Lessons from the iAccelerate IMPACT4 Change Social Entrepreneurship conference
Introduction: I believe you can learn something from every person’s career experience, no matter how unrelated their career may seem. This is especially so with entrepreneurs. In the changing world of work we all need to take an entrepreneurial approach to our careers, looking for opportunities, testing the market and pivoting when things don’t go as expected. In a recent edition of HDR Career News, we put out a call out for expressions of interest in attending the iAccelerate IMPACT4 Change conference for Social Enterpreneurs. Zoe Richards had recently submitted her PhD, was looking for some career inspiration, so we sponsored her attendance and asked her to write a blog about her experience. I think you’ll be interested in the parallels she draws between research and social entrepreneurship.
I don’t fancy myself a social entrepreneur, but I do believe that I have some things in common with those who do. That is wanting to effect meaningful change in some way or another however, at this point in time I’m not exactly sure what that is, or how I plan to do it. After submitting my doctoral dissertation, I have been faced with the same question from many people, “What’s next, Zoe?”, and to be frank for the majority of the time, I have don’t have an answer for them.
I saw attending the iAccelerate IMPACT4 Change conference as an opportunity to connect and network with like-minded people within the research, policy making and social entrepreneurial space, and perhaps a chance to magically uncover what it is I want to do with my career. Whilst, I didn’t walk away with a revolutionary idea of what I want to do with my life, the conference did shift my perspective on how I should approach the next chapter. I wanted to take the opportunity to share a few of these things with a wider audience.
First things first, social entrepreneurship isn’t just about tech or coding. Perhaps this sounds silly, but that was my perception when it was first suggested that I attend the conference. However, after reviewing the program and attending the conference, it’s safe to say that I couldn’t have been more wrong. Social entrepreneurship is focused on how research and innovative technology is integrated into developing solutions to solve social problems and advance policy. The People, Planet and Profit panels highlighted an array of local, national and international social entrepreneurs who have developed responsible businesses and are practicing in a manner that not only generates profit but also benefits the wider community.
The second thing I took away from the conference was that researchers and social entrepreneur have a lot in common. Both are curious, inquisitive and want to solve real world problems in an innovative way. Both also hope someone will take a chance on them financially, whether it is a large research funding body, or an exotic venture capitalist that is looking to make an investment. However, my perception is that social entrepreneur sees an opportunity or have a great idea and just jump right in and try their idea out whereas, as a researcher I have been trained to be much more methodical in my approach and spend a substantial amount of time devising a thorough plan before I conduct the research. I suppose what I took away from this is to not spend too much time overthinking certain aspects of projects and not to shy away from writing a manuscript or developing a project The next time I have an interesting idea, I’m just going to go for it!
The thing that resonated with me the most and my last takeaway from the conference was something that Professor Joe Steensma, an academic from Washing University in St Louis discussed in his keynote. His presentation was titled “The Right Investment, Right Now: understanding what you need and how to get it when you need it”, and to be honest, this title made it seem like he was going to talk about saving and investments. The first thing he asked the audience was “when was the last time you made an investment? What was the last thing we invested in?” My first thought was a good pair of denim jeans I had recently purchased. The he asked us, “who was the last person who made an investment in you?” That’s when it clicked for me that he wasn’t here to speak to us about our finances.
Professor Steensma discussed the importance of investing time into attaining social, political and human capital during the development phases of a project or a start- up. It’s quite common to think that if we have enough money behind us a project will be successful, but that might not always be the case if, for example, we haven’t consulted with relevant stakeholders and got their “buy in” (social capital). He also discussed the importance of developing relationships with colleagues (particularly those who have spent a significant amount of time in your field). The same way we seek financial capital, we should also be seeking social and human capital (referrals, advice, knowledge, suggestions, and opportunities} from our peers, as this is just as vital to a projects success as money.
So essentially, my advice to those reading this is to jump at any opportunity that you have been given and place more weight on the investments that you make in people and that people make in you. Oh yeah, and if you get the chance attend the iAccelerate IMPACT conference next year, please do! I hope it’s an opportunity for you to step outside of your own little box and leave with a different perspective.
Zoe Richards is a PhD Candidate in Public Health in the School of Health and Society, Faculty of Social Sciences at the University of Wollongong. Her doctoral studies explored how Big Food companies use Corporate Social Responsibility strategies to position themselves as socially responsible within communities. Her broader research interests include food policy and the influences of corporate behaviour on the health of communities, specifically those of the ‘Big Food’ industry. She submitted her PhD dissertation in May this year and currently she works as a casual academic and research assistant at the University of Wollongong, and as a project officer in the Deputy Vice Chancellor Office at the University of New South Wales.
Follow Zoe on Twitter: @zoenrichards or connect with her on LinkedIn
For more information on entrepreneurship, consult the UOW Careers Central resource pages on the topic
iAccelerate offer a range of programs supporting entrepreneurship in the Illawarra region and their events offer a great opportunity to meet with local entrepreneurs, expand your network and maybe, like Zoe, gain a different perspective on your career.
What do you think of the learning Zoe took from her attendance? Have you ever taken a different perspective on your career after talking to someone in an unrelated field? We’d love to hear your thoughts below.