2024 Social Entrepreneurship Meet Up

REDpreneur, an initiative of the Austrian Red Cross, provides solutions for transformative social impact while striving for financial sustainability. On the occasion of the Social entrepreneurship meetup in Vienna organised by the Austrian Red Cross in June 5th-7th, in partnership with the French Red Cross and IFRC, Elin Baranyai-Ulvestad, Program Manager of Redpreneur, tells us how they support the entrepreneurs’ journey.

Could you please remind us what REDpreneur is all about?

Baranyai-Ulvestad Elin – REDpreneur is a global innovation and acceleration program initiated by the Austrian Red Cross, fostering the development of capacities for initiating and growing social businesses within the Red Cross Red Crescent Movement. Our academy for social entrepreneurship offers training, mentoring, and networking opportunities online and in hybrid formats, serving staff and volunteers from the Movement as well as members of local NGOs, and social entrepreneurs. Participants gain the skills to create impactful services and products that generate income while addressing the five social and environmental challenges outlined in Strategy 2030. By bridging the worlds of humanitarian aid and social entrepreneurship, REDpreneur aims to enable long-term assistance to those in need while advocating for a humanitarian system that is financially sustainable through diversified income streams and less reliant on grants.

What feedback have you received from the first cohort of REDpreneur participants?

Baranyai-Ulvestad Elin – Participants appreciated the quality of the content and the interactive nature of the training sessions, particularly the online live calls which facilitated bonding and team building, fostering a very positive atmosphere. They also emphasised the critical role of their leadership for ensuring realistic chances of success. They highlighted the importance of having a peer within their team or organisation to serve as a sparring partner during the training sessions, aiding the development of business ideas. Access to external coaches providing diverse perspectives on the business idea was also noted as valuable. 

Furthermore, delivering a good post-training support such as networking with peers, fundraising assistance, and capacity-building opportunities, was identified as essential for maintaining momentum and effectively implementing ventures. Of course, also the financial follow-up support to scale the ventures was mentioned. For our ongoing second and third cohorts, we made sure to address this feedback. Thus we, enhanced follow-up support through the introduction of a growth lead role. We connect REDpreneurs working on complementary ideas with each-other through our growing networking and we have aligned more closely with IFRC to facilitate access to their existing funds.

You have two support programs: one Online Training Academy and one Master Class – what are the main differences between them?

Baranyai-Ulvestad Elin – The online Training Academy is our basic 6-week course, conducted entirely online. It equips participants with practical tools to develop services or products that address social or environmental challenges through entrepreneurial activities. Our primary tools include a ten-page business plan and a 4-year financial plan: the former guides participants in transforming their existing humanitarian projects into viable social business ideas, while the latter teaches them to consider both costs and income streams, tailoring revenue sources to different customer groups. The course culminates in an online pitch event, where participants refine their storytelling skills to effectively present their ventures to potential funders.

In contrast, the Master Class offers a hybrid training experience tailored for teams that have already developed impactful, financially sustainable, and scalable business cases. Over a 3-month period, this intensive program aims to prepare participants for the next stage of their ventures, with a focus on improving strategy, impact, go-to-market strategies, and financial planning. Participants benefit from extensive mentoring by experts and peer coaching throughout the program. The culmination of the Master Class is a final face-to-face session where graduates come together to pitch their ventures in front of an Expert Panel.

What does it mean to be an entrepreneur within the Red Cross Red Crescent Movement?

Baranyai-Ulvestad Elin – Entrepreneurs within the Red Cross Red Crescent Movement, often referred to as intrapreneurs, are impact-driven humanitarians who are curious about exploring social business approaches to addressing social and environmental challenges. They blend entrepreneurial spirit with humanitarian values to create sustainable solutions that make a meaningful difference in communities. Intrapreneurs are not afraid of doing business to create social or environmental value. Intrapreneurs in the Red Cross Red Crescent Movement operate in the organisational structure of a non-profit organisation, always in line with our seven principles. Particularly, they tend to develop profit-centers within their National Society to cross-finance other humanitarian activities.  

Based on your experience, what are the most important skills an entrepreneur should build throughout its entrepreneurial journey?

Baranyai-Ulvestad Elin – Every staff member and volunteer within our remarkable Movement already possesses the most important foundation for a social entrepreneur: intrinsic motivation to create a positive impact through their paid or volunteer work. Building upon this foundation, entrepreneurial humanitarians must cultivate essential skills such as continuous learning and the ability to derive insights from setbacks. Additionally, adaptability, strategic thinking, and effective communication are indispensable for navigating the diverse challenges inherent in the entrepreneurial journey. And lastly, of course, they must not be afraid of earning money. 😊

How did the Austrian Red Cross start to work on entrepreneurship?

Baranyai-Ulvestad Elin – Several years ago, we began exploring innovative finance. This led us to uncover an evolving ecosystem of impact investors seeking opportunities to generate positive social and environmental impact, but lacking investable high-impact opportunities in the bottom-of-the-pyramid markets we operate in our daily work. We quickly learned that unlike funders who don’t expect to get back the money they give away through grants, investors do want to see their money back. So, earning revenues is key. Here the Austrian Red Cross saw the potential of facilitating the development of new revenue streams for RC core services through social enterprise approaches. This does not only align with our mandate to enhance the financial sustainability of National Societies in our international cooperation work, but also contributes to building an impact economy prioritizing impact over profit. After securing funding through a period of fundraising efforts, we were finally able to launch the REDpreneur pilot program in 2020. Since then, we have supported over 100 REDpreneurs, which have been empowered to contribute to making their organisations more resilient through diversifying their income streams.

What are the main next steps for the REDpreneur team?

Baranyai-Ulvestad Elin – Our main focus is on achieving financial sustainability to ensure the continued provision of global trainings. Additionally, we aim to explore partnerships with National Societies to regionalize our trainings, making them more inclusive and accessible, particularly for branch-level staff and volunteers. Furthermore, we are committed to providing intensive support to our alumni as they implement their venture ideas and create tangible impact in their communities. We want to explore how collaboration between National Societies and Social Entrepreneurs can lead to win-win situations for both parties, as well as to improved living conditions in local communities. Finally, we advocate for business practices that align with our commitment to sustainability and responsible entrepreneurship.

The REDpreneur team by Austrian Red Cross together with IFRC and the French Red Cross, is delighted to invite you to an international Red Cross Red Crescent gathering on Social entrepreneurship & Innovation on June 5th – June 7th 2024, in Vienna, Austria. This year’s Meet-Up will be hosted during and as part of the Impact Days 2024Austria’s largest annual conference uniting 500+ impact investors, policymakers, and social entrepreneurs from 50+ countries to catalyse innovation and shape a sustainable future through collaboration.
Do you want to be part of this exciting event? Then ✍️ please register here!

Find more about REDPreneur here

Interested? Read the report How to foster resilience via social entrepreneurship here.