A key part of our programmes are ‘Witness sessions’ when students hear from inspirational speakers (witnesses) who have first-hand experience of the issues our students are facing. Like witnesses in a law court they give testimony about what it’s really like to start and grow social organisations. Our Witnesses are some of the most inspirational entrepreneurs around who take time out of their very busy lives to help our social entrepreneurs. We’d like you to meet them and be inspired!
Meet: Peter Stewart, Executive Director, Eden Project
What does your organisation do?
Eden Project is many things including home to the largest rainforest in captivity growing in the biggest greenhouse in the world. Underpinning the project is an educational charity that sets out to connect people with each other and the living world.
How did you get involved with your organisation / What was your motivation for founding your organisation?
Although knowing nothing really about plants, I started supplying plants to the Eden shop when Eden opened. The plants were grown from a small nursery in Penzance. Deliveries were made in small red Postman Pat van with banana plants falling around my ears. Nearly 14 years later I find myself as one of the four executive directors of the enterprise.
What’s the hardest decision you’ve ever made as a social entrepreneur?
Running a social enterprise has exactly the same issues as every other commercial business. When times are economically difficult, you have to make difficult decisions in order that the long term viability of the project remains true. During 2012/13 we had to make cuts which involved losing staff members. Although you can be more efficient coming out of this process, and we were, we lost some very good people and someone has to make those calls.
Are you ever tempted to stop being a social entrepreneur and get a “normal job”? What keeps you going?
The simple answer in no. When you find work that doesn’t really feel like work – it’s hard, stimulating, challenging, fun and has the bonus that you believe that you are genuinely making a difference – why do something else?
What’s your top tip(s) for social entrepreneur’s on measuring impact?
Funding on projects requires research. You have to prove outcomes. The people who offer support need evidence that proves they have done the right thing. All of this is right. But there is nothing better than simply talking to the people who have been affected first hand by you organisations work. At Eden we developed The Big Lunch where millions of people sit and have lunch with their neighbours once a year in June. Talking to the people, they may have fun, but when you hear that people start to talk about how happy they feel, how less lonely they feel – it moves you in very real way.
Who is your (social) entrepreneurial idol and why?
Muhammad Yunus, founder of Grameen Bank. And then, depending on your definition of social entrepreneur I’d go for Martin Luther King. Hard to think of someone who has done so much in taking on major issues that paved the way for changing the lives of so many people. In addition to his major work on leading the civil rights movement back in 1955 after Rosa Parks stayed on the bus, he was instrumental in setting up car sharing schemes.
What would you say to your 18 year old self?
Your health is your wealth.
If you could only go to one more music concert, which artist would you see (living or dead)?
What do you get out of witnessing for the SSE?
I was truly inspired by the audience I was talking to. I was fully enlightened by the amount of good things that are happening here in our own back yard. Also I cannot think of an occasion where I had mapped out the sequence of events that had brought me to the point where I am today. The whole experience reaffirmed to me yet again that the work I’m involved with has a purpose and that purpose is worth getting out of bed for in the morning.