Learn more about the story of ‘Mentes Empreendedoras’ (in English, ‘Entrepreneurial Minds’) from its creator, Afonso Mendonça Reis.

Afonso Mendonça Reis is a social entrepreneur in Education. ‘Mentes Empreendedoras’/‘Entrepreneurial Minds’ is a socially impacting youth leadership development programme that has reached 1600 youths across the country. Afonso, as an Assistant Professor at Nova SBE, taught the Impact Project Implementation course, where 400 students implemented 80 projects per year to help social or public organisations.

Manager of knowledge and innovation at Swisscontact and consultant for public education and vocational training policies at the United Nations and OECD, Afonso was considered a Global Shaper by the World Economic Forum.



Intro question: What is the social innovation ‘Mentes Empreendedoras’ (‘Entrepreneurial Minds’, in English) about?

‘Entrepreneurial Minds’ basically aims to create a generation of impactful citizens, leaders who can transform themselves and their community. It started with high school students. Today, ‘Entrepreneurial Minds’ already works with university students, higher education and some young professionals. Recently, it has started working with teachers as well. It’s behaviour of impact citizenship, of proactivity and of people investing in the causes that are dear to them, a lot or a little. We don’t have to let go of everything we have to go and create any association whatsoever. If we are all proactive in everyday life, it already makes all the difference, because revolutions are usually silent and are long processes, so this behaviour is needed. And that is what we do in essence. The projects we develop are linked to this main goal, as we started working with schools and we were also identifying opportunities and needs that reinforce the first intervention, although other interventions can live on their own too.


Why did you (or your partners) start this social innovation?

The first line was about four or five things that converged.

The first was: I studied economics and started to work at a more macro level, farther from reality, and after I got closer. I worked for about two and a half years in public policies, on vocational education and training at the OECD, Paris, and then at the United Nations in Geneva. So I had the opportunity to be exposed to a number of subjects. But afterwards, I started thinking, ‘Okay, you have worked in these cool organisations, but what are you able to do?

The second line was: I was a big beneficiary of what was Erasmus +, at the time, the Youth Program, and then the Youth in Action programme. I’ve participated in 18 Youth exchanges, in 16 countries, and my generation, from 1983, if I compared it to the people who I met in Lithuania, in Eastern Europe, they were much more active than the Portuguese and had much fewer resources. And what I noticed was that young people can have an impact and there are a lot of opportunities for those going after it. Because, for example, in Lithuania, they were still in the 2nd Community framework programme, and it was already highly competitive to get approved projects, and in Portugal there was a phase that we did not take advantage of. A case of a 17-year-old girl, my ex-girlfriend, with her Druskininkai club members – Druskininkai is a spa town in southern Lithuania near Belarus – where high school students organised fake vacations for the Belarusian opposition because, from Soviet times, Druskininkai was a popular destination for going on vacation, so it would be no surprise that anyone went there on vacation. And for seven months, they somehow managed to provide shelter to journalists and politicians. Of course, that didn’t last long. At one point, they wrote that they could no longer go, meaning they had been hunted, but those 17-year-old people had something to say about the matter, for seven months. And that, to me, showed me a big difference.

Another very useful thing was the experience I had later at Swisscontact, a Swiss foundation where I worked after the United Nations, where I did knowledge and innovation management; that is, I went from being at a ministerial, albeit multilateral level, to the level of an NGO, which was nevertheless large. It moved 50 million, 700 employees worldwide and, above all, implemented many projects on four continents. And I was lucky enough to go to work and get to know the projects, to systematise them and then share it. And that showed me a number of things: Social impact, or change, typically results from a change in behaviour. A change in behaviour results from a process. These processes are typically more easily peer-initiated than actually someone else far from the context. That is, in rural Tanzania, a farmer can more easily encourage his neighbours to try a new technique than the Dar es Salaam or Dodoma agronomist. And I found myself thinking, at a certain point, thinking of Africa and Latin America, after revolting a lot against the entropy that I found on the ground, I thought, ‘in fact, this is the same as Portugal’, but they are at different stages of development. Why? Human beings have the same tricks everywhere, they simply express themselves in different ways. In practice, it was realising that it is easier to impact the context that I knew better.

