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Global Entrepreneurial Leaders Conference

GEL Conference 2013: lessons from global entrepreneurial leaders

Global Entrepreneurial Leaders Conference on 25th and 26th of September aimed to bring the best business minds together to use entrepreneurial skills in solving social problems. It was organised by Wild Hearts charity which funds microfinance loans in 40 developing countries around the world. I attended the first day of the two days of the conference and it was astonishing. It took place in the RBS Headquarters at Gogarburn. More than 260 start-ups, experienced entrepreneurs, and social initiatives leaders gathered together to listen for 7 inspirational speakers. Mick Jackson, the founder of Wild Hearts charity and initiator of the event, claimed that mixing values and entrepreneurial cooperation sounds unusual, but it enhances lives of individuals, society and leads to higher business performance.

Here is some advice on how to succeed in business and implement societal change.

The first speaker, Cheryl Kiser from Babson College in Boston, the leading business education institution, reminded that failure is the only option in entrepreneurial world. There are two approaches to the unknown. The first, prediction, is prevalent in managerial way of thinking, and contains belief that future can be extrapolated from the past. Another approach is a creative action (CreAction, the term used at Babson College), entrepreneurial thinking. It includes favouring reality over projections and the only logic here is that future is unknown. Cheryl also advised to pay only what you can afford to lose and to befriend reality or you can miss something important.

Jim Duffy, CEO of Entrepreneurial Spark that provides support for start-ups in Scotland, shared entrepreneurial traits:

  1. Resourcefulness and mindfulness.

  2. Being uncomfortable with being uncomfortable.

  3. Self-awareness and reading other people.

  4. Confidence with humility.

  5. Collaborative communication.

Mick Jackson also provided 5 things needed by an entrepreneur: a role model, a mentor, peer pressure to compete, transcendent purpose and entrepreneurial ecosystem.

Canadian guest Robert Barnard presented the project ‘Youthful Cities’ funded by his consulting firm Decode. The project target is to create more welcoming places for the young. Using criteria selected by young people, the top 10 list of the biggest cities in the world will be created. That should drive cities to compete for the young people by creating more opportunities for them.

Brandon Arbiter told his inspiring story of becoming young and successful entrepreneur and leader in the biggest food company in New York City-FreshDirect. His life changed after he was diagnosed with diabetes. After failing to find a convenient mobile phone application that would help to lead a normal life as a diabetic, he developed software himself. It is called Basal and it shifted the way of teaching and treating diabetes. Brandon will go to the Silicon Valley to develop it completely and to change lives of 357 million diabetes sufferers.

During entrepreneurial panel four speakers answered questions from the public. When asked what makes social enterprise, Cheryl Kiser claimed that social outcomes can be designed into normal businesses. Brandon Arbiter added that values of the world are changing. Instead of patenting his diabetes software, he allowed it to spread to the community.

After a fruitful networking lunch Sir Tom Hunter, Scotland’s billionaire and philanthropist, started his talk with Steve Job’s quote ‘think different’. He reminded a great history of Scotland, a land where a modern world was created. Young generation can learn from history, and Sir Tom believes that Scotland will create the future. He emphasised the importance of education system and teachers. Billionaire’s lessons for other entrepreneurs are that individuals cannot grow businesses, only teams can. Also entrepreneurs have to know themselves well and have humility to accept their weaknesses and to surround themselves with people to outweigh those weaknesses.

Sir Tom Hunter is passionate about Micro-Tyco which is a Wild Hearts project for enterprise training in the developed countries. It is suitable for both children and professionals. A team receives £1 coin and within a month it has to make as much money as possible using their inner sources: creativity, skills and experience. Pupils from winning teams in Scotland came on stage to share their experience. A great insight from one little girl: ‘It doesn’t matter how much money you make, imagination is what matters’.

Rupert Scotfield is a CEO of FINCA International, a leading microfinance provider. He told his story of starting to give microfinance loans. The reasons behind success of FINCA are people’s skills, honesty and hard work. The lending process happens in the level of people, with no management included, thus there is no room for corruption. The example of success is Uganda: within 20 years when microfinance loans were started in the country, fear on women’s faces changed into smiles.

The last speaker was Cissy Sekyewa. She’s an entrepreneur from Uganda who started with a microfinance loan from FINCA. She was a mother of 5 when her husband lost his job, so Cissy took her first loan of $38 and started sewing pillows and selling them on streets to avoid hunger. After winning first customers she took a bigger loan, and continued a hard work. Now her business is expanded to 3 shops with more products, also she is a supplier for Dubai where she spots new business opportunities. In Uganda women manage businesses, take children to schools, build houses and run the country. Advice from Cissy is that you have to be transparent in business. Sissy finished the conference with the dose of gratitude: ‘I thank God for gift of life and a blessing to expand, and I thank FINCA’.

Words that played in lips of most of the speakers were collaboration, humility and creativity. Speakers and attendees demonstrated that there are various ways to create social enterprises: to incorporate higher values in usual businesses, to invest profits for microfinance loans, to have business for profit and another non-for-profit initiative alongside. The most rewarding use of business power is to elevate life quality of others.

Written by Sigute Venskauskaite

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