Connecting the dots or: My way to social entrepreneurship

Arlette during the set up of Tonloab learning center 2014
Arlette during the set up of Tonloab learning center 2014

Is the social sector right for you if you have strong business skills? Arlette Hernandez says Yes! Having worked for multinational companies, she decided to make a social impact by getting involved with BOOKBRIDGE. Learn more about how she made her way.

My way to BOOKBRIDGE could be better understood by connecting the following dots:

Dot 1: Is there another way?
Many of my stories take me back to the time I spent in Vallendar, Germany; my way to BOOKBRIDGE is not the exception. Carsten was a Ph.D. student at WHU Otto Beisheim School of Management, where I pursued an MBA degree from 2007 to 2008. It was through our Alumni network that I became aware of what he was doing, which is very different from what a WHU graduate would do.

It was many years later that our paths crossed. I got the opportunity to take part in the first General Management Plus Program (GMP+1) at WHU Campus Düsseldorf. At that point in my life, I was struggling to find a job where I could combine my managerial skills while making a tangible social impact. I was involved in several non-profit activities which I enjoyed profoundly. However, I had second thoughts about whether the social sector was for me. Having worked for multinational companies before and having a business background, I felt that I was not in the right place.

MasterClass team in Bandarawela: Sateesh, Ben, Marisol, Sujitha, Arlette
MasterClass team in Bandarawela: Sateesh, Ben, Marisol, Sujitha, Arlette

Dot 2: Coping with uncertainty
In 2014, together with BOOKBRIDGE and the GMP+1 team, we opened a learning center in Tonloab, Cambodia. The limits of my comfort zone stretched during the on-site module. For example, after hours of discussing the course offering with the local team, just days before the opening, we couldn’t find an agreement. Those small fans couldn’t blow the heat and the tension in that room away. Coming back to the rest of the team empty-handed was a bitter lesson. In the end, our opening ceremony went well. Four years later, we are very proud of what Vannak, the Community Hero, has accomplished. As for me, after the on-site module, I came back to Germany very proud knowing that I can cope with uncertainty and that social entrepreneurship could be the career path I have been looking for.

Dot 3: Let’s set up a social enterprise, or not?
It took me several years to settle in the social entrepreneurship area, I am actually still working on it. In 2016 I was part of an incubation program to set-up a social enterprise. It was such a great adventure and I contacted Carsten for advice. In the end, the enterprise didn’t see the light of the day. I learned a lot from this experience and I moved on with my life.

One day, I received a phone call from Carsten telling me that BOOKBRIDGE was starting a new program related to entrepreneurship. This time, I was not quite convinced about joining since I thought some of my career choices had led me nowhere. However, a sparkle of curiosity was still there so I decided to join the first BOOKBRIDGE MasterClass in 2017.

Visiting a food truck entrepreneur in Bandarawela
Visiting a food truck entrepreneur in Bandarawela

Dot 4: A lesson about responsibility
The first MasterClass program offered 12 Capability Program alumni the freedom to together define a challenge. This self-organized program was a blank canvas. I found it amazing! It took us a long time as a team to find joint vision. Some participants left the program as a result.

Sujitha, Community Hero of Bandarawela’s learning center in Sri Lanka, believed in us and together we designed a 5-day workshop for entrepreneurs in her community. There we were, Marisol, Ben and I, pitching our pilot project to investors. One week later, in March of 2018, we were in Sri Lanka!

In Bandarawela, I learned a lesson about responsibility. One day before starting the entrepreneurship course we met one of our participants. She was waiting for the bus to go back to her town, she was very shy and was hesitating to attend our workshop because her English language skills were limited. Her products were showing from a bag. At that moment, I realized that this woman’s source of income comes from selling those products. This is not a “pilot project” for her. Therefore, I felt responsible for providing her with the necessary tools to bring her business forward.

Visit of an ornamental fish farm
Visit of an ornamental fish farm

Dot 5: Turning the Learning Centers into Hubs for Entrepreneurship
The MasterClass team presented the results of the first pilot during the Bridgebuilder Summit 2018. The feedback from the Community Heroes and Alumni were quite positive resulting in several Community Heroes wanting to run a program in their learning centers! Applying the lessons learned from MasterClass 1, we are starting MasterClass 2 in January 2019.

I recently joined BOOKBRIDGE as part of the team and one of my current tasks is developing the MasterClass program further. Our goal is to support local entrepreneurs around our learning centers in setting-up solid businesses. The challenge is to turn existing centers into hubs for entrepreneurship. The success and impact are measured by the amount and type of jobs created in the community. Contact me at arlette [at] bookbridge.org for more information.

BOOKBRIDGE’s vision “Do what you really are” resonates with me. In theory it sounds awesome, in reality, at least in my case, it has required courage, passion, and resilience. Looking back, I am very happy of being part of the bridgebuilder community as GMP+ 1 and MasterClass 1 Alumni and now as Project Manager.

And that is how I am connecting the dots and aligning what I am with what I do.

Closing the first MasterClass
Closing the first MasterClass

I like to end this blog post by sharing the following words from Steve Jobs: “Again, you can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So, you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something —your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. Because believing that the dots will connect down the road will give you the confidence to follow your heart, even when it leads you off the well-worn path and that will all make the difference.”

Arlette was born in Mexico and lives in Germany since 2006. She pursued management studies in Mexico (Bachelor in International Business at ITESM) and in Germany (MBA at WHU Otto Beisheim School of Management). She has professional experience in Strategic Planning and Marketing Controlling in the automotive and consumer goods sector. In Germany she has worked for food and social start-ups. She develops freelance projects in the areas of fair-trade and tourism promotion, and social entrepreneurship. In her free time, she practices Yoga.

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