Where did your personal inspiration, entrepreneurial/leadership purpose come from – what shaped your views?
I have always been involved in politics or activism, from an early age. My mentor and great friend Marcelo Yuka impressed me the first time I ever met him in Rio, Brazil, in February 2000. This man had similar ideas to mine but in the right order. He is one of the greatest musicians of his generation, a fabulous activist and relentless campaigner. In Brazil, there is so much to be done, and in other places too. From our long conversations, I realised that if we don’t allow people to step up and act, be confident, enabled, have a voice and be respected, we’ll never get all the work done.
So this is when my entrepreneurial journey began. I was living in The Netherlands at the time, and had been working as a corporate marketeer and a producer for the creative industries for several years.
I was also part of a troupe that performed Capoeira – an Afro Brazilian art form that combines elements of martial arts, acrobatics, music and dance - and I saw an opportunity to use my marketing and networking skills to boost the troupe’s profile and involvement in local and Brazilian community projects.
“I have always had a passionate interest in social economics and an aptitude for encouraging and connecting people, so I naturally fell into the role of expanding the social responsibility horizons of the Capoeira group I belonged to”.
I was rather successful in my arts based community project efforts, so much so that friends started suggesting that I should charge for my services… and market myself to other performing arts groups. I liked the idea, and soon after, my business venture, Oguntê, was born.
In 2003 I moved to England, and worked part-time for the Scarman Trust - a national charity supporting community projects across the UK. Whilst there, I further developed my coaching skills, and prepared for the next phase of Oguntê’s evolution.
What's the purpose of your organisation?
When I arrived In England I saw that there was a real tradition of socially oriented innovation, with examples of successful co-operative and charitable organisations stretching all the way back to the industrial revolution. It was fast becoming clear to me that this was the area I really wanted to throw my energy and expertise into – especially in terms of supporting social entrepreneurs to fully realise their potential and to be really impactful. I delivered community development workshops, coaching local voluntary groups and pre-revenue social enterprises, facilitated several local councils leadership development programmes.
Gradually, I noticed that most of my customers, clients, supporters, and even champions of what I was doing, helped with a growing team of associates, were actually women! My vision has always been around supporting social and environmental change, a non-negotiable endeavour. But I understood the key to deliver this was to do it through a gender lens and in a more intuitive way. And as you hear often, you need to listen to your customers… The funny thing is that the name of my company, Ogunte, translates in a number of ways including ‘female spirit’. (It took me a few year to realise the “woman” thing was there from the beginning!)
I realised I had to focus and work hard to make this vision of “A better world powered by women” a reality. It’s in everybody’s interest to have more confident women around; women who can deliver impact, and teach others to do the same. And I feel it’s exactly the same for other marginalised people, the invisible, the silent. It’s about rectifying the balance, getting there little by little, but surely.
I am very fond of that term: Entrepreneurial Activist. That’s what I see in the women in our network. My mentor Marcelo says: “Activism is not only made up of grand acts, it is also made up of small acts. And this should be ongoing, as a part of life.”
What have been your critical lessons learnt along your entrepreneurial journey?
- One of the toughest things I found about first becoming a sole trader was making the transition from a volunteer mindset to a business mindset. It felt a little uncomfortable at first... actually asking for money!"
- I also learned about branding and marketing, communicating in a way that others understand…
- It took me a while to give myself permission to deliver services I thought were reserved to others. Fear of failure? Fear of not being good enough?
- We now have a complete ecosystem for women social entrepreneurs from pre-revenue to investment, and we even train aspiring angels, so that they can support these women with their networks, knowledge and potential finance.
I understand the power of teams to deliver a great product, there’s so much you can do on your own! And what I value a lot is continuous professional development. In the past years, I did additional training in Social Return on Investment and finance. So refreshing!
What are the characteristics that in your experience entrepreneurs require now and in the future?
- They should not be afraid to fail
- They should expect the unexpected
- They should embrace open innovation; get out of their silo, to boost ideas, to be challenged, to see the world from a different perspective.
- They should invest in their legacy now, if their business harms people or planet, they will certainly be caught one day, even worse they might regret it!
What would be your 5 top tips for purposeful entrepreneurs?
- Learn finance, finance, finance
- Share/ pass on/ what might not be useful to you (never let it go to waste)
- Don’t do it alone
- Know what impact you want to make and measure it.
- Don’t forget to live your life too