Empowering the superheroes of social entrepreneurship

Impact Week is all about breaking down barriers and forming webs of change with diverse players in the impact community. We spoke to Luisa Ferreira, Head of Social at the European Investment Bank Institute, one of our Impact Week partners, about the EIB Institute's work to support social innovation and how "impact heroes" can inspire our community.

Empowering the superheroes of social entrepreneurship
Jecapix, E+, Getty Images

Social innovation is at the heart of the EIB Institute’s work. How do you make sure social innovators and entrepreneurs across Europe get the support and attention they deserve?

In 2012, we launched the Social Innovation Tournament (SIT) — with the vision to develop a European ecosystem of social innovation. We were the first to select and reward, every year, the best impact ventures. But we did not want to stop there. We wanted to continuously support and mentor Europe’s innovative entrepreneurs, who can provide a solution to societal, environmental or ethical challenges. 

What makes the SIT unique is that we have also thought about building a “family” — a community — because we believe there is no ceiling to the good we can achieve together. Also because we believe in exploring synergies — not only across countries, but also across sectors. Inside the community, for instance, we are building an active buddying programme.

Our SIT Alumni — built and nurtured down through the years — now comprises more than 150 active impact ventures. We offer them opportunities of bespoke training, access to programmes developed by peers or by renowned universities in Europe, access to financial (more than 10 of them have already benefited from the European Innovation Council Accelerator Programme) and human resources (we have developed an experts programme comprising EIB Group experts), access to partnerships, and last but not least networking and visibility opportunities. 

The EIB Institute is partnering with EVPA Impact Week, leading the Impact Heroes action track. How can an "impact hero" inspire the community?

Simply by sharing their stories, their personal experiences! 

Sometimes the only thing budding entrepreneurs in the audience need is the spark, to light the fire within them. We want to be that spark. 

We know that creativity starts with what we already know — by copying, by imitating, and then adding one’s uniqueness to it. We will never be the same after hearing an inspiring story — the story of someone who created something good, to make a better society or a better planet. 

Our focus this year is on breaking down barriers and connecting demand and supply. What’s the best way to build bridges between social innovators and the investor community? 

We want as many investors as possible to understand that positive societal and environmental impact can also be a rewarding investment, so that they are even more open to investing in such companies. 

We want investors to see that many impact entrepreneurs have very solid (sustainable) businesses, but need support to scale their impact. At every stage. Because to turn back the tide of climate change, we need the Superhero Species of Social Entrepreneurs to thrive.

We need companies that are not only sustainable, but also “net positive” in everything they do, including their supply chains and the unintended consequences of their activities. Social entrepreneurs are the species that are most likely to be such net positive companies. 

Luisa Ferreira
Luisa Ferreira

Is there an outside-the-box idea or challenge you would like to put out there as we get ready for December?

Let me be daring and echo Jake Chapman in suggesting that, “A portion of financing rounds […] be earmarked for the founders themselves and investors should hold founders accountable for investing in their well-being and development.” There are many more suggestions on the mental health issue in the article – all worth considering. 

Mental health aside, positive change starts from within. I know it is not outside-of-the-box, but every small thing we do counts.  

So challenge yourselves and do something you never dared to do before: go vegan for a week, stop buying for a month, stop flying for a year, engage in a local community initiative, organise a clean-up of your forest, prepare Christmas drinks in the park and invite your neighbours…

You do not need to be a social entrepreneur or impact investor to do this, but it can have an impact all the same.