Great People + Hard Work + Grit = Social Impact

At the beginning of this year I became Managing Partner of StreetwiZe in Belgium, part of the Mobile School Group. I have had an amazing opportunity to learn from mentors such as Arnoud Raskin and Bart Van Bambost and to work with an incredibly talented team.

    StreetwiZe-Mobile School is a talent development social enterprise that works to improve the self esteem of street youth in 22+ countries and translates the skills that these street youth use to survive, to companies through talent and leadership development programs.

    In 2014 StreetwiZe worked with over 100 companies with talent development workshops and leadership programs. We used our Street Skills model to focus employees on what matters and to bring results while always having a positive impact on street youth around the world. We have worked with companies like Nike, Rabobank, ING, Ikea, Colruyt and many many more.

    I lead a team of some of the best purpose driven facilitator/coaches in Europe. They combine experience working with street youth with their knowledge of the challenges and needs of today’s leading companies. They serve as the backbone of StreetwiZe and it has been wonderful working with a team that is committed to human development, whether that is of the CEO of a multinational in Europe or a street kid in Guatemala City.

    Mobile School – StreetwiZe serves as an example for the future of companies. Not only for those who identify with the Ethical Business or B Corporation movements, but those that don’t initially consider themselves social but believe in the work that they do. Mobile School – StreetwiZe is able to attract some of the best talent and highest level clients through its authenticity and connection to a social purpose and commitment to delivering top quality content. We have never sacrificed quality, always delivering value to our clients, while staying true to our mission. The sustainable development of individuals, organizations and society through activities based in the strengths of street kids. This shows both social enterprises and traditional companies that this is not an either/or game.

    All of that being said, the excitement, the growth, the validating of social impact in a new an innovative way (details to come), as some of you may have heard, I will be taking on a new adventure.

    In August I will be returning to California, to the San Francisco Bay Area. I have a shirt that says ‘California Calls You.’ And after 3 years in Belgium, going to Business School, working for a leading social enterprise and learning about the complexities of this wonderful little country, I will heed the call.

    It has been an honor to work for such an innovative and impactful organization. I have learned much and hope I left my mark. I was able to focus on professionalizing our commercial process and ensuring a strong and connected identity in a growing team. I worked to build synergies across Mobile School and StreetwiZe and did my best to give the StreetwiZe & Mobile School team as much support as possible to create as much social impact as possible! I have a few more months with StreetwiZe and while I am excited for the next adventure, I will miss this amazing team!

    And as I am heading back to California, I am on the look out for new opportunities to work in social impact in the San Francisco area.

Please reach out if you see something that you think may interest me and of course I would greatly appreciate a heads up on people to contact or things to check out.

Check here for a bit on my background and what I’m looking for. 

Looking forward to hearing from you all and to a great new adventure!

The Syria that I knew and loved

This was originally posted in September 2013 on the Shelterbox USA site. http://www.shelterboxusa.org/news.php?id=1328

I thought I would share it here as well.

 

The Syria that I knew and loved

The Syria that I knew and loved

ShelterBox Response Team (SRT) member Hunter Tanous (US) at Domiz camp, Duhok, Iraqi Kurdistan, September 2013.

Hunter Tanous (US) has just returned from his first deployment as a ShelterBox Response Team volunteer, having completed his training in March. He was assisting Syrian refugee families fleeing conflict in Iraqi Kurdistan:

The Syrian crisis has dragged millions through years of pain and suffering. It has torn apart families, communities and people. It has left a psychological impact so deep that we will be seeing the consequences for generations to come.

In college I spent about a half year living in Damascus. I had received a Cultural Ambassadorial Scholarship from Rotary International to study in Amman, Jordan and after seven months there, moved to Damascus, Syria. I studied Arabic at the University of Damascus and spent afternoons hanging out in a shop on al Qamariah street in the old town, talking with shop owners and workers who had become good friends. Damascus was a city full of beauty, history and some of the friendliest people I’d ever met. Its architecture went from Soviet style concrete slabs on the outskirts, to beautifully intricate Ottoman era mosques and markets. I always loved entering the old city through the great Souk al Hamidiyeh (where you could get delicious fresh ice cream rolled in pistachios at Bakdash) and ending beneath the pillars of an ancient Roman ruin that was once a temple to Jupiter with the great Umayyad Mosque shimmering gold and white in front of you.

This is the Syria that I knew and loved. That Syria is no more and it will take a long, long time before it is back.

