Advancing Impact Through a Multi-stakeholder Approach

Some of the original members from BfE Cambridge (October 2016)

At BfE, we aspire to see a more inclusive and sustainable future built by social entrepreneurs driving local change.

From our early days at the University of Cambridge, we recognised that the world’s challenges are bigger than ourselves. No one person, organisation, or government can tackle climate change, gender equality, poverty or any other global issue alone. Instead, we believe in the power of collaboration — between social entrepreneurs, students and professionals — to solve problems together. We’ve built our organisation around this belief and made it our mission to collaborate with early-stage social entrepreneurs in the developing world to scale business ventures and empower local communities.

From our origins, we knew that the social enterprise business model can be a powerful force for addressing some of the world’s biggest challenges.

Harnessing the power of private enterprise for social good has the potential to scale solutions more quickly than traditional non-profits can. Oftentimes, non-profits are forced to focus heavily on fundraising at the expense of programme delivery because of their reliance on donors. However, social enterprises aren’t forced to choose between financial sustainability and social returns. By embedding innovative products or services into their business models, they achieve both together. In other words, for social enterprises, higher financial returns beget higher social returns as impact increases in parallel with revenue. To this end, BfE serves both for-profit and non-profit social enterprises that generate revenue and can sustain organic growth in the longer run. We operate our 6–8 month multi-stage programme by uniting talented students and professionals to advance social change.

We understood how much more difficult it can be to scale a social enterprise in the developing world.

In many countries, the social enterprise model is new and unproven yet brimming with potential. Many young changemakers grow frustrated with government inefficiencies and market failures, choosing to take social or environmental matters into their own hands by becoming entrepreneurs. However, local ecosystems are not developed enough to provide the amount and level of support needed for all promising social ventures to grow. Many fall through the cracks or don’t even pass the ideation phase. Urban hubs like Nairobi, Jakarta and Lagos have made strides, but too many entrepreneurs in emerging cities face innumerable challenges to scale their potentially game-changing ideas.

To illustrate this point, BAG Innovation, an early-stage education startup based in Kigali, Rwanda, joined our Incubation Programme in January 2020 by working with the BfE New York Chapter for their Consulting and Finance Advisory engagements. Led by two passionate entrepreneurs, BAG (Building A Generation) offers a digital platform that university students access to complete cases created by local companies to mimic work at entry-level roles.

With over 10 million youth entering the labour market in Africa annually, job market readiness and meaningful employment are huge development challenges. One large continental study revealed that nearly one-third of youth have important skill deficits when performing work-related duties, more than half of employed African youth work in jobs that they are undereducated for, and a staggering 97% of surveyed youth (employed or not) reported receiving no job search advice at all. By creating a platform that allows jobseekers to better showcase their skills and companies to assess them, BAG’s upskilling solution helps reduce friction in the Rwandan labour market by bridging the gap between theoretical knowledge acquired in the classroom and in-demand workplace skills.

And as a for-profit social enterprise, BAG’s social impact is tied to its financial success. The more students and companies it connects, the greater its chance to scale and expand to other markets in East Africa. As a testament to its impact thus far, BAG Innovation was recently ranked by Platform Africa as one of Africa’s top ten most influential startups. Where societies have unmet needs, social entrepreneurs can create bold solutions that harness the power of entrepreneurship to catalyse social change. Find out more about how we supported BAG Innovation and other social enterprises through our customisable Incubation Programme.

The BAG Innovation team in Kigali, Rwanda (Credit: BAG Innovation)

BfE creates impact by offering individualised remote support to social entrepreneurs across the globe, completely free-of-charge.

We tap into the varied talent and expertise of students and professionals based in global cities like Cambridge (UK), New York and Singapore. Two newer chapters in Rotterdam and Vancouver are in the making. The decentralised but connected nature of our organisation allows us to operate from anywhere in the world and expand iteratively, while continuing to attract the most passionate and talented minds.

This formula has worked well for us. After five years in operation, we are proud to have supported over 80 early-stage social entrepreneurs across Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Middle East to tackle some of the biggest challenges of our time. From climate change to gender equality, these ambitious founders and leaders are advancing the UN Sustainable Development Goals and making the world a more inclusive and sustainable place.

We deliberately take a multi-stakeholder approach to our work.

While it’s true that BfE exists to support social entrepreneurs on their journey to scale, we believe our mission expands beyond the impact we create for entrepreneurs around the world. Key to our success are the students and professional mentors who generously volunteer their time to support social entrepreneurs, and in turn, our mission.

For students, BfE represents a unique opportunity to learn new skills, and build upon existing ones, while working directly with social entrepreneurs to accelerate their business and generate impact.

By being part of a BfE engagement, students learn both hard and soft skills applicable to their future careers that go beyond classroom case studies. Many cite the consulting, financial, and communication skills gained through BfE as a core part of their future success in the workplace. Indeed, BfE student alumni have gone on to work at respected institutions in the private and public sectors, including in areas like strategic and management consulting, climate change policy, finance and banking, biomedicine, communications and economic development. Others have pursued further studies at top master’s and PhD programs.

Additionally, working on teams to address underlying challenges faced by social changemakers has been both fun and rewarding. Despite the COVID-induced shift to online learning, the leadership of our chapters are cultivating meaningful communities of like-minded students that unite personal and professional growth. We hold events for chapter members to socialise and interact with skilled practitioners. Students also engage with the broader social impact community in their cities by attending events, touring company offices or engaging with university social impact initiatives.

BfE mentors — many of whom are corporate consultants and finance professionals — also benefit from the chance to lend their skills, time and knowledge to student teams and social entrepreneurs.

For professionals craving high-impact experiences outside of their day-to-day job, BfE provides a meaningful skills-based volunteering opportunity that they can reasonably commit to in a flexible, remote and tailored way. Whether they come to BfE from the world’s most recognised firms or honed their skills in the public sector, BfE mentors currently offer their expertise in three ways:

Incubation: Advise students and social entrepreneurs directly on a 3–4 month incubation engagement

Capacity Building: Advise students and/or social entrepreneurs on an ad hoc basis on issues relating to specific sectors, geographies or skills

Thought Leadership: Engage the broader BfE community by speaking at public events or contributing to articles on our Medium publication

To date, we’ve worked with over 100 professionals across the globe, many of whom remark that BfE is one of the most meaningful and impactful volunteer opportunities they’ve been involved with. The ability to support students on their consulting journey, while also making a positive contribution to social enterprises, are motivating factors for further engagement.

Former members of the BfE New York Chapter with BfE mentor Dan Mathis (April 2019)

Through our virtual Incubation Programme, BfE strives to democratise access to high quality advisory services for social entrepreneurs seeking to create impact.

We see a world where social entrepreneurs can be the catalyst for driving forward an inclusive and sustainable future, no matter the resources or funding that they start out with. For 6 to 8 months and beyond, BfE’s Incubation Programme bridges this resource and support gap by providing pro bono services across four different areas (Consulting, Finance Advisory, Legal Advisory, Technical Advisory) that social entrepreneurs deserve access to yet remain without. We have started to see major success for some of our startups post-programme and look forward to seeing more in the coming years.

Five years on, our movement is gathering momentum and we’re excited to welcome you onboard.

Students: Click here to view available opportunities

Startups: Click here for application info

Professionals: Click here for application info

Founded in 2015, Bridges for Enterprise is a global non-profit that propels early-stage social entrepreneurs to scale their ventures and empower local communities.

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We empower early-stage social entrepreneurs to scale their ventures and impact local communities.

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Jordan Wolken

Jordan Wolken

Sherpa Ventures | Bridges for Enterprise | Empowering startups in emerging markets

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