Editor's Note: What does it take to be entrepreneurial? We invited Anika Stephens to share her recent experience in an incubator for young leaders who have already made a positive social or economic impact in their communities and her advice for others interested in starting their own social venture.
I recently came back from an unforgettable trip to the United States. A trip that gave me the tools I need to grow my small socially minded business. As a small business owner I understand it is important to work together. Changing the world is not a one-person job.
I was one of 250 lucky fellows in the Young Leaders of the Americas Initiative, or YLAI. President Obama launched the YLAI Professional Fellows Program to empower Latin American and Caribbean entrepreneurs to increase the social and economic impact in their communities. All young entrepreneurs, we attended a six-week program, including a four-week fellowship in the U.S. We were placed in 21 different city hubs, and I was one of 14 of us who did our fellowship in Austin at The University of Texas.
I'm the founder of Enamora, a small social business in Aruba. Enamora is an online eco-chic jewelry boutique that supports indigenous people in Ecuador. By paying fair wages and investing our profits back in the community we empower these people to create a better life.
I signed up for YLAI to learn more about social enterprises, and to see and meet people who work on their mission daily. Social enterprises are still 'new' in Aruba. As far as I know I'm one of the few who has tried to establish a social business in our island. Many people don't see the opportunities social businesses create to make the world a better place. Buying more seems for many people more important than buying an impact. As a small business owner, it is almost an impossible job to create these changes on your own. Gaining experience, advice and mentorship in Aruba is not as easy as it is in Austin. I'm grateful for the opportunity that I had to gain experience and build a network here.
What I learned is how businesses can working together by sharing knowledge. As social entrepreneurs, we work on the same common goal, to make the world a better place. I felt that connection during my time in Austin. It is amazing to see how a city or community can create a place for social enterprises.
During my fellowship, I had the honor to work with Sheila Hawkins-Bucklew. Sheila is a jewelry designer and an amazing woman with a great mission to empower women through entrepreneurship. She was a great mentor and introduced me into several fields in the social business environment. In these amazing four weeks, I was also able to meet people who own or work for successful social enterprises, and ask them about the challenges and risks they had overcome to make a difference, including well-known businesses like Ten Thousand Villages, Raven + Lily, and Austin boutique Csilla Somogyi. They are all amazing people who are motivated to create a change.
The Austin social business community is so open to sharing knowledge and helping others move forward. This is not common in places where I have lived and worked. It is a city of people with a mission. That was great to see. Nothing is weird and I felt like everything was possible.
I've returned to Aruba and hope to share what I learned here, to help other social entrepreneurs move forward. We live on one connected planet and are supposed to help each other. Openness and networking are keys to make your business grow, and as social entrepreneurs, to make an even bigger difference in the world.
I'm very grateful for this wonderful opportunity to learn from social entrepreneurs. This experience will last forever. And I want it to continue. So I invite other young social entrepreneurs to contact me, from Aruba, the U.S. or elsewhere. Let's share what we know and work together to make a change in the world.
Anika Stevens is the founder of Enamora, an online eco-chic jewelry boutique that supports indigenous families in Ecuador. She has a Bachelor's Degree in Economics at the University of Aruba.