Each year the Skoll Centre invites a small number of Oxford students to the annual Skoll World Forum on Social Entrepreneurship. Each year they share their unique perspectives of the sessions and events that unfold during this magical time in Oxford.
In 2014, I and my Indian co-founder started an ed-tech company in Bangalore to use technology and help teachers close early learning gaps and serve the 200 million low-income families who aspire for a better future for their children. After 3 years of struggle and one pivot we were under a lot of pressure to show potential investors we are worth it.
And then my partner’s mental health deteriorated. We burnt-out.
How many young entrepreneurs out there burn-out while trying to achieve their vision? A survey by The Wellbeing Project, a global initiative co-created with Ashoka, Esalen, Impact Hub, Porticus, the Skoll Foundation and Synergos, shows that 80% of Ashoka fellows and social entrepreneurs across the world self-identify as suffering from burnout. More than half of them are between the age of 25 and 34.
My arm tattoo reminder: “We are all human”
System change is about people and people can only work effectively when they are balanced, grounded and connected. It’s been almost one year since I stopped working in India and now, I am aware of my self-care. This session at the Skoll World Forum for Social Entrepreneurship 2019 was a great reminder of how important self-care is for everyone, but especially for change-makers.
Cheryl Fraenzl, Director of Programs and Terry Gilbey, General Manager for Esalen Institute, an alternative educational center in California, ran an incredibly powerful workshop, called: Aligning inner wellbeing with external impact, around wellbeing, connection and the practices that allow us to reach our human potential.
“Wellbeing does not mean happy-happy, it is about the inner alignment with what we do, the sense of presence and connection, it means being aware of how we do, it is a state where inner purpose matches outer purpose”, says Cheryl.
Lesson 1: Bring a discipline of wellbeing practices in your life
As participants, we were first invited to score our life domains (from 1 to 10) to see how aligned we feel in areas such as: growth and learning, love, career, money and sense of community. You can use the Wheel of Life to see the distance between where you want to be and where you are in your life.
The next step is to explore what works for us to achieve what the facilitators called a “life balance”. Meditation is one such “wellbeing practice”. “Meditation improves our ability to function particularly in stressful situations” says Terry who reminded us further about the benefits of meditation, such as slow aging and lower blood pressure. Other practices might involve yoga, breathing exercises or mindful walks in nature.
The Wellbeing Project works with change leaders around the world and takes them through an 18-month “inner development program”. So far, around 60 social entrepreneurs from 45 countries found and nurtured a deeper sense of wellbeing, through discovering what practice contributes to their “inner work”.
Lesson 2: Cultivate a deeper focus on relationships
According to a survey on loneliness and social isolation conducted by Kaiser Foundation and The Economist, 2 out of 10 adults in the USA and the UK report being “almost always, if not always, lonely”. Further, a study that follows different people across their life for the last 75 years, shows that, ultimately, happiness depends upon the quality of our relationships. Check out more insights from this study directly from psychiatrist Robert Waldinger:
TED Talk: what makes a good life? Lessons from the longest study on happiness | Robert Waldinger Happiness is not about success or financial wealth. What’s crucial is to foster and maintain relationships. If we dedicate time to people in our life, we will feel supported and happy.
Evaluation programs of The Wellbeing Project show that every single change leader who goes through the inner development cycle reports as feeling more centered, more present, more aware of right now. Cheryl stated:
Their narrative changes from 'I am the sole solution' to 'Change takes a momentum, a majority of us to create multiple solutions'
Wellbeing of those working in the social impact space is about a celebration of the small steps, a state of being rather than doing, a presence in the moment and finally, about trust and collaboration. I argue this is one of the most important lessons at the Skoll World Forum this year.
Daniela Gheorge is a social entrepreneur in education. Born in Romania, Daniela spent eight years working in India in business development, marketing and operations across four states with impact businesses. She started vChalk, a for-profit ed-tech company, in Bangalore in 2014. She is currently a Skoll Scholar and MBA candidate at the Saïd Business School.