Here is the wrap-up from our experience being UN Women Project Inspire 2015 finalists.
Project Inspire is an initiative of the Singapore Committee for UN Women, and a host of corporate sponsors. The five year young competition scours the globe for young people doing bold things to better our common world. The daring tagline - Five Minutes to Change the World.
As a women focused social enterprise, we had Project Inspire in our sights way back in the heady days when we were just an idea. We were a little self assured and still young pups, so we did not make the 2014 cut. But in 2015, we had spawned from an idea to a scalable enterprise. All we need is a small capital injection and we can flourish like fat monsoon fruit. This year we were ready, and after nine months at the School of Social Entrepreneurs in Perth, Katie was the gal to pitch our idea.
After scraping through our personal accounts to send along some Fab Social support, Megan and I booked our tickets. From Perth, Melbourne and India we met in the humid Singapore heat, nervous and excited for the week ahead. We were ready to listen, to learn and to nail the pitch that our gal Katie had been boiling down for months. To take our big and complex Idea, and deliver it to a panel of big business judges in a five minute pitch. Five minutes to Change the World - or to convince a room full of people you have the smarts and the gall to pull off something a little less grandiose, but equally real.
In the social enterprise world - the word competition seems a little incongruous. In the social enterprise world, people are keen to share, to learn and to collaborate. Think passionate, motivated, and smart. Prepared to through their personal savings on the line to create something with Real Social Impact. They burry themselves in the village, and throw themselves new ways of working - number crunching - profits, outputs and real deal social impact.
Our peers where unsurprisingly an incredible group of young, very bright and very committed people. Dare - a Tanzanian Project creating environmentally friendly sanitary products, jobs and improving health outcomes for women. Or Emerge, a Sri Lankan program using jewelry to support young survivors of abuse to learn new skills through fun, engaging play activities. And these are just to mention two. Of the nine other projects that flew in to pitch their idea, every one deserved to walk away with the cash.
The finalists were pull through their paces, in a grueling week-long schedule that included crash courses in leadership, social impact strategy, media management and more. It was a baby business course designed to cram as much support in as a week could give. We spent time after each day catching up, after more than year separated by Skypes, emails, Vibers and remote working intermediaries.
On the final day, we woke up scared but prepared, after a long night work shopping Katie's pitch and the potential questions she would be thrown by a notoriously stern judging panel. Megan and I threw on our Fab Social threads, ready for a day in the market fair selling our end-of-season stock. We huddled around our laptop to watch the live stream, and kept Fi (watching from Brazil) in the loop. The pitchers went on and off, and I was impressed by each one of them. Anyone who says young people are unmotivated slackers is spending too much time in malls (where the slackers have been slacking for generations) and not in the world around them. This young bunch stood in the firing line, and answered each question with precision. They knew their shit.
As the day drew to a close, and the pitchers all emerged shaking and no doubt relieved, the time finally came for The Announcement. Megan and I clustered up the front with the pitchers and held sweaty palms. We were all holding our breath. When Emerge - well, emerged - as runner-up no one was surprised. Spending a week with three of the team, these women were stellar and could talk for days about the impact of their work. Then the finalist was announced - I held my breath and imagined the words "The Fabric Social" would fall from the MC's lips. In that instant an entire entrepreneurship fund for our weavers, with funding for travel and a girls group all materialised.
But alas, for the Fab Sosh ladies, that is a dream to be realised another day. The winner of the day, and the moment was Barbara from Women in Technology and Business. A Ugandan based project using the tools of the digital world, with a little local know how to transform women's economic lives in Uganda. She fell to her knees in surprise and happiness and every one of the finalists, socent in their great big hearts felt that joy and relief with Barbara. Mother of three, social enterprise founder, and one inspiring woman.
We celebrated with winners, finalists and talked shop as you would expect a room full of passionate young types to do. We sipped kindly donated champagne, said our good byes (certain of lasting connections) and turned our sites back to the work back home - not to change the world in five minutes - but to change what we can, in the precious time we are given.