This post is part of our Social Enterprise Initiative 25th anniversary blog series, which highlights some of the faculty, staff, students, and alumni who have been a part of SEI throughout the years. In this post, Misan Rewane (MBA 2013, NVC 2013 Winner) shares her insights on founding and leading a social enterprise. Misan is the cofounder and CEO of WAVE (West Africa Vocational Education), an organization dedicated to tackling youth unemployment in West Africa.
What motivated you to pursue a career path in the social sector?
My dedication to education began when I was around the age of six when enamored by my primary 1 teacher, I said aloud in a family gathering that I wanted to be a teacher when I grew up, not a university lecturer, but a primary school teacher. I remember my dad saying, “If you want to be a teacher, you’ll be poor, unappreciated, and frustrated.” He painted a very unappealing picture, but it didn’t add up. My teacher, Ms. Gbayisomore, helped me learn new things I didn’t even know existed and saw the potential in every one of us in class to learn more and become more. I didn’t see why this should be an unappealing job. I knew I wanted to “fix the system” one day. I didn’t know what exact job it was, but I wanted to do it. I was raised to believe that with an education that taught me how to learn and adapt, I could literally become anything I imagine, and I want every young person to have that!
What has your connection been to SEI?
WAVE was launched off of the momentum and winnings from the Social Enterprise Track of the HBS New Venture Competition in 2013. The lean start-up testing and on-the-ground research was made possible by an SEI travel grant. SEI continues to be a champion of WAVE, profiling our work within the alumni community and making relevant connections.
How is the organization in which you’re involved pursuing social change?
WAVE is currently building a movement of employers committed to hiring for competencies (over credentials) and educators committed to developing 21st century competencies in young people. By focusing on degree credentials and work experience as proxies for competencies in entry-level recruitment, employers signal the wrong focus to educators and young people. As a result, educators and students prioritize schooling over skilling, flooding the market with jobseekers who are credentialed but not necessarily prepared for work. Those who have developed their competencies in non-traditional ways continue to be blocked out of opportunity. Our next frontier is to rewire the education-to-employment system so that it provides a level playing field for all young people to access the skills and opportunity to become what they imagine.
What advice would you give to other alumni or students interested in pursuing a career in the social sector?
Go for it! What worked for me was: Analyzing the worst case scenario of pursuing a social sector career (e.g. venture fails, financial discomfort, etc.) and what would still be true in spite of the worst case scenario occurring (e.g., xyz lives impacted in abc way, xyz skills, networks and experiences acquired, and consequently an increased ability to get a corporate job etc.). If the positives still outweigh the worst case scenario negatives (which it did in my case), then go for it because you’ll at least have thought through (and built contingencies for) the worst case...which is quite unlikely to happen anyway!
What is one "aha" moment you've had related to SE?
Realizing that the big, complex social problems we are tackling are critical to the growth of businesses and countries. If youth are adequately skilled to realize their potential, businesses and countries benefit as well, and so everyone should be involved in tackling these problems as we all win when they are eventually solved at the system level.
What is one interesting/exciting trend or issue that our readers should be aware of?
Millennials are increasingly motivated by meaning in their work – they want to work for companies that do more good and less harm, and businesses will have to increasingly position themselves as such, and not just talk the talk, but also walk the walk if they want to attract and retain the best talent!
How would you describe the social impact you seek to have in the world?
I seek to work towards a world where every young African has access to the skills and opportunity to become what they imagine.