Project Hub Yangon Co-founder, Allison Morris

How to Start a Social Enterprise From Anywhere in the World

You want to start a company that makes the world a better place. How are you going to do that, then? I’ll tell you how. And I won’t just tell you how to start one in the UK, I’ll tell you how to do it in Myanmar too. And if you can do it in Myanmar, I’m pretty sure you can do it anywhere in the world.

1. Join a community.

I love coworking spaces. I love to visit and work from new ones in new countries. In London, I spend most of my time in Impact Hub Westminster, and I’m even on their website as a coworking lifeguard.

Joining a supportive community is a vital ingredient in your start-up success, so do it! Where else are you going to make friends that get you through your hard times, and help you celebrate your wins?  Check what’s around you and go for a look, or join a tour of coworking spaces in London.

Project Hub Yangon

What do you do if no community exists? You start one. That’s exactly what Allison Morris (pictured above), and Pete Silvester did with Project Hub Yangon. The space launched in 2013, but the community building work really began when the pair hosted Global Entrepreneurship Week in Myanmar in 2012. They hoped that Project Hub Yangon would become a place for like-minded people to discuss ideas, work on projects and create businesses. That’s exactly what’s happened.

Finding new members, and managing the space are the daily battles of every coworking space, but their vision has become a reality. In their first year, as well as hosting the space for members with local space manager Zar Chi, they supported 5 local start-ups through a sponsored incubation program.

“It’s still a lot of work, but it’s worth it to support the local entrepreneurial ecosystem.” Allison Morris, Co-founder.

When I got there, they’d just installed their third independent internet connection, to deal with Myanmar’s notoriously unpredictable service. It was one of the fastest I found in Yangon. They’ve even got a an emergency battery that keeps the wi-fi going even when all the other electricity goes out!

If you’ve got some work or research to do while you are in Yangon, definitely check it out.

2. Get Support.

I’m sure it is possible to do everything yourself. I don’t have any evidence to back that up, but I’m sure someone, somewhere has created a social enterprise without any support whatsoever. Probably someone very wealthy. Who just buys support.  If you are not in the extremely rich minority, then seek out support for your ideas.

There are all sorts of support programs for social entrepreneurs around the world. Too many to list. One of my favourites in the UK is UnLtd. Not only will they give you a grant to get you started, but they’ll connect you with the right people, and support your growth too. Have a look, see how they can help you.

Opportunities Now

Ryan and Mary

Ryan and Mary

If you’re a young, and unemployed in Myanmar, what can you do? Find Ryan Russell, and Mary Sanra Russell. In 2012, they started Opportunities Now. It’s a entrepreneurship training programme that gives young people in Myanmar the training, mentoring and loans they need to get started.And it’s really working.

Already 30 young people have been through the 1 year programme, and this year, 55 will graduate. If you’re an international student and you’d like to mentor a young entrepreneur in Myanmar for 8 weeks, get in touch with Opportunities Now, now!

3. Network like crazy.

That’s it. You’re on the road with your idea. What’s next? Make sure everyone knows about it. Practice your pitch. Go to events. Meet everybody. Tell them your ideas. Don’t be shy, they won’t steal them, and they may even help you out. That’s just the way it works in social enterprise. Everyone collaborates. In the UK, go to big annual events like OxfordJam, and smaller regular ones like SE_Alley. You’ll probably bump into me!

AIESEC in Myanmar

Klaus Oberbauer

Klaus Oberbauer

In Myanmar, you surely have to join the most connected network of them all – AIESEC. It’s thanks to AIESEC Myanamr co-founder and uber-connecter, Klaus Oberbauer, that I was able to meet so many social entrepreneurs in such a short time. Thank you Klaus!

AIESEC is a youth led organisation that enables thousands of international exchanges every year. I’ve seen how much travel and experiences abroad can change people, so I’m all for it. Their goal is for peace and the fulfillment of humankind’s potential. Not a bad goal to strive for.

And Finally…

4. Bump into Aung San Suu Kyi, and tell her your plans.

Always be ready for the conversation that could change your life, and change the world. You never quite know when you are going to end up at an event with a Nobel Peace Prize winner, a democratic freedom champion, the leader of the opposition, and perhaps all three in one person.

If you get the chance, what are you going to say? This person has the resources and influence to make your change happen now. You only have 30 seconds.

What did I say? Well, on this occasion, we didn’t get our 30 seconds… What would you have said? Let me know in the comments. I’d be really interested!

Yangon Bakehouse

3 Social Enterprises You Will Love In Myanmar

When you go to Myanmar, definitely visit these places.  You’ll get great food and souvenirs, and you’ll truly be helping the local people who need it.  The amazing power of social enterprise – do what you love and make the world a better place at the same time!