And there’s a band – Pearl Jam – and they do one thing I really like, which is: even when they were at their most successful, they always chose to make time to go into schools to do violence prevention workshops. They were never bothered with doing too many music videos, obviously giving concerts, but always making time to do that work. And the image he gave me was, ‘OK, schools are really a good place to intervene and we can all have a little time, can’t we?’, which was their agenda at the same time, and they have a lot of pressure to keep moving.

The trigger that made me move forward was a mix of two things. Most importantly, our country went bankrupt, in less than three years, and more than a more or less enthusiastic government, the total apathy of society made me very confused. I remember one deputy who said, ‘oh we shouldn’t pay the Germans because they will tremble’ … I mean, we look at Argentina that has failed payments to see how happy they are. The point here is, that we have brilliant people but, for some reason, this is allowed. My reading was ‘if we want to have a different country, we really have to introduce a very different attitude in people’ and that means, in practice, we have to bring it to high school students, which is when they already have some critical thinking, not much but some already; they have to think about the future, they have to make a decision – ‘Am I going into the sciences? Am I going into the humanities?’ Making it an instrument to engage them more with the community, but also to be a way to contribute to their autonomy because the keyword is overcoming. From the moment they get over they start to see ‘I did this today, tomorrow I can do that’ and they actually develop around the things they want. Which I think is because we were so prescriptive, from the State to the family, so we had to give them a little more space. I think we have many advantages from our culture, we are very present and able to intervene.


How did you come up with the idea? Was a creative or collaborative process involved?

The process began in 2010 (the Association was only founded in 2013). At the time, I wanted to do something simple that I could do on my own, which was, in a way, my contribution to the country. I was in Zurich, happy, not wanting to go back, but thinking that this could be my contribution. The logic was to look at other things that already existed. In these 18 exchanges, I produced a lot of dynamics and a lot of non-formal education. Although I had a background in large organisations, I had to be very proactive, and very entrepreneurial, because, in practice, within those organisations, you are almost an outside consultant, until you have a contract, which can take years. And then, within Swisscontact itself, I had done the process from identifying a need to assembling a product, building on what already existed – in this case, a mix of these various influences – and, in these principles, I scored a pilot with two schools, in May, June 2010. I designed a kind of workshop, then tested the workshop. It went well and had an advantage, I realised, that while sometimes I thought it would take a long time, for the kids, it was very easy. Other times, I thought it was easy and for the kids, it was not easy! So a person goes and does some testing. All classic, I did the pilot. In June, I contacted nine schools, distributed, on purpose, throughout the country, three in the North (cities: Póvoa de Varzim, Braga and Gaia), and then Caldas da Rainha, Almada and Santarém. Experiencing very different contexts. Still today we can notice, a person working in the Alentejo (region) or in Algarve (region), is very different from working in the North (region), in terms of proactivity.

In the first year, we tested the workshop in nine schools and it went well. Kids answered the challenge, especially in the project area. From the 2010/11 to 2011/12 school years, the project area fell and our goal was to challenge five or six kids to be our ambassadors at school. We gave them some training, we did some experiments, some things went bad, others better. But basically, over the course of these two years, we experimented working with young people. There was space, and there were those who were interested. Then I felt that there was a need to be closer, because I gave a workshop and then I was at a distance, on Facebook and Skype, at the time. It was enough for some kids, but not for others. For example, today it takes much more than that, clearly. I tried to make a partnership. At one point I was in Brazil, had left Swisscontact and it was a funny process because I was wondering if I was riding here or not. Brazil is a country where they are overly positive. I remember I had a meeting with Erik Charas who is a Mozambican activist, who has a newspaper that is opposed to politicians and everything, a pretty active guy and he said, ‘well, do it for one year and then you’ll see if it works’. Not to forget that, at the time, I came from ‘Policy’, was proactive but had never managed. It is very different for a person to manage himself to having to manage 300 fronts. And at the time, I made the decision. I had some money there in Switzerland, I was never a big-spending boy either, I also help with these things and we recruited a person who sympathetically worked for a completely symbolic value, that came in January 2013. This one person worked with two or three schools and we changed the logic. Instead of having this national dispersion we chose schools closer to Lisbon but not in Lisbon; that is, we always feel that the capital, as well as Porto, is full of things. And then, neither the Municipalities realise, nor the kids realise, nor the parents realise. It’s like a person mixing a spoon of olive oil into a full glass of water. Not worth it. It’s like Christmas syndrome; the kids have 10 presents, they tear open the packages yet they see nothing. At the time, we went to Loures and Vila Franca, all around Lisbon, not to be too expensive, but not in Lisbon. We never had clubs in Lisbon, Oeiras, Amadora, Cascais, Sintra, as we felt it made no sense.


