As CEO and Founder of Ogunte CIC, Servane developed the first incubator for women social entrepreneurs in the UK, and has run the International Women’s Social Leadership Awards with over 130 finalists from 23 countries.
We met years back when I'd contacted her to say I found what she did inspiring! I also heard Servane speak live during her passionate talk at the Aspire Women's Leadership conference back in 2011. Since then, I've followed Ogunte's journey, signposting my social entrepreneurial clients and students to the work they do.
I asked Servane this week, if she'd share with Wild Women Do everything from how she overcomes challenges, and keeps herself and her team creatively inspired, and her 3 top tips on raising your influence in business.
You set up Ogunte to help women social innovators to be more influential and better connected. What and who inspired you?
I set up Ogunte originally to help communities to make a positive social and environmental impact. Then it emerged that women social entrepreneurs appropriated that space and found Ogunte to be the ideal platform to learn, grow, connect with peers and get the strength to lead. What inspired me, is generations of activists, such as Angela Davis, Marcelo Yuka, who lived and breathed their purpose.
Why women’s social innovation in particular, when you stand up for equality? Have you ever had to justify it, and if so, who to?
I never had to justify it, because there is, 1) a social business case, 2) enough evidence to back up the notion of a ripple effect to communities when women are involved in such activity, 3) a case of fairness in supporting women who are working to make the world an inclusive and fair place to live in, now and for future generations.
The only conversations where I had to spend a little bit more time explaining the context, were to people who didn’t know about social entrepreneurship, and hadn’t appreciated the angle of simultaneously aligning various bottom lines (financial, environmental, social, cultural) when running a business.
How long did it actually take for you to develop your idea and turn it into a fully functioning, and successful business?
It’s not as linear as you think. I started in 2001 in the Netherlands, then migrated to the UK, and had to build a whole new network from scratch. There are always ups and downs, life challenges take over, and what seemed to be a successful operation, is actually not robust because there is a lack of succession or back up staff.
You need to learn from the products or services you deliver also, as they can become obsolete very fast.
I decided to merge all the support programmes we had offered so far to women social entrepreneurs in a learning and incubation scheme The Make a Wave Programme, that involved a lot of peer-to-peer support from, and for women social entrepreneurs, a different attitude to finances and relationship building.
I couldn’t have copied any incubator that was on the market and made a female only version of it. It doesn’t work like this. It was the result of thousands of coaching conversations, observation and analytics.
A major gain was to understand that you cannot build a business in isolation and especially in the context of social impact. You have to work in partnership to be stronger and help people better. It’s primarily about serving the cause you have identified and create a healthy circular economy around it.
What hurdles do you continually have to overcome in business, and if so, how do you get yourself through?
The enormous load of information that people tend to be confronted with, and the lack of real simple and robust analytics to make sense of all this. I also noticed what my colleague Liam Black identified as the Messiah Complex, some leaders being too worried about their aura than the cause they are serving. We surely need strong leaders to pass a message but surely if it worked, we would have solved major social issues by now. I think collaboration is a very hard skill to master.
What was your Plan B if Ogunte hadn’t taken off?
There was no plan B. Ever. And I never considered Ogunte as a thing on the side to play with or throw away. It’s like a manifesto I am living by. (In business sense, that can be lethal).
I am developing another venture in several cities in the world with fellow change-makers and activists. We run rapid prototyping experiences with individuals, NGO’s or companies, in sensational environments, to produce services, eco-systems or products that change people’s world.
What myths would you dispel about social enterprise or women in business?
The myth that women lack of confidence.
The myth that social entrepreneurs don’t understand the value of money
The myth that women in social businesses are only to be found in Education and Healthcare because “that’s what women prefer”.
You’re an entrepreneur, juggling many roles, including being a mum, what helps you stay on top of it all?
Being organised at work, at home. Having me times. Learning to meditate. And play, play, play, any minute I can.
How do you keep yourself and your team creative and inspired so that Ogunte stays fresh and innovative?
We meet with people at the fringes of our networks, finding the most awkward conversation partners. They are the ones that fuel most innovation. It’s a categoric rule. Don’t be complacent. Get out of your patch. Don’t just download the internet according to you, as my colleague Jennifer Sertl rightfully said.
Which business models or innovations do you find inspiring right now and why?
Business models that solve issues that people are afraid to look at. Right now, I am exploring ICT/New technology based products or services that are going the extra mile to solve violence against women.
I run the Womanity Award Programme and this is what the next ecosytem investment is going to be about. Watch this space.
I am also fascinated by the circular economy, so any system changing structure supporting this is getting all my attention. I am not excited at all by ventures developing more tat or gimmicks.
If you could go back to your younger self, and share advice about creating or running your own business, what would you say?
Stop moaning and go and play with finance. It can be fun. If there’s an underlying psychological issue that prevents you to deal with money in a healthy way, go and talk to a professional. But, please do that before you start a business.
Give the 3 best tips you’ve ever given or had about how to raise your influence in business.
Test what you preach.
Be with people. Connect as if the earth mattered.
But don’t sacrifice yourself unnecessarily; it’s ok to be human and know your limits.
What’s coming up for Ogunte that you’d like to share with us?
We are on our way to connect 1 million women social entrepreneurs to change the course of the world. We want to create a tsunami of women who don’t want to be considered as second class citizens and who have all the tools to make a lasting difference now, and in the future, who can do this with men, and in a fashion that is inclusive and economically fair.