As I mentioned in my previous post “5 Fun Things More People Should Do In Myanmar“, there are three great social enterprises that I recommend you visit on your stay.  Here’s a bit more information about each of them:

For your lunch – Yangon Bakehouse

As a customer, what you see when you walk into Yangon Bakehouse (YBH), is a small bustling cafe with a delicious looking menu, and mouth-watering baked goods on display. I ordered a chicken wrap with fresh salad, fresh juice, and had a brownie and coffee for dessert.  If I’d have been passing by, that might have been all I’d have noticed. Freshly prepared, high quality food.  But behind the scenes there is another world going on, that sets this cafe apart from the rest in Yangon. The next day, a came back and met co-founder Cavelle Dove, who explained more.

“YBH runs an apprentice training programme for local women that have come from difficult circumstances” Says co-founder Cavelle Dove. “All women that join the apprenticeships are referred from specialist agencies that work with women in need.”

“The program sees the women training with YBH for 10 months. They become part of a family. During the apprenticeship, they are paid for their work, and often for the first time they feel a sense of security. They are able to access healthcare, and plan for their children’s education. By the end of the program, the women have key skills that can be transferred to other restaurants and bakeries around Yangon, and will be especially well suited to the high value work in the growing tourism sector. “

The Yangon Bakehouse shop front maybe small, but the dreams and plans are big. New partnerships and locations were being put into place when I visited, so have a look at the Yangon Bakehouse website for the latest information on new locations, and more beautiful photos.

For your souvenirs – Pomelo Yangon Continue reading

Sunset in Bagan

5 Fun Things More People Should Do In Myanmar

In this post, I’ll take you through 5 things I think more people should do in Myanmar, and why. If you haven’t already, be sure to read my previous post – 5 Beautiful Things Everybody Gets To See in Myanmar.

Sometimes it seems that every tourist in Myanmar is trying to do things that no one is doing. There are some great things to see and do, but if you yearn for  experiences that are a little more rare, try a few of these.

1) Sunrise from anywhere, in Mandalay

Everyone is pretty much obsessed with sunset in Myanmar. For good reason – it’s beautiful. But don’t forget about the equally beautiful sunrise.

On my first morning in my lovely guesthouse (Ma Ma’s Guesthouse) in Mandalay, I went up to the roof balcony at about 6am.  By 6.30am, the sun was starting to peak over the hills, giving me my first daylight view of the city.  I also managed to accidentally give a good scare to one of the guesthouse staff. She came up to sweep the floor, and wasn’t expecting a foreigner behind the door taking pictures. So I took a picture of her too.

They say Mandalay Hill is an excellent place for sunrise and sunset. I didn’t make it there that early. For me, it was a fine, deserted walk up in the middle of the day. Occasionally I was stopped and asked to pose for photos. To be back in Asia is to be a mini-celebrity again!

2) A Scooter Trek from Hsipaw Continue reading

Fisherman on Inle Lake

5 Beautiful Things Everybody Gets To See In Myanmar

Over the last couple years, Myanmar has made it easier for tourists to come and visit this little travelled region of South East Asia. In the past, the military government just wasn’t that keen on letting outsiders come in, and seeing what they were up to.

For reasons that I won’t go into right now (let’s just use the code word: Aung San Suu Kyi), they have decided to open up their kimono, and are making it easier for the world to see their attractions.

Already, there is a well-worn path of worthy destinations. I’m not saying you should skip them, as they are beautiful experiences, but be prepared to share them with the other travellers in Myanmar.

1) Sunset at Ubein’s Bridge, near Mandalay.

Walk along the world’s longest teak foot bridge at Sunset. Perhaps get a boat, or stay on shore.  Either way, at sunset you’ll be rewarded with a beautiful, photogenic scenery.  Of course, you and dozens of others will be taking nearly exactly the same beautiful photos.

It’s not just Ubein’s Bridge around Mandalay, there are some fantastic monasteries, stupas, pagodas and images of Buddha.  Just explore and see what you find.

2) Villages, near Hsipaw Continue reading

An Inspiring Adventure

6 ways to have an Inspiring Adventure

In February 2014, I’m going to Myanmar and Thailand. I want to tell you how I plan this trip, so that you can take your own Inspiring Adventures too.

Firstly, what is an Inspiring Adventure?

An Inspiring Adventure is anything you want it to be. Inspiring Adventures explore the world. Exotic new countries and the cities you live in. They are fun, unusual, exciting, and maybe a little outside your comfort zone. They might teach you a new skill, or introduce you to an amazing person, or a whole new way of life.  They benefit the people you encounter, and probably enrich your life too.

So now you know what it is , how are you going to have one?

1. Have a purpose

Ask yourself why you are going. Perhaps an opportunity has come up right now, and you just have to take it and make the most of it. Perhaps you’ve been planning all the details for years.  Either way, ask yourself what the purpose of this adventure is going to be.

For me, it’s to have an adventure with a healthy dose of social benefit. The adventure part just happens. You don’t have to plan that. In fact my definition of adventure includes “an uncertain outcome…”  What’s the point of going if you know everything that’ll happen to you?

The social benefit part is more challenging. I love to showcase the best examples of social enterprise and responsible tourism that I can find. That means step 2.

2. Do your research

Who’s doing what you want to do?  Who’s already done it?  And who can you ask? Google. Start typing in relevant search terms that align with your mission and see who pops up top. Read about them and organisations. Send them an email about yourself, your adventure and your purpose. Make it personal.