What were you afraid of at the beginning and how (if at all) did you overcome your fear?

What Erik Charas said: ‘You’re managing it, year by year.‘ I think there is one thing we have to be aware of, that unlike what they sell us, Portugal itself is a very vulnerable country. When people talk about sustainability, if we had not been bulletproof by the European Central Bank, it would all have gone away. Therefore, one may want to believe and see sustainability where it does not exist. Our State has not defaulted because the older cousin came to lend money. Here the risk is a bit subjective. How did I mitigate the risk? I had a career, I had Swiss francs, I still have Swiss francs, I don’t have many but I have some, and so I always had savings and knew if things went wrong, everything would go as it always did. But what helped me was that joining the OECD was not easy. The post-UN was a rather complex transition. I got it into my head that I was going to learn German and wanted to work in German, and I managed to do it, but it’s not as fast as working in a language we have mastered. I think these processes give us a capacity for suffering, resilience. I didn’t go crazy, I had some money and I set a limit: if by July 2014 (the person had entered in January 2013) I didn’t get money, we would close. On July 31st (laughs), we received a call – approved application. ‘Yeah!’ At some point we were getting some money but only then did we get the money we spent.

The answer to this question is the ‘notion of risk’ – it has helped a lot to come out, to have some savings, to have little need for things and being focused on the product or service we want to develop. Sometimes it goes faster, sometimes slower. I have a member in my direction, Bernardo, who has a very important role, and this was especially true at the beginning, which was when we said, ‘There are still 20 things left to do’ and he would say, ‘but six months ago, we had 25 things left to do’ (laughs). I think it helps a lot if the person doesn’t do things like Amazon, i.e. having a scorecard out there with 650 things on it – I find that a bit excessive. It is a person trying to gain insight into what the product should be and what path we are going to take. And accept a little that things will dance. Now, at an early stage… for example, I’ve only started working 100% on the project since September 2018. I had weeks of working 80 hours.


What were the beginnings of the social innovation? (i.e. how did you build your initiative, business, NGO from zero?).

The difference between an association and a company is not huge. It’s just that a company can be owned by someone and can distribute profits. The logic here is that we were not…. I was from Switzerland, I was not even expecting the Association to pay me any day. I knew I would destroy the Association if they paid me. Thank God today the reality is different. But that’s what I thought at first. An association represented the spirit of the thing. At first, I even tried not to create any association, only to create synergies, but from a certain point on, that turned out to be impossible.

As an economist, I did my first summer internship in an accounting office. I was just starting. My accountants, at first, charged a ridiculous amount. Today they charge a normal amount, but give much more than what they charge. I see it for other companies, other associations; we pay less and we have much more. This helps a lot at an early stage because you are able to focus on the business and are not afraid to make legal mistakes. They have helped us with applications for IEFP internships, which at first is a great asset when you can’t get money anywhere else. This one is relatively straightforward. It all helps. Making sure we have a good accounting and legal framework. Our lawyers, as well as our accountants, are fantastic. We have already got into very complex things; for example, today the Association has six cost centres.

Rita, who is a partner at the office, told me, ‘when you were interning here, I remember that nothing stopped you, so I was sure it was going to work. We have helped you, at the beginning, to win a client, in the future.

