I’ve always had entrepreneurial leanings. My Mum & Dad are self employed and I’m drawn to and admire people who are doing their own thing and making a living from it. Since my early 20’s I’ve dabbled in countless activities that earn me extra cash but I’ve always stopped short of taking any of my ventures to the next level. This self-imposed limitation causes me huge frustration but the long and short of it is, I find the reality of going it alone pretty overwhelming. I’ve never felt brave enough or confident enough to give up my day job and take the plunge.
One thing I can tell you. The times I’ve felt most confident in my mini-entrepreneurial adventures have been times when I’ve been involved in some form of collaboration and have felt truly supported and believed in by those around me. The power of the peer support network!
I often fantasise that if 20 years ago I’d known people I know now, my working life might look quite different. I might be running my own business or at least working for myself in some shape or form. Why? Because I believe that when we surround ourselves with people who “get us” and really want us to succeed, we’re much more likely to reach our potential.
My day job with UnLtd sees me working with social entrepreneurs to launch all manner of ventures. This isn’t an easy career path, and one of the most common things I hear is “it’s really isolating”. A few years back, we carried out some research in Scotland to find out what our award winners value about our programme and the overwhelming top answer was “the network”. Friendships, opportunities to collaborate, informal support, access to a wide range of skills and experience and social contact – these are the things people said were most important to them.
So, it seems clear that the ability to tap into peer support and opportunities to pool resources are important factors in the success of any venture but why do we need yet another women’s network?
If you Google “women’s networks” in the UK, there’s no shortage of them – women in business, city women, rural women, women in technology – there’s something for most people who define themselves as a businesswoman or entrepreneur. What I haven’t come across is anything for the aspiring entrepreneur or the woman who has a passion to contribute to the success of her community or neighbourhood but simply lacks the skills, and confidence to get started.
Neither do I know of any networks for people who have ideas and loads of enthusiasm but no access to expert input to fill the gaps in their own skills. Through conversations with women from business and grass roots community backgrounds, it appears that opportunities for community activists and first-time social entrepreneurs to connect with experienced entrepreneurs and business people outside their own immediate circles are limited, which means loads of missed opportunities.
Women’s lives are multi layered through involvement in family, running a home and earning a living – all things that can create barriers if you’re thinking of setting up a business. For this reason it feels appropriate for women to have a space to connect with others who are working through the same issues as themselves. It’s not about excluding men.
My area of interest is women and social entrepreneurship and it appears that any formal research into this subject is limited. I could tell you many a story about female social entrepreneurs I’ve met who are struggling to get their ideas off the ground due to lack of time, childcare limitations and expense, lack of support from partners and low levels of confidence due to a career break. So, what better way to be kicking off a new year than to be part of a diverse team who are going to address these issues.
We’ll create a forum where women from all walks of life can share their skills and experience, harness their talents and drive and find the support they need to release their inner entrepreneur, or community leader. So, watch this space, or even better, come and join us!
And remember, surround yourself with the dreamers and doers, the believers and thinkers; but most of all, surround yourself with those who see greatness in you, even if you don’t see it yourself. It works!
About the author.
Eileen Inglis works for UnLtd supporting social entrepreneurs to make their dreams a reality. With ten years experience in the sector in Scotland, she has a wide network of contacts and has supported hundreds of individuals to get new social ventures and enterprises off the ground.