Derk Norde

MovingWorlds Founder: Why we need a for Social Entrepreneurs

Just about any time you hear people talking about social entrepreneurship, it won’t be long before you’ll also hear the term “ecosystem.” Being educated as an evolutionary biologist, I think that’s pretty cool. But how exactly do you apply something traditionally associated with plants and plankton to a bunch of people trying to turn ideas into successful companies?

Entrepreneurs are drawn to places where “stuff is happening.” They look for each other, start interacting, attract capital, infrastructure, and slowly an “ecosystem” evolves. It’s a transformation process that normally starts with the creatives, risk-takers, first-movers and pioneers. A good example is Medellin; when I first started working there in 2005, the city was basically devoid of any entrepreneurial ecosystem. Today, barely eight years later, it’s buzzing with activity and has become a magnet for adventurous tech-entrepreneurs. (It’s a remarkable transformation recently described in Venturebeat.) In Africa, Nairobi also has recently become a hub for social entrepreneurs, with hundreds of new ventures emerging each year, and an increasing inbound migration from Americans and Europeans who are setting up shop there.

Almost 10 years ago I co-founded the BiD Network, a Dutch-born foundation that prepares emerging market (social) entrepreneurs and SMEs for investment. We organized business plan competitions in different countries, leveraged corporate funds for prize money, and pioneered with local and international business angel networks, investment funds, and almost everybody interested in the field. Meanwhile, we spent most of our time coaching and vetting entrepreneurs and their business plans in places as diverse as Bogota, La Paz, Kampala, Monrovia and Manila. It was a lot of work and a lot of fun. But basically we were undertaking an enormous task of trying to create flourishing entrepreneurship ecosystems, in places where most young and ambitious people were moving away from, in search of opportunities elsewhere.

During those years I realized that many of the entrepreneurs who came to us for funding were actually facing another, bigger, challenge that even precedes funding: access to TALENT. Or to put it even more simply: attracting people with the right experience, skills, and networks to turn good ideas into thriving businesses. The 95 percent perspiration needed to fulfill the 5 percent inspiration promise.

This month, the World Economic Forum published the Human Capital Report, providing elaborate insight into global talent migration. Although differences between countries exist, it shows that, beyond access to capital, access to talent is the biggest barrier to progress in many emerging markets that are often struggling to retain their talent (the so-called “brain drain”). As expected, Africa shows the lowest talent retention, after the Middle East and Latin America.

Two years ago I ran into Mark Horoszowski at a business event in Buenos Aires. Having built a successful digital marketing agency in Seattle, he left his company the year before. He organized his own volunteering trip that took him around the world, as he wanted to donate his experience to social enterprises in developing countries. We learned about our mutual passion for traveling and supporting organizations. We recognized the enormous opportunity for a community for adventurous, mobile professionals wanting to combine travel and work – a central go-to location that would make it much easier for people to find and donate their expertise anywhere they wanted. Thus, MovingWorlds was born – what we’re calling a for global “experteers,” or professionals volunteering their expertise.

We started to validate and shape our idea with friends, and then friends of friends. Our first match was Drew, an industrial designer from Pennsylvania who we matched to an Eco-lodge in the jungle of Panama. He stayed there for a couple of months and the results were amazing. Soon we had a waiting row of dozens of highly qualified consultants, engineers and trainers, all very eager to go travel and donate their skills, motivated by change rather than money. In exchange for their expertise, most receive free accommodation, a local stipend and/or other perks (e.g. free language lessons or use of a bike). But best of all, they get an invaluable experience getting to know a new culture from the inside, while making a meaningful impact.

For the hosting organizations, the value has proven incredible. After their first experience, most organizations come back with a new request, because experteering really helps them to accelerate their impact at a low cost.

(Above: MovingWorlds co-founder, Mark Horoszowski, during his presentation at the Travel and Technology Conference in October).

Today we are developing MovingWorlds to become better at matching at scale, as we believe we’re only at the beginning of what is potentially a huge movement. In the last 10 years, the number of young professionals without long-term contracts has doubled (InterDean, Mobility Survey 2011). Many are seeking more fulfilling careers and experiences, while at the same time being increasingly mobile. By creating a movement of ‘experteers,’ many small seeds of change are being sown around the world. The idea is that those seeds will germinate and continue to attract talent in the future, contributing to the creation of new entrepreneur ecosystems in emerging markets.

We are partnering with organizations like ImpactHUB , SistemaB, and Unreasonable Institute, all of which support amazing social entrepreneurs. ImpactHUB is a worldwide network of like-minded collaborators focused on making positive impact. They have coworking spaces and activities in 40 countries, a great example of a fast-growing ecosystem. Our partnership will help unleash the talent within the network and put it to use at new starting HUBs, as well as bring in new outside talent.

Join us in MovingWorlds today, and tell us about your organizational challenges. You can do so by requesting your invitation now, creating a profile, and explaining what support your organization needs. After registering, you can browse and request introductions to professionals that want to donate their expertise to your cause. We feature a wide range of people who can support you with almost any business or technical related tasks, and free of charge. Because it’s not all money that makes the world go round…

Derk Norde is co-founder of the BiD Network and MovingWorlds.

skill development