Being surrounded by trusted people. I’ve had some very important moments, with very big things, where the lawyers said, ‘don’t sign’. That is, we have to have people around us that we trust a lot. We have had to worry about that since a very early stage.

We can go through personal networks, and then try to validate that the partnership, the chemistry, works. We did it because, in fact, I could learn a lot from both the accountants and the lawyers. Right now, I have many public and large clients, Municipalities, EMPIS and others. These are complex machines. It was very beneficial for me to have been involved in one of the EEA Grants with a more experienced Association. This was something that was already being done at Swisscontact. When I threw myself, alone, at Portugal Social Innovation, which was my first project, alone, I already had an EEA Grant behind it, with a relatively similar, albeit more bureaucratic, public logic. So I already had some awareness of what I had to pay attention to, yet I still had to learn a lot.

I have a very particular opinion about social business, in Western Europe, which is from the moment we have a very large State presence, we turn out to be markets that are not quite markets, i.e. we have a big client who mediates the thing, which everyone buys – the State. And we have an uneducated end user who can’t afford the services he has, because he doesn’t even know how much they cost. To get an idea, only 16% of Portuguese families pay 84% of the personal income tax (IRS). Most Portuguese pay far less in taxes than the benefits they have, but have no idea what they are.

Education, health for them is free and it’s over, so they are not used to transacting services. A Brazilian is able to pay, I will say a stupid number, 5 reais per month, to have access to English videos, to learn. The model gets hard. What we did: We measured costs very well, to know how much it cost us to provide a service, wherever the location and then we produced average values. We already had this habit and then António Miguel, from the former Laboratório de Inovação Social, encouraged us even more. António and I already knew each other from before. A big advantage was that I brought the perspective of Swiss cooperation and other cooperation projects. At the time, I was talking to many partners here, which helped to understand what the Portuguese dimensions were.

The idea of ​​a business model is to diversify, as much as possible, to have a very clear sense of costs, even if in a year selling at 500 €, little by little goes up, because in a service like ours, the price means wages, and squeezing wages means squeezing people and so it is not sustainable. Only today, 10 years later, there is a margin to pay me.

More than anything, there are two difficult things: On the one hand, one should focus on developing an excellent product, an excellent service, because otherwise, it won’t work, it’s no use. But on the other hand, access to capital was difficult and so this struggle was inglorious, a tremendous fundraising effort versus having the time and mental availability to develop a good product. What I feel is that, those who end up having the characteristics to do this, are either a little privileged, or bring in reserves from outside. I’m part of the foreign reserves club.


How did you attract public attention to the issue you wanted to tackle and make others believe in your purpose and potential?

Most of all, it seems super planned and it is not (laughs). There is a vision of a path one wants to go down and one may achieve it or not. The thing that we did consequently was, I’m too little to show up; in fact, I wouldn’t normally do that. What happened was that we, at some point, realised that I was bringing out a sophistication that was not the sophistication of the Portuguese client. I was talking about joint value-creation models, between business and the social sector and at the time with Banking. There was a bank that said to me, ‘Doctor, we don’t mix core business with social responsibility’. When I hear ‘Social Responsibility’ I have a problem because it usually means being subject to the smallest budget and preferably spread over 300 projects (laughs). It’s not all like that, obviously, but there has been a trend, an evolution, in the last 2 to 3 years, there is a certain change, but there is still much more to do. Media helps when people buy from the heart, doesn’t it? And in this, the Portuguese people are a much more emotional people and companies are the same. Companies reflect our culture.

What happened, there were several things that enabled the ‘Inspire your Teacher’ initiative to start up:

  1. From 2010 to 2013 we noticed that our teachers, who made all the difference in our work, were unmotivated;
  2. We found that we were too technical and it was important to communicate more. But none of us on the team wanted to show up. Then we thought, if we are going to appear, we have to come up with something important that is worth showing up for. Because to say that we are already in three, five countries, we are already in 20 schools, does not matter. And at the time, with the OECD data, I had in mind that teachers had a huge impact on student achievement. And as the biggest indicator, the biggest predictor of students’ school performance, is parental education, with Portugal still with a very low level of secondary education (36%) in the adult population; in fact, the school can change this and promote social mobility.

