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_SocialStarters | Andrea Gamson | Interview

Following on from our previous news story on _SocialStarters, i-genius caught up with its Co-Founder, Andrea Gamson to find out more about the space and opportunities she helps create to enable social innovation and change.

i-genius: From idea to actualisation. How was the idea first born and how did you turn it into a reality?
Andrea Gamson: Anna Moran and I were our target audience – we wanted to do our own thing, make an impact in the world, whilst travelling and meeting incredible people and learning new cultures. We couldn’t find a volunteer or career development programme that met our needs, so we created one.
i-genius: How did you get your first partners and sponsors?
Andrea: This happened very organically – we utilised our existing network initially to secure the first few in Kenya & Brazil, and then beyond that we had a hit list of 4 or 5 ideal partners and contacted them all cold. The partnerships that felt right, and synergetic from both sides were the ones that developed the quickest.
i-genius: What have been some of your failures, and what have you learned from them?
Andrea: Ah! We’re a learning business, so that means failure is inherent in all we do. We advocate in our training that failure IS an option! It takes the pressure off and allows a safe space for experimentation and trying things that may or may not work. It’s an important part of the start-up process. Perhaps the biggest lesson we learned was to mitigate risk – predicting what could go wrong and then putting procedures & communication processes in place to try to prevent disasters. We learned that the hard way of course 😉
i-genius: What is the difference between a volunteer programme and a social movement as you describe?
Andrea: We have both run volunteer programmes in the past, and done them ourselves as participants. We felt that traditional volunteer programmes are very one-way, and whilst you can gain soft skills you’re ultimately giving back. Then you go on your way. For us _SocialStarters has always been about creating a new generation of social changers who will lead the way moving society forward. Sure you might volunteer, but you’ll also get lifestyle coaching & redesign your life, gain work experience opportunities beyond the programme or start your own game changing enterprise. We create the space & opportunities for all our volunteers to engage in these activities.
i-genius: Tell us more about your immersion programmes?
Andrea: For us, to tackle core business challenges, especially with grassroots clients you have to live and breath like a local. So a deep immersive dive into your clients and their customers/beneficiaries world is key. There’s also something in the headspace gained from leaving your life so far behind, that you create new brain energy, ideas and inspiration to figure out what change can be made back home.
i-genius: What makes _socialstarters different and unique from similar initiatives? 
Andrea: Our commitment to two-way transformation is what makes us unique. For those interested in development you can come and feel like you’ve made a tangible impact to a social entrepreneur’s life, equally our coaching initiative will see a volunteer exposed to tools that help them unlock their role as a social changer, and what a fulfilling life & career could look like for them.  We understand what it’s like to feel stuck in a career we’ve invested in, unsure if it’s possible to just go and do something different because that was us just over a year ago.
i-genius: How have you built a successful customer base?
Andrea: There is an increasing community of people seeking opportunities that add value to their lives, and its through these groups online and in the real world that we’re able to reach out and engage with our programmes. We are developing an alumni programme at the moment that will look at how we continue to support them as they move into the next stage of their transformation journey.
i-genius: How do you define/measure the success of _socialstarters?
Andrea: So long as people are applying, have great partnerships and long term impact from both our beneficiaries – I think that’s a fairly good measure of success. Plus on top of that, the feedback from our clients gives us a good barometer for the continued value of our specialist volunteers.
i-genius: Excluding your own. What company/business do you admire most and why?
Andrea: I really admire the work of MakeSense. I think they’ve really captured a zeitgeist, and are a great example of the power of passionate, driven, loyal community networks. Similarly Escape The City are paving the way as a talent business for 21st Century employers to build specialist teams, and as a founding UK B-corps they’re demonstrating that impact and movement change can be commercial, which is exciting.
i-genius: In one word, characterise your life as a social entrepreneur.
Andrea: Proud.
This interview was conducted as part of the i-genius ‘Innovation & Sustainability’ interview series. If you would like to develop a particular aspect of your business or address something you are struggling with, then why not take our ‘Social Entrepreneur and Business mentoring’ sessions with i-genius Academy. To find out more, click here!


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