What does it take to be a social entrepreneur?

Earlier this month, three of our initiatives were given the opportunity to share their entrepreneurial journey with students from Ducere Global Business School’s Masters of Business Administration (Innovation and Leadership) program.

Amanda Bartley, PwC’s national Corporate Responsibility director moderated the panel consisting of Michele Miller, founder of Robotics WPS, Nicole Brown, global CEO of Robogals and Justin Matthys, co-founder of Maths Pathway.

The panel discussed their biggest challenges and how being a part of the 21st Century Minds (21CM) Accelerator Program has enabled them to expand their networks and access the expert knowledge and diverse skill sets of their mentor teams.

We captured some of their responses for you to learn more about their experiences:

Why did you apply to be a part of 21st Century Minds?

Nicole Brown (NB): I saw this as a great opportunity to gain more professional knowledge. My team and I recognised we had gaps in our knowledge that we needed to fill. The program has provided us with a platform to develop our own skills and our mentor team has been so helpful, especially in the areas of impact assessment and partnership development

Justin Matthys (JM): To grow our network. All of the initiatives who are part of this program are solving a part of the problem in different ways. And when you’re running a start-up, your job description changes weekly! Having advice from people who are experts is incredibly beneficial. There are so many challenges that others have solved that we can learn from.

Michele Miller (MM): To access a supportive STEM community and gain invaluable advice. As a young business this program has helped me grow my knowledge and has given me the confidence that what I am doing is on the right track.

What are the biggest challenges you face as a social entrepreneur?

MM: Decision making. This is a huge daily challenge – who handles what, what gets prioritised? Each decision has a flow on effect.

JM: Everything is challenging! You’re always moving from one challenge to the next because once you’ve solved it, the next thing you work on becomes your new challenge. A big challenge however is the tension we face between impact and scale. Do we innovate to make things more consistent or do we focus on growing our organisation through marketing? Making decisions that impact our students knowing how how different the reality would be if we weren’t involved is always something we consider.

NB: As a global organisation, working across different time zones is one of our biggest difficulties. Especially when we’re all students! The differing schedules can be challenging. A key part of overcoming this is building an open and honest culture.

“For me, it is so important that my team understand our global goals and feel empowered to make decisions autonomously. This is something we are continuing to build on as we grow as an organisation.” Nicole Brown

How do you capitalise on the national conversation about ideas, science and innovation?

NB: We’ve been invited to parliamentary conversations and roundtables with other professionals within this space. At these events, we are often the only not-for-profit represented, however it is encouraging to be able to influence the national conversation. Being students, I believe we provide a different perspective to many conversations that may not necessarily be considered; therefore the national conversation provides a platform to share our generation’s ideas.

MM: We’re now able to have an impact on a wider audience. My relationship with PwC has helped with this, because now we’re gaining access to collective groups who make decisions, rather than one school at a time.

Our current education system is steeped in tradition. What barriers have you faced in trying to improve it?

JM: It is essential to engage all levels of leadership, all stakeholders – teachers, parents and students when trying to address change. It’s important to show you’re good at what you’re doing and making an impact. We’ve also had to help our stakeholders understand that what we’re offering is something they need instead of want.

“The best approach is to be honest! Let them know the destination is worth getting to.” Justin Matthys

MM: It is crucial to build strong relationships with schools. Simply selling a product is not going to work at all. Don’t underestimate the power of ‘word of mouth’. Be available for your clients – take calls right away and be proactive. Know the market you’re dealing with and the State Departments that manages it, because some departments are more proactive than others. And try to get in front of the right decision makers!

Kirstyn Chan is part of PwC Australia’s Corporate Responsibility team and is here to provide you with the latest news from the 21st Century Minds program. Follow her on Twitter @kirstyn_c for updates.

Getting to know our initiatives: Robogals

The 2016 cohort of 21CM initiatives are an exciting and innovative group and we’re certain you’re eager to get to know them. Over the course of the 21CM program we will be running a series of interviews with our initiatives, giving you the chance to get to know some of them in more detail. To kick things off, this month we’re getting to know Robogals.