The combination of all these factors, we thought, ‘we will disperse, we already had the Clubs and Fellows, we will disperse and create a third product’; we were four people. There was me teaching at Nova (University), my assistant, who was 40% to 50% at Nova and 50% to 60% at ‘Entrepreneurial Minds’, and two full-time people. ‘So let’s go create a third product’ to make it easier (laughs). That is, I did many things you are told not to do (laughs). But you also pay a price – there were things that went well and things that didn’t go so well.

This work of ‘Inspire your Teacher’ is more mediatic. Clearly, entering a niche, we were the first to see, to mobilise, to know the teachers, both in Portugal and abroad. Then we won, by the strategy; we were very well received by the press, we were very well received by the schools, we were very well received by some funders, here it was a little less easy but it came. And at the time, I was connected to the World Economic Forum and I was invited to Davos. And since I had already seen that another colleague who had gone to Davos had got good media attention, I thought, ‘What if we say that “Inspire Your Teacher” goes to Davos?’ And we all thought it was a great idea. And I was fortunate to have been there in the year that Davos had the most media attention possible (laughs). So we had absurd attention. We invested in a press officer who is even more famous today, who at the time identified herself and made an absolutely symbolic price and put us in 300 places, wrote two or three opinion articles and, in fact, the thing was tremendous. In Davos, it was very funny because I had an experience having the UNESCO General Director that wanted to tweet my campaign and took a picture with me (laughs). Interestingly, it had more impact on the Portuguese media saying ‘Inspire your Teacher goes to Davos’ than actually having a photo with Justin Trudeau, or having a photo with Gordon Brown, or having a photo with Irina Bokova. For Portuguese people, it was more interesting to have had attention here, in Portugal, than there. And since then, being connected to the World Economic Forum and having a very large field presence and having a certain public policy background allows me to be less superficial and know where I can talk with some confidence, where I am in the space of creativity, where I should be simpler. What I think we were getting was also that we were building a positioning but once again, there is no magic formula; we are making the way, for the year may end – I mean, we could easily have a situation where interest rates rise, the Portuguese government decreases public investment. . One must have the notion that the carpet can be taken from under your feet. Having humility, you can take at any moment, you have to be very clear about where you want to go and how you want to be. Because there are partners that will challenge us to a, b or c and one has to know how to say ‘No’ to some and whom to say ‘Yes’ to. We were invited to CMTV (a TV channel) and we went, and now we have very well-measured speech, we have a very well-trained thing, we have very clear positioning, we have subjects that we do not get into. For example, anyone who has listened to me on the Pros and Cons (talk show on RTP1) and knows me on a private level knows that I think more about other things. But I am there as a representative of an organisation that has a clear position, limited in scope.

It is building step by step and it is important that we associate. For example, I still value my office colleague at Nova (University), Laurinda Alves, who always had this position of showing new projects, wanting to give people a voice, so when ‘Inspire Your Teacher’ was still a very small thing, the pilot’s prize was to be interviewed by Laurinda Alves. Something very cute and very aligned with the project goals.

Media has to be very well measured. Nowadays it is very easy to think that we know much more than what we really know. One has to be in a space, master what he says and know who to say ‘no’ to, which is sometimes not easy.


How did you make sure that your idea actually fits the needs of the users?

