Better Incubation is a project by LIAISE

Better Incubation Communities of Practice for Women / Gabriela Matouskova : Supporting social entrepreneurs’ wellbeing for social change

Continuing our interviews presenting social innovation experts and inspirational entrepreneurs collaborating with us in the Better Incubation project, we thought this would be a great opportunity to introduce Gabriela Matouskova, a social entrepreneur passionate about wellbeing and using business as a force for good.

Gabriela is the CEO of Hope 4 The Community, the social enterprise providing organisations with affordable, face-to-face and digital products and services to empower people to manage their wellbeing, and the founder of Grow Consult, the social enterprise consultancy helping small and micro social enterprises to achieve their potential and create change.

She has joined the Better Incubation international Community of Practice for women, where she shares her hands-on experience with the incubation practitioners so that practical and real challenges of female entrepreneurs are reflected in the process of business incubation.

We are also looking forward to seeing Gabriela at 2021 EBN Congress as one of the speakers in the session ‘Beyond mainstream incubation: Supporting social and inclusive entrepreneurship  for social impact’ on 15th September.

 Q : Gabriela, you have been engaged in social /inclusive entrepreneurship projects for more than 20 years. If you were to write a book about yourself, how would you name it?

 G : The Big Social. I feel too young to have a memoir so it would cover stories of other social entrepreneurs and their businesses. All of it – the good, the bad – there is so much to learn from others.

Q : Looking back in time, what inspired you to become interested and passionate about social entrepreneurship? Do you still feel the same way?

G: Absolutely yes! I left a steady job in 2019 to make the leap into running our social enterprise. And I haven’t looked back, not once. I hope I will never stop feeling this way. What inspired me? The people. Seeing the impact. And the passion, commitment, resilience and drive for change. You can say, I have found my tribe.

Q : You have worked with a wide range of social enterprises and social innovators from different countries, can you share with us your experience. What was the most inspiring social enterprise or entrepreneur you have worked with?

G : I have been privileged to meet and visit many social entrepreneurs around the world. Whether they were running a women’s cooperative in Egypt or producing mangrove fruit chips in Indonesia, they all had one thing in common – passion to change things for the better.

The one entrepreneur that personally inspired me is Karen Lynch. When I met Karen, she was a CEO of Belu, an innovative social enterprise and the UK’s most ethical water brand. Belu was started with the simple idea that there was a better way to do business by reducing environmental impact and using all profits to fund clean water projects. Belu passed over £5 million of profits to WaterAid.

I was “matched” with Karen through a Human Lending Library – a session organised by Expert Impact –matching successful entrepreneurs with social enterprises for free advice and mentoring. Karen is a champion of profit with purpose, the circular economy and of collaboration for positive progress.

We spent an hour together, going through the business details, and me explaining that I was thinking about leaving my job to try to grow Hope For The Community CIC. Karen asked lots of clear and direct questions – she is great like that! And then just said “what is stopping you?”.

Sometimes you just need that bit of encouragement from someone who has done it.

I left my role and joined our social enterprise few months later. And despite the pandemic, 18 months on, we are supporting thousands more people to manage their health and wellbeing, have grown in size and made profits to be re-invested in our community.

Q : On the other hand, as the coach and mentor, you have a first-hand understanding about the challenges and constraints social enterprises face. These barriers are even more accentuated in the case of vulnerable groups in our societies, such as migrants, women or youth. What advice would you give to any aspiring female entrepreneur reading this?

G : The fact is, working to achieve something is always hard. Few years back I was a migrant, single mother, working full time whilst studying for a part-time university degree. I couldn’t have even imagined then, where I am now.

Arthur Ashe, the American tennis player, put it best when he shared his thoughts about taking on challenges: “Start where you are, use what you have, do what you can”.

  • There’s never the perfect time to start
  • Be clear about the social issue you are trying to solve
  • Know the root cause
  • Build on your strengths
  • Find a mentor or coach
  • You can do anything, but not everything
  • Ask for forgiveness, not for permission

There will always be mountains behind mountains, so remember to be kind to yourself.

Q : During our Community of practice meetings, a courage of female entrepreneurs to become a leader and role model has emerged as one of the desired prerequisite to encourage other women to embark on their entrepreneurial path.  I would be very curious to understand qualities a woman needs to become a successful business leader who can engage others in solving social issues?

G: I feel that choice of language is very important for inclusivity.

Setting “pre-requisites” can create barriers. “Success” is a subjective measure.

For me the key qualities are purpose, empathy, compassion and resilience. Both as personal attributes and the values to build your business on.

Authenticity and clear values will make you and your organisation one that people want to work for and work with.

Q : When looking at your profile, along with your practical connection with social innovation and social entrepreneurship, you have also worked for Coventry University Social Enterprise (CUSE). Could you share with us more about this experience? 

G : It is exciting to see that CUSE is also a member of EBN network of business support organisations participating in the Better Incubation programme.  CUSE is where I learned first-hand about social entrepreneurship. I spent three years working there, part of a great team.

CUSE is the only UK example of a social enterprise set up by a university to promote social entrepreneurship and innovation. I feel it represents the civic role that universities should have in their community. Working with students, staff and general public to realise their entrepreneurial potential and to create social value.

My role centred on income generation, business development and impact management. As a migrant to UK, I was excited to be part of the team securing funding for MiFriendly Cities, a regional project supporting refugee and migrant entrepreneurs to start mission driven businesses.

I enjoyed supporting other entrepreneurs, but felt I wanted to be closer to the “action”. My work with university academics to extend the impact of their research on society through sustainable social enterprise models led me to my current role as CEO at Hope For The Community CIC, Coventry University’s first research social enterprise spin-out.

We have a strong partnership. The University are our research and evaluation partner, continuously strengthening the evidence base of our wellbeing programmes.

Q : When it comes to inclusive incubation what would be three effective approaches you would recommend to be embraced by the business incubators to unleash the potential of social or marginalised entrepreneurs?

G : Business incubators work with aspiring entrepreneurs from all walks of life. Here are my top three tips:

  1. Business incubators should be open to co-producing their programmes. And remember that co-production doesn’t end after few workshops – it must be ongoing. Make co-production an essential part of the way you design, evaluate and manage impact of your programmes.
  2. It’s important to keep the incubation programmes simple, flexible and culturally relevant. The complex eligibility criteria can create barriers for many. As can certain modes of delivery. Ask and listen to entrepreneurs you support and be flexible.
  3. Finally don’t forget to support wellbeing support . Burnout is a widespread issue amongst entrepreneurs, especially at the start-up stage. The pandemic has exacerbated health inequalities. Research has shown that women and people from ethnic minorities were disproportionately affected by COVID-19. What can you do? Partner with an organisation that can provide wellbeing support independently or include range of self-care tools and offer plenty of opportunities for peer-support on your incubation programmes. And don’t forget to give your staff the skills and confidence to do this! Encourage entrepreneurs to invest in building “healthy” culture in their business. This will pay dividends for them personally and their organisation in the long-term.    

Follow Gabriela work on Twitter and LinkedIn

Author of this post: EBN

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