Vincent Van Gogh as Social Entrepreneur

Can Vincent Van Gogh be defined as a social entrepreneur? And why not? This was the exact discussion of Russian delegation after two November events in The Hague — ImpactFest festival and annual EVPA conference (European Venture Philanthropy Association). 

This year two events were visited by over 1500 people, including more than 30 participants from Russia (comparing with the Y2018, the quantity doubled). The event was attended by EVPA members in Russia: SOL Center, Rybakov Foundation, Reach for Change Foundation, Vnesheconombank.

SOL Center, which was the first Russian organization to join EVPA two years ago, invited to The Hague participants of SOL Contest — Elena Gorokhova (Plant the Forest project), Alla Mallabiu (I Hear You project) and Natalia Remish (Simple Talk About Important Things project), as well as representatives of IKRA — School of Creative Thinking and ITHUB College. All of them took part in a roundabout discussion on the topic “Why Education is the Driver of Social Investments in Russia”, led by Andrei Andrusov, Executive Director of the SOL Center.

The main Andrei’s thesis was that education in Russia is closer to business, than other social sectors in Russia, so the first attempts in social entrepreneurship, first investments and first innovations in social financing, arise in this area (for more details, see this article). In Russia market for investments in education is in the process of active development, even the first SIB (Social Investment Bond) has appeared.

It turned out that this is only in Russia the education is perceived as business. Many of our colleagues from Europe talked about the fact that in their countries almost all educational initiatives are so generously supplied with grants, both public and private, that consumers of educational services are not used to pay. Therefore, it is almost impossible to find a sustainable business model in education in Western Europe.

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Let’s come back to the great Dutchman Vincent Van Gogh. No doubt, his work has had a great impact on the whole world for more than a hundred years. And if you consider the artist as a social entrepreneur, his brother Theo and Theo’s wife Johanna, who have devoted much time to popularizing Van Gogh’s work, are quite worthy for the role of impact investors. And what do you think?

So, the main program of The Hague events was devoted to impact investing  precisely. Representatives of сommercial banks, investment funds, foundations  and social entrepreneurs collaborated, shared information and participated in dozens of roundabouts and workshops, dedicated to the topic “How to make life better / How to measure, whether we have done it better and whether there is an exact scale for this ‘better’.”

Reflections were various. So, one of the EVPA founders, Doug Miller, investor from the United States and Great Britain with more than 30-years experience (as well as participant of the Vietnam War), said from the stage: “We have done a lot, and over the years our projects have improved the situation in X times. And now the situation has worsened 10X times… What would the world be like our children live in? What can we do for them?”

Many, having listened to Doug, were confused, but almost all agreed that the principle “Do what you must, come what may” remains relevant. So we all need to continue the work and at the same time look for breakthrough innovations that can improve the situation by far. 

That is why the need for investments for searching of a groundbreaking new concepts, — non-traditional solutions and “crazy” projects with non-clear financial result, becomes obvious.

And that is why the question “Will it work?” changes today to “Will there be a social effect if it works?” (how the life of a particular person or society could change).

Therefore social entrepreneurs in Russia as well value not only financial investments. Non-financial support (mentoring, training, consulting, networking) is much more in demand and the SOL Contest for social entrepreneurs in Russia is an excellent example of this interaction. 

And what is our task for the future? SOL Center will continue to move in the direction of social investments as well as to acquaint people in Europe with ideas and best practices in Russia. To represent the finalists of SOL Contest in the international market and help to find them investments and promising contacts. We also look forward to localizing best international practices in our country as we see great potential in such cooperation. 

Join us and let’s change the world together!