For example, the initiative ‘Inspire Your Teacher’ began in the same logic. Joana and Cristina joined, and we became four, in January 2015. Cristina’s mandate was to coordinate operations, give some support in proposals, but also have a project of her own. Her project was ‘Inspire Your Teacher’. By then, it was going to be a very small thing. The idea was not to be complicated at all. We did six classes, one workshop, where we did a pre-pilot, we did a lot of dynamics, where we went to test things a priori: ‘Will the kids say bad things to the teachers? Do the kids realise the interest of talking about teachers? Do kids realise teachers can be inspiring? Do they respond to these dynamics that we thought?’ and the conclusion we came to was: they have this very clear conscience and realise that even when they may have one or other teacher, who they do not like, they all actually have teachers who have positively marked them. If the process is well facilitated, they will recall the teachers who marked them and have the notion of importance, and it was the same logic. Six projects, where we had seven workshops, one pre-pilot, six pilots. In the following year, we launched the biggest thing. Since the following year came the Davos participation and we went from 150/180 kids to 1300. From 1300 kids, we went to 4600 kids. And then we did the opposite, which was to slow down a year, to try to test some valences because what we felt was, like the Vice-Mayor of Porto said, ‘You have more impact on the media than inside the school’, and it was true that the message touched those who were directly involved but we could not achieve a contagion effect.










Source: www.inspireyourteacher.com/#tier1

So we first had to slow down, try different approaches, and when we went to Portugal Social Innovation for funding, we allocated a significant part of our budget to impact assessment. We tested scalability, and at the same time, we assessed whether the impact was happening. In line with what we wanted, we tried to do, with house silver, questionnaires linked to the TALIS (OECD Teaching and Learning International Survey), which is the OECD reference study on teacher motivation. What we felt was, as it was not applied by a university, the teachers did not feel the importance. At the time, with 4600 students, we were going to the 2nd edition. The decision there was, let’s slow down, let’s not sacrifice the team to fundraise and execute everything. But let’s go for continuity, impact assessment and have a calmer time to try different things. What we did then was to change the types of challenges, to even try to enjoy things that we had done well in the past but were not as big as we wanted. For example, we paid less attention to online challenges and spent more time offline. We began to reward community engagement more, and do less digital reach. Instead of looking at the abstract, we look at the intervention unit being the school. So we were calibrating. Here the funding model logic was the same. Get a very clear sense of costs, have an explanation of ‘how much it costs’, very simple, and then ‘Inspire Your Teacher’ was clearly funded by Municipalities; it made its way almost entirely with Municipalities and the provision of services.


How did you raise the money for your idea and what is your advice for others considering DIY fundraising?

I think the ecosystem is a little bit nicer today than when I started, when it was just me believing. Today there are more projects, there aremore entrepreneurs. Now, I would start with trying to diversify from the beginning, trying to attract companies, whether it’s donations or to provide them services. Do the same with Municipalities. I was very ideological, at first, that an initiative to be sustainable had to be financed with private money. Bad idea, that is – most of our economy is channelled by the State, so to ignore it is to close our eyes. Manage very well the question of whether the person is considered as a public organisation and has to comply with public procurement rules. I think this is a giant shot in the foot. It’s better to do less than to be comparable to the state. The bureaucratic complexity, the legal risks that one enters, are demanding … I have never tried it myself, nor do I want to try it. I know others who told me it’s very painful. I think it’s about diversifying and seeing what happens. Especially because my organisation had years of living on things like EEA Grants and some business people who donated symbolic but nice amounts, and there were other phases, with more provision of services to municipalities. Today I have sponsoring models and public funds but I capitalised on relationships that I created and that come from before. The experience I had to fund the Global Teacher Prize was that you can’t specialise too much.

Portugal is so small that it is typically not worth going to all competitions. The other concern that people should have is, when they take out a loan, how they will get out of it. That is, we are very clear that Portugal Social Innovation is like a seed investment. If I were a technology start-up, I would have had to pave the way, with this money, to come out of this stronger, with a stronger business model validation, a stronger validation of the impact created, eventually more robust statistics, models of much more tested management teams, because we grew so fast, but one thing I make the effort to convey to the team is ‘This is all very fragile, so it’s not to shoot rockets into the air.’ In this we are like SONAE – frugality is part of DNA (laughs).


How did you scale your social innovation and what tips for scaling could you share?