They might not all write back, but some of them will, and their connections will help you. For me, the British Council in Myanmar was especially responsive, and has connected me with a responsible travel specialist.  And of course, don’t forget to ask your friends.

3. Tell everyone you know Continue reading

My Top 3 Restaurants in East London

Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen, Old Street

The chefs at Jamie Oliver's Fifteen restaurant

The chefs at Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen restaurant

I promise not all my recommendations will be social enterprises, but I had to include at least one, and Fifteen is the most famous example in London. Operating since 2002, this restaurant takes 15 disadvantaged young people per year through a 12 month apprenticeship, in the skills of becoming a chef.

The food is modern British, and scrumptious. For our large group, we were served sharing plates for mains. Passing these meaty plates around added to the feeling of being with your extended family during the holidays. Dessert was fantastic, with the chocolate mousse sticking in mind as especially delicious.

Being associated with a high-profile figure like Jamie Oliver of course helps to promote the restaurant, and also promote the whole idea that a restaurant can be used for good. All profits from the restaurant are donated to the Jamie Oliver Food Foundation Charity, and over 350 students have now graduated from the three Fifteen restaurants in London, Cornwall and Amsterdam.

Cay Tre, Shoreditch Continue reading

Richard and the WordPress Theme Team

How to spend a day in East London – Eat, Drink and Find Street Art, featuring the Amazing WordPress Theme Team

You’re one of the best designers for WordPress themes in the world, your work is downloaded and used by millions of people a month, and you usually work at home in your pyjamas. Now you’ve have a free day in London.  What do you do?  The first thing is get dressed. The second is call me. Inspiring Adventures helped some of the guys that run WordPress.com have a great day out in London.  Read on to find out exactly how you can have a fun time in London too, with your clothes on, of course.

More than 73 million people currently use WordPress.com to run their website, and 387 million people view WordPress.com hosted websites every month. This Inspiring Adventures site runs through WordPress.com and, if you are interested, uses a the theme called Superhero. It turns out this theme was designed by one of the guys in my group. And if you’re reading this, Mr Cain, I’m still waiting for a fix on the headings.. why do they all look like H1 size, hey?  (Support update – OK, OK they are all different sizes, thanks Kathryn!)

For now, let’s just learn the best way to spend a day in East London.

The Morning - Eat Continue reading

What is Social Enterprise

What is Social Enterprise?

I was recently invited to be part of the Beyond Sports Summit, in Philadelphia to help the audience answer one question – What is Social Enterprise? I want to give you an answer to that question too.  It’s a question that keeps coming up, and I don’t think it’s going away any time soon.

A little background

I’ve worked with several different social enterprise support services in London over the past couple of years, and had the privilege to know and work with a number of social entrepreneurs over that time.  When the organising team contacted me to answer the “what is social enterprise” question, I knew it wasn’t going to be easy.

You see, even for us in the social enterprise industry, we don’t all have one strict definition that everyone around the world agrees on.  We do all have a sense of what it means, and I’ll give you my answer:

Social Enterprises use financially sustainable business models to solve social problems.  

Wikipedia says Social Enterprises apply “commercial strategies to maximize improvements in human and environmental well-being, rather than maximising profits for external shareholders.”

I like my answer better.   Continue reading

Is This The Best Travel Blog 2013?

Inspiring Adventures has been recognised and shortlisted as one of the Best Travel Blogs in the UK, 2013.  Thank you to those that nominated me.

The Web Awards, run by TravelMole.com, are now in their 10th year, and recognise travel and tourism companies for their efforts online.  The award ceremony was on September 12th, at the new Doubletree by Hilton, London Hyde Park, and very nice it was there too.

And the winner was…

And the winner is...

Continue reading

Sunset over New York

New York For (Almost) Free – My Guide

I was invited to the USA to speak about social enterprise at a conference called the Beyond Sport Summit.  I was on a tight budget while there, but I didn’t want to let that stop me exploring what New York had to offer.  Here are my recommendations for spending a few days in New York, without spending a lot of money.

The High Line

I saw pictures of the High Line in the newspaper about 6 months ago, and thought it looked really cool.  It’s a public park built on a rail line above the streets of Manhattan’s West Side.  It’s looked after by a non-profit group called the Friends of the High Line, and it’s a great place for a walk, or a walking meeting.   And we know the value of walking meetings, I already linked to the TED Talk in my last post.  My companions for the walk were sharing economy and collaboration experts Melissa O’Young of LetsCollaborate, and Odile Beniflah of carpooling.com.  It’s funny to be walking past apartment block windows, but it’s a beautiful place to spend an hour or so.

9/11 Memorial

Two huge pools cascade water into a dark abyss.  They stand in the footprint of the original towers, and are outlined with the names of those that died.  Around it, the new world trade centre is still being constructed, with the new One World Trade Centre being the tallest tower the USA.  Entrance is free, but $5-$10 donations are appreciated.  Book online to avoid queues.  Continue reading