I was worried when I first showed up in Kurdistan. I was worried what it would be like to be confronted face to face with the consequences of the Syrian crisis. I was worried I would see friends, people I had known, now in such a dire situation that I could never imagine. I had left Syria in 2010 and hadn’t been back since.

Symbol of hope

What I found was something I could have never expected. I learned about the suffering of the Syrian refugees, about their stories and their journeys. Many had been persecuted for their ethnicity (Kurdish), were unable to find jobs, and living on the edge of starvation. Yet still there was a pride and willingness to fight to improve their situation. Many saw Kurdistan as a symbol of hope. It was a place they could call home. There were job opportunities, the economy was growing, the political situation was stable and on top of it all, their language was spoken.

Beside all the hope and optimism, there was also a simple dangerous fact; shelter was needed. The Kurdish Regional Government had done an immense amount to assist the refugees, but no government is immediately able to take care of the massive amounts of people that were all together crossing the border. An average day was 45 degrees Celsius and in the winter it could drop below freezing, snowing in the areas near the mountains. ShelterBox tents were needed to provide shelter and dignity and in the winter, warmth. The situation was dire and would only get worse as time went on. Many of the refugees were middle class, and even after years of war, to be homeless was an entirely new situation.

Single men vulnerable

I am proud that ShelterBox was able to provide tents to a number of vulnerable groups. One that I believe is very important is the group of single men at the Qushtapa camp outside Erbil. Contrary to popular belief single men can be a vulnerable group. Many had left their families behind, looking to earn enough money to support them and bring them to Kurdistan. Imagine sending your 17 year old son to a foreign country to find a job in the midst of a war, imagine the responsibility. Organisations often see young men as a problem, which they will become if they are not given opportunities.

Whilst on the ground we worked with many great young men that were more than eager to work, they just need that chance, that opportunity. They worked as translators as well as part of the teams to set up the tents. They were hardworking, kind and always grateful. For these refugees that have been through so much, there is a small gap between optimism and hopelessness. I am happy to say that ShelterBox is providing the necessary shelter to allow these men to go out and improve their as well as their families’ lives. Keeping them off the street and giving them a place to temporarily call home will make their future as well as that of the community, brighter.

 

Good morning new day. Nothing like a sunny morning after a summer thunderstorm and a cup of cardamom filled Arabic coffee to get you started! (the cardamom makes it Arabic instead of Turkish)

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I’ve been in Belgium about two years now. My Dutch is doing well, my French I’ve decided to improve (aka start) and I’ve had a job for quite a while now. The elections happened recently and there was a very predictable swing right. A similar thing happened in the last elections but the winning party was pushed out of the government. I’m curious as to what will happen this year. Europe as a whole seems to have jumped to the sides (either far-ish left, or far-ish right.) The Union is in a precarious place. A place that could provide the needed push to tackle diverse opinions and competing futures, allowing it to become a strong, diverse and powerful place. Or it could lead to slow ruptures that fester until the European experiment is looked back upon as only that, an experiment.

 

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As for my work. I work for a social enterprise founded by Ashoka Fellow Arnoud Raskin. The organization is Mobile School –StreetwiZe. We work with street kids around the world, focusing on self esteem and foundational development through educational games on our ‘mobile school’ (an all terrain chalkboard on wheels). Over their 15+ years on the street, a lot has be learned from the street youth. They live in a tough and unforgiving environment, yet some of them not only survive, but succeed. StreetwiZe was developed by looking at the skills and competencies they use to survive and translating them in to ways that those in business can improve their ability to not only survive, but also succeed. When you look at the core components of what drives us, keeps us working and helps us succeed, it’s the same for a corporate employee as a street kid. Only with the street kid it is life or death, and therefore more visible. We do talent development and coaching programs for large companies based on the skills and experiences of the street youth and the profit of our work supports Mobile School.

 

11.07.2006

Mobile School in Romania

 

I have long been a passionate believer of the idea that business can be fundamentally good. Whether as a catalyst for change, an example from which to learn or a way of strengthening the foundation of our communities. Whatever the name, let us continually bring our personal values into the work we do everyday.

Interested? Check these out: B Corp , Ashoka, Skoll Foundation , Skoll World Forum

Twitter handles to check out: @SSIReview @Skollfoundation @Socentclinic @Acumen @Ashoka @EchoingGreen@SOCAPmarkets

Just a few of many covering social enterprise and impact investing!