Be very clear about the culture of the organisation. A boss of my girlfriend said, ‘People are typically fired for their attitude, not for not knowing.’ Recruiting attitude is a very scarce asset in our country and we should take advantage of it. This has to be more to do with the education system than with people, but people live with it. I think we have to get a little free of that mindset. Once again, the fact that we have an overly public and heavily subsidised economy means that people are sometimes not very aware of the cost of money and effort. We recruited people from outside Lisbon, it’s been something we value, because it’s people who typically come from smaller backgrounds, who have merit above average, who are going to fight and want to fight for things they like, for the things they believe in and that, we feel it’s not that easy in Lisbon. Surrounding yourself with good people aligned with the organisation’s mission and values ​​is very important.

The other thing is to take care of the team – growth is always painful, never simple. It is very easy for the person to be distracted. I decided that one night a week is for going to bed early, which was not an issue before (laughs). I’m much more concerned about my team’s balance than I was a year and a half ago. Having a good network of counsellors is very helpful, people who have a lot of experience but who are not full of a priori. Typically, companies have this crazy idea that in the social sector they partner in everything. When I have five million guaranteed from any multinational, I can also dedicate myself to partnering. Until then the transaction costs of making 20,000 partnerships typically do not make up for the effort. That’s not to say that people are not fantastic, a joy, this sharing and getting to know people. For example, I started charging when I go to sites, even if it’s a symbolic value, because I am typically failing my team. I got used to my ability to sleep little and could cover some planning mistakes. I felt the need to leave Nova (University) because it was already 80 hours a week, at a time. The evolution I made with the team. Nowadays the team has much more civilised schedules, we only have girls, and they are getting better, that’s what we feel. Each time, they have more predictable times, a little more comfort, more and more team moments. We have been able to send them, once a year, to participate in very interesting things, usually outside the country. It is important to have an aligned, motivated and lifelong learning team.


How do you change the whole system?

I think many of the young people who participate in our initiatives can uncover in themselves the competences, visions that they otherwise either did not have or would take much longer to have. I think we see that. Having this proven, in a more scientific way? We are not there as much as we wanted, yet.

I feel that the reason why ‘Inspire Your Teacher’ and ‘Global Teacher Prize’ have such visibility and acceptance is because we were able to really respond to an existing need, and the conditions we were creating opened the door. We started walking but we couldn’t do it alone. Somehow, we hit the target. I feel that the teachers we have mobilised are not yet as many as we wanted, but then you clearly see that they like this place, of clearly positive energy, that motivates them, which has the same drivers they have. This we just see. There is a video of a Brazilian who talks about changing the world and he says, ‘Change the world? The world is always changing and you change with it’. Am I changing the world, I don’t know, but it’s changing me, for sure. I think we are achieving the things we wanted, I don’t know if all…, some are still missing.


What is the one piece of advice you would give to an aspiring social innovator, a member of the Social Innovation Academy, with only two things at the moment: a big heart and a willingness to do something?

Advice? I think it’s humility, but not stupid humility. To do and accept that we are going to do it without error, and when we are doing it more or less well, we are only making 65 mistakes (laughs). And then managing a team is like being a parent, isn’t it? It is another exercise in humility. I think it’s not wasting energy trying to blame, for example, and just trying to solve the problem. And one has to worry about challenging oneself, overcoming oneself, and looking aside for inspiration but not for competition, because I think it distracts.

Interviewed by Luísa Bernardes

Luísa Bernardes. I work for EMPIS within Portugal Social Innovation Initiative, which aims to promote social innovation and social entrepreneurship in Portugal by supporting innovative projects using EU funds. I’m part of the evaluation and monitoring team. I’m a mentor in Copernicus Accelerator – a project of the European Commission’s DG Growth, part of the Copernicus Start-up Programme, which is designed to accompany start-ups from the generation of a business idea to its full commercialisation. I am also an Advisor to Social Innovation Academy.

I’ve worked in Enterprise Europe Network and other European networks for 18 years, helping businesses to innovate and to grow on an international scale. I am a proud member of Toastmasters International, the world leader in communication and leadership development. I hold a degree in International Relations from the University of Minho and a specialisation in European Studies from the University of Coimbra.

LinkedIn: Luísa Bernardes 

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