CEO of Ogunte, a social business that has been amplifying the Women’s Social Entrepreneurship ecosystem since the early 2000s.
What was your main motivation to carve your organisation with a social conscience?
There was no specific motivation; it just happened.
I grew up in Brittany, France, in a politically conscious family of left-wing social workers, teachers, artists, educators, people from the land. Many of them involved in the community and entrepreneurial by spirit, although not business owners. I left home to work abroad, studying for a Dutch masters through distant learning – there was no Internet then – which is not the usual pathway to developing a social business. As a young person, I had had some vague wish to become a journalist. To me, it meant participating in helping people to learn and understand their context from different perspectives but also challenging them to see and understand other worlds and connecting them with each other.
I learned to coach by default; as a Dutch, English and French speaking front-line hardware support officer for Packard Bell. Fixing computers over the phone – and without screensharing! – was not really ambitious however it made me confident with tech, communications, and it put food on my table. Also, helping people to learn about their own computers and become autonomous had its charm. I later worked in the BENELUX marketing department of a global pharmaceutical company. Day after day, coming in the premises, I saw the board with the company’s stock exchange rate of the day before I could even greet my colleague at reception. Although the professional mentoring in the company was good, I realised that the commercial world was not for me.
I jumped ship and decided to go independent. I helped my Brazilian Capoeira Group to expand, which was the start of a lifelong love affair with Brazil, dedicated to community development. I discovered social projects to support, created networks between the Netherlands and Brazil, produced films, supported socially engaged artists and that was the start of Ogunte.
I moved to the UK in the early 2000s and started to work with the local grassroots groups, collaborating with the Scarman Trust, The Development Trusts Association, and later UnLtd. I established Ogunte in the UK as well. For some reason, and without explicit design, I started to notice that the leadership and capacity building programmes I was creating were all attended by women. It was not my intention at first to design something explicitly with a gender lens. I began to realise the benefits of creating a safe space for women in social businesses to connect, learn technical stuff without the fear of being judged or patted on the head. Now when I consider my background – the political and social upbringing, the communication and development skills, the desire to connect people and put them at the heart of change, it had all the right elements that shaped my journey to becoming a social entrepreneur and building Ogunte.
How do you tackle the highs and lows of running an organisation?
It is strongly dependent on our common sense of connectedness. I believe in sharing privileged conversations with friends from the sector and beyond; Sharing a good meal as well does help: together we build safe spaces to laugh, rant, brainstorm and learn.
When you can be in that safe space, you build and grow a capital of trust and trustworthiness. It is not just about trusting others, it’s about your own alignment as well. You have to ask yourself, how will I run my own ship when things are tough? Can I manage myself? Will I genuinely be of service to others in the long run? What am I not seeing?
Critical friends help me think through this, they help me amplify my personal resilience and find the routes through the challenges I face.
Downloading the whole internet doesn’t help.
What is the one book we should read, podcast we should listen to or piece of art we should encounter to better understand the world of social enterprise?
Art is everywhere in my life and it’s about how I understand the world at large, not just social enterprise. I am going to be very upset at having to choose only a few examples!
I would recommend basic reading such as The Prophet from Khalil Gibran, Maya Angelou’s stories, Marcel Moring’s The Great Longing, Carlos Drummond De Andrade’s The Machine of the World… They inject you with more humanity.
I love a really eclectic selection of music from early Medieval visionary polymath – and in my sense feminist – Hildegard Von Bingen ; to Brazilian Dub (O Rappa), anything that is unexpected, makes you bounce and feel alive.
I believe a well-functioning individual should not be afraid to cross different genres. Art in its wider shapes or disciplines helps avoid silos and means you widen your views.
Arts reminds me I don’t know many things, and I should let myself carry by discovery. When you make the conscious decision to open your eyes and your heart wide rather than trying to fit into a shape already formed, it makes you a better human.
What are you interested in that most people aren’t and should be?
I am interested in what happens when people decide they don’t know! It’s something lots of people won’t start with, I have noticed.
Every day I get up in the morning, longing to hear better questions. I am tired of soundbites and the limited opportunity to develop high quality, incisive, exquisite questions.
When I work with organisations, I make a point of upskilling people with the capacity to ask great learning questions.
What’s a project you’ve dreamed about but haven’t started yet?
I have started this literary project, but I am still dreaming about it. I am writing a book or a film, not sure yet what the final result will look like… I lack real writers’ discipline and the know how… but I have 30,000 words already! The plot is set in the future and explores what it takes to rebuild our world, after the political, environmental and social destruction we have initiated. The protagonists are a compilation of many women in social enterprises and activists I have met around the world.
What’s the most ridiculous thing you have ever done in the name of Social Enterprise?
June, ridiculous is very British… I don’t do ridiculous. I just do things! My response to ridiculous is to circumvent and create my own platforms or avenues. When I couldn’t fit in the enterprise programmes I came across, I pulled a team together and we designed Make a Wave, our own accelerator for Impact Women. When the networks for women in business where all offering more of the same, we put activities together that took our participants by surprise, in the UK, the Middle East, South America, on- line, etc. We did it anyway.
What’s the best piece of advice you have ever been given?
When I first met Brazilian artist, composer, producer, social activist, Marcelo Yuka, who was to become my closest friend for almost 20 years, I discovered a beautiful enlightened person who had the same idea as mine but… in the right order! It was an immediate attraction and the best thing he said to me was –“ just do it”.
He guided me at the beginning of my journey and we very quickly co-mentored each other. Understanding social change from the perspective of the Brazilian context and contrasted history was a great advantage. He died in January 2019 and it has been a great loss for many of us.
Just for fun – If someone made a film of your work, who would you ask to play you?
My first instinct would be Morgan Freeman… then I reflect and think about Isabelle Huppert. And I realise your question makes me want to highlight and/or amplify traits that could make me a better person. Freeman for his calm, aura and wisdom and Isabelle for her ability to not being afraid of anything and doing it anyway. I have still got a long way to go…
Tea or G and T?
Cachaça artisanal of course!