 

And one last update for the moment: a long time friend and Mentor, Jerry Hildebrand will be heading the Center on Social Impact Learning at the Monterey Institute of International Studies (Middlebury College.) Jerry ran the Global Center for Social Entrepreneurship that catapulted me on my journey in social enterprise. He has been one of the most supportive and kind human beings I know who has done wonders to bring out the best within each person so that they can have the most positive impact on the world. I am excited for Jerry, for MIIS and for the future that their partnership creates!

 

 

Year in review (kind of)

Yet again I’ve managed to go an entire academic year without posting. It is june and I am one month away from graduating with a Masters in General Management from the Vlerick Business School in Belgium. I don’t intend for this to be a wrap up of the year but I do have to say that it has been interesting, informative and worth it. I believe I chose the right school at the right time. It’s recent rebranding fit with what I was looking for in a school and the name and network has given me something to connect with in this country. I have also received the education, both academic and experiential, that I was looking for. While one can always want and expect more, I was looking for the tools and thoughts of the business world and I am pretty sure I got what I sought.

Of course its not like me to stray to far from the things the interest me. So for my final internship with the school, I approached a professor and director of the Forum for Social Entrepreneurship. While I don’t want to say to much, I found a project that fit perfectly. I developed strategy, used past experience, learned from others and am pumping out a business plan for the Forum. Simultaneously identifying the resources of the school that could be used for social entrepreneurship, finding ways to involve the students, and convincing the school it needs to be done has been a great experience. I have learned much about social entrepreneurship in Belgium and am as excited as every about the leveraging of resources and development of strategies that incorporate and integrate positive societal and environmental impact into their activities and structure. Things are going well, I’m learning lots and the world keeps right on going!

Below are a few images to describe a bit about the year:

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Hult Prize, London

In March I went to London with a group of MBAs and another Masters student to compete in the Hult Prize. This is a social entrepreneurship accelerator challenge (like a social enterprise business plan competition) where teams compete in creating a social enterprise that addresses the specific challenge chosen that year. For our year it was Urban Food Insecurity. It was a great experience and my first time in London!

Shelterbox Response Team Training, Cornwall, England

IMG_06442013 was the first time I’d been to England and I somehow ended up there twice. I went to Cornwall for the last of the training to become a Shelterbox Response team member. I spent a blog worthy week out in the rain, nearly 100km wind and hail to finally become an SRT! We’ll see how it works schedule wise but I am happy to finally be a part of the team.

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And a whole lot of school!

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Good ol’ ‘s morgens in Belgium

Not all mornings are created equal. Wait, that’s not true, all mornings are beautiful and enriching and invigorating (yes mornings can be invigorating,) the problem is, we are not all created equal. Being a self proclaimed morning person, to the chagrin of my girlfriend, I enjoy mornings. I enjoy being awake and drinking coffee and reading the newspaper. For me, mornings are usually the most productive times of my week. That being said, I realize I don’t always enjoy mornings to the fullest. I wake up, I drink my coffee, read the news and do things until something else leads me to go outside. By then (seeing as school the first week doesn’t have morning sessions) the day is totally transformed. So this morning as I ventured out at 8:30 am on a nice sunny Belgian morning, I couldn’t help but thinking, ‘man, I love mornings.’

( I apologize to those of you who wake up between 5-6am every morning for work and read that and felt a small amount of bitterness festering on their tongue.)

Ik ben terug in België!

Belgian weather has been in full force since I’ve returned. 90˚-100˚ F  (30˚-40˚C) days, combining only with a few rather serious showers. One of which, I happen to be caught in one fine morning while biking to the train station, luckily (due to my REI jacket) it only looked like I went waist deep into a pool.

I began my time back in Belgium with a one month intensive Dutch course. The ILT (part of the KU Leuven) offers Dutch courses for all levels, as well as the occasional intensive course. It was only level two, but it went really well. I have been using the language more and more with my girlfriend and her family, which for me has been phenomenal practice. They are patient and supportive, allowing me to use the language in such a destructively incorrect way, that I can learn! The biggest detriment or barrier to learning a language, is ones own embarrassment and the assumption that you, the speaker, look and sound like an idiot (which is unfortunately true, but not important, because ‘those who mind, don’t matter, and those who matter, don’t mind’ – Bernard Baruch via Dr. Seuss.)