Robogals is an international, not-for-profit, student-run organisation that aims to increase female participation in Engineering, Science and Technology through fun and educational initiatives aimed at girls in primary and secondary school.

We sat down with its Global CEO Nicole Brown, who has been overseeing the organisation since 2013, to find out how they’re inspiring girls to take on careers in engineering, science and technology.

How do you see Robogals improving the STEM education landscape in Australia?

We recognise that engineering is a key aspect of the development of our nation and that STEM education is a necessary component of this future. Our organisation acts as a catalyst for change, one that encourages students, teachers and parents to recognise the importance of teaching STEM in schools through our workshops, our Robogals Science Challenge and our networking opportunities.

We believe that by inspiring, engaging and empowering our youth, especially our girls, on the powers and opportunities in the STEM fields we can encourage them to make a difference.

What inspires you in your role as CEO for Robogals?

I continue to be inspired by the passion of my team, the members of Robogals and the girls we teach. Knowing that we are working together towards this vision drives you to do the best you can and be the best leader you can be to support this passion. One key thing that keeps me and my team going is the ability to make an impact on a young girl’s experience and perception of engineering.

I’ll give you an example of what we see on the girls’ faces each time we run a workshop:

  • The first thing we see is fear of the unexpected or excitement of something new.
  • Then we see some level of uncertainty on their faces. The majority of the girls who come through our workshops are simply unsure of trying something new because they have not been previously encouraged to explore new things. We work with girls to encourage trial and error as well as the importance of working and learning together.
  • Finally we see them leave with a sense of excitement and empowerment. When they see that there is nothing wrong with trying, they become excited and are willing to push boundaries, to try new things and to think outside of the box.

This change, within the space of an hour, is incredibly powerful. Not only for the students, but for the teachers and the parents. They notice the change and see the potential. This change inspires me; knowing that what we do truly makes a difference.

What has your experience been like as a young female in the STEM industry?

From my own personal experience I have seen a growth in the acceptance of females within the engineering industry. In addition to my role as Robogals CEO, I work at an engineering firm in Melbourne which has allowed me to directly experience what it’s like to work within the STEM industry. I feel quite fortunate to have joined the firm through a program specifically targeted towards encouraging more girls to pursue careers in engineering. A lot has changed since walking through those doors on day one. When I started there weren’t many females within the organisation, yet now there has been further growth and increased importance on diversity and inclusion within the workplace.

I strongly believe that companies need to combine forces and show they value the culture of engineering is changing – not just through marketing but through inclusive strategies and a diverse workplace. This culture change needs to be coming from the companies with the support of not-for-profits such as Robogals, not the other way around.

How has having a 21CM mentor team been of benefit to Robogals?

The support from my mentor team has been invaluable. Tim Williams, our mentor team lead, is an inspiration to me and I truly value his thoughts and strategic mind. Within the first few sessions we have identified weaknesses, selected a focus for the mentorship program, set tasks for us to complete and are beginning to set a plan of action to fulfil these focus areas. The sessions are productive and it is fantastic to have such a great group working with us to advance our organisation and support our mission.

Outside of STEM, what are you passionate about?
I am passionate about sport and travel. I am fascinated by different cultures and exploring new cities and countries; I have so far visited over 20 countries and hope to double that in the next 5 to 10 years! I enjoy the AFL, going to the gym and running. I am aiming for 10km in 1.25 hours by the end of the year!

Watch the video below for our two minutes with Nicole:

We hope you enjoyed the first of our ‘Getting to know you’ interviews. To find out more about Nicole and Robogals, visit their website or follow them on Facebook.

Kirstyn Chan works in PwC Australia’s Corporate Responsibility team and is here to provide you with the latest news from the 21st Century Minds program. Follow her on Twitter @kirstyn_c for updates.