Social enterprise, whānau and community

It’s been just over three months since we landed in Aotearoa to start our new Kiwi life, bringing to fruition a plan 3 years in the making. I never really know whether I am going to land on my feet or face-plant whenever I move to a new country but each time I do this, it gets easier. My confidence increases, my fear decreases and my sense of self and capability kicks in to guide me safely through the transition. In three short months, we have a home, I have a job and a small and growing network of caring and supportive friends and colleagues. It has always been the community that I have been privileged to join or gathered around me that has made each country and career move so rewarding.

Barely a month after arriving, I started a new role with PledgeMe. PledgeMe is a crowdfunding platform helping people fund the things they care about. We recently expanded to Australia and since 2012 have helped campaigners raise over $30 million. A large proportion of the funding we help raise has gone to social enterprises and female founders so I felt a strong affinity with the social innovation and social enterprise work I had been doing in London. Community is what PledgeMe is about because without a crowd, it is harder for campaigns to get funded.

Last weekend, PledgeMe hosted our first Social Enterprise Unconference, bringing together a community of impact entreprenuers and friends. I have attended unconferences before but this one was special for me because we were generously and graciously hosted at Matau Marae by the Kerehoma whānau (family), of the Ngati Huia hapū (clan). It was my first, real life introduction to Māori customs, rituals and traditions. We opened with a pōwhiri (a traditional welcoming ceremony) after which we too were considered whānau.

©Moments of Light Photography

During our time on the marae, I was deeply overcome by a how a sense of place and history links to family, ancestry, the present and the future. Before bed on the first night, looking up at photos of generations past, mounted proudly on the wall in the wharenui (communal house), I realised I could only trace my whakapapa back about 3 or 4 generations, a consequence of my family’s immigrant heritage and my lack of curiosity. How can I fully know who I am if I don’t fully understand who and where I’ve come from? I am encouraged to learn more and perhaps it will lead to another community that I have yet to discover.

The nature of unconferences meant that a wide range of topics were up for discussion, some familiar to me and some new and challenging. We co-created sessions on personal development, managing and growing social enterprise, collaboration, impact investment, funding pathways, activism, te ao Māori (the Māori world) and fun topics like book club, a nature walk, lightning talks and even a dance session.

Working in social enterprise can be hard. It’s still comparatively nascent, especially as a named concept that legitimately straddles the business and impact worlds; it can be hard to explain in language understood by investors, funders and in fact the general public, and we are neither a purely commercial business nor a charity. Social entrepreneurs and their teams often have to balance impact and financial growth, compete for funding and explain and justify their outcomes. The weekend provided us with the opportunity to discuss these challenges, amplify our voices and build on each other’s ideas and positivity. The biggest thing I take with me from the weekend is the wonderful sense of community I felt, something vital to a new arrival with few roots here. Together, by supporting, collaborating and making way for each other we can achieve great things.