We flourish in our language learning abilities at a young age because we are brazen and experimental, we throw back what the world has thrown at us and we do it enough times that after a while we finally get it right. If you want to learn a language you have to pretend you are three years old; constantly stammer intelligibly (that’s called practice) and be curious about everything around you, point at objects and say what you think they are called, only to be corrected by those nearby, there is no better way to learn.

As for school. Returning to begin my one year Masters in General Management, I was met with a pleasant surprise. The school I am attending had gone through a rebranding process over the summer, and made a few wise decisions. Most importantly, they changed the name from (ridiculously long name with two cities in the title) to the Vlerick Business School. Simple and to the point. This is more true to the spirit of the school and the direction it is going; approval given.

The school is becoming the leading Business School in the heart of Europe. With a new campus opening in Brussels, the school has campuses in Belgium (Ghent, Leuven,) Russia (St. Petersburg,) and an MBA program in China (Beijing.) I am proud to be part of the school and excited for the upcoming year. My goal is to use a traditional management/business education and focus those skills learned on the Disaster Relief sector. I believe there is much to learn from the business world that can, is and will be applied to non profit sectors, especially Disaster Relief and Management.

Ghent Campus (I study at the Leuven Campus, not this one!)

And she’s off!

My sister has recently taken flight and landed in the formerly prosperous continent of Europe! She is part of the Rotary Youth Exchange Program and will be spending the year in Portugal. Talking to her before she left, seeing photos of her new family life and reading her brand new blog (which I fully recommend you all follow! http://aventuras-em-portugal.tumblr.com/) brings me back to the first days of Argentina. Youth exchange (particularly between 17-20 years old) is really something I believe everyone should take part in. And not just a few months, I’m talking about a solid year.

I’m super excited for my sister and really can’t wait to hear the stories, her Portuguese and just partake in the joy and discovery that only comes by sending youth to far off foreign continents.

She’s also inspired me to blog, seeing as I am (as usual) pretty far behind in my updates. So, with that said, expect an update to soon follow!

 

If you’re interested in Rotary Youth Exchange http://www.rotary.org/en/studentsandyouth/youthprograms/rotaryyouthexchange/Pages/ridefault.aspx

Scarlett in Portugal

http://aventuras-em-portugal.tumblr.com/

Shelterbox Assessment Weekend

This summer I completed the second phase of the Shelterbox Response Team member recruitment process. It took place in the hills surrounding Grenoble, France. It was a beautiful location, mist covered the valley in the morning and everything surrounding us was green, up until the snow covered peaks of the Alps. The assessment process had a few distinct parts, but as part of the weekend assessment is being able to deal with different situations in want of information, I’m not going to go too much into detail.

There were 16 applicants from all around the world. As expected, Europe made up the largest portion of the group, English, French, Italian and Norwegian in particular. Many of the people were living in a foreign country at the moment, which seemed to make sense, as this position (to me) attracts people with a less than sedentary life style. The group also had people from Turkey, Egypt and two Americans (myself included.)

Some of the group were Rotarians who were supporters of Shelterbox. They spoke of often giving presentations and speeches on Shelterbox but felt they needed to know more of what goes into the relief effort and about the people who would be deployed. I think this is a great way for Rotarians to better understand the program and understand for themselves (and share) what is most needed by Shelterbox.

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The weekend tested our navigation, communication and team skills. This was done through exercises, questions, role-playing and more. Understandably, the ability to be self-sustaining, motivated, calm under pressure and persistent were heavily emphasized. Shelterbox needs applicants who bring the necessary fundamentals, and only need to learn the specifics of the program. Shelterbox is a ‘small’ organization with a very large reach and impact, the money is spent efficiently and the work done precisely. SRT’s (Shelterbox Response Team members) are very well trained and continually kept up to date as to the most recent training, but in order to be as efficient as possible as an organization, they need to choose the people that already exhibit the qualities needed of an SRT.

I was fortunate enough to receive a message letting me know that I had been accepted to participate in the third phase of the assessment process. This is a nine day training course in the UK. After that I will set my availability for deployment and will be sent out. Only after a successful first deployment does one official become an SRT.  Unfortunately, due to the fact that I am about to begin a Masters in General Management in Belgium, I will be unable to complete the upcoming training, but I am hoping to participate in the following which is offered at the beginning of next year and I know that my education in Management will only add to what I can contribute to Shelterbox. It was very exciting for me to be closer to my goal of becoming an SRT and playing a role in the Shelterbox organization.