exchange is complementary, it might even be a driving force for a joint venture with a shared purpose.
Growing as a leader and impact entrepreneur
Besides personal exchanges and constructive business feedback, the community members have access to courses, coaching sessions, and professional tools that they can then apply within their teams to bring their ventures to the next level. One example is the world-class “Leading for Impact” program that elea offered in partnership with IMD Lausanne. In this 18-month program, elea entrepreneurs had access to problem-solving tools, took part in tailored coaching sessions, and learned how to effectively lead the team and organization. By reflecting on one’s own journey as a leader, sharing strengths as well as weaknesses, entrepreneurs become more self-aware, which helps them to draw better conclusions regarding personal, team, and venture growth.
“I can proudly say that I helped build a tent blindfolded, wearing a helmet and gloves, in 45 minutes, with a team consisting of two experts who were not allowed to speak, two guides who were constrained to be at a distance, and one fellow blindfolded colleague”, Gaurav Mehta, Dharma Life.
The immersive experience was not only about doing but also about observing, reflecting, receiving, and providing feedback, which are essential leadership practices. IMD executive coaches guided the teams, facilitated the learning, and stimulated reflection.
“One of the great things about elea is that they get to know us, and they get to work with us and offer us tools, for example, the IMD course that we all recently took, which helped to build our business skills and backstop some of those issues we have”, Su Kahumbu, iCow.
After one year of its existence, we can confidently say that the elea Entrepreneurs’ Community enriches our collaboration and backs our joint aim to fight poverty with entrepreneurial means. To further grow and bond as a community, elea will facilitate personal exchanges by setting up yearly regional gatherings, peer-led coaching sessions, and support groups. In addition, we have created a WhatsApp group to stay connected in a fun way that is easy to access for everyone. We now see entrepreneurs continuing the conversation, further building trust and team spirit, and thus laying the foundation for solid partnerships.
Author: Romy Sauer, Communications Specialist at elea Foundation for Ethics in Globalization