Emma Sinclair MBE

CEO & Co-founder of Enterprise Alumni / Unicef Advisor

From IPO to Helping Refugees at Scale - Emma Sinclair of Enterprise Alumni

Sep 28, 2017
Emma Sinclair MBE

From IPO to Helping Refugees at Scale

Maiko speaks to Emma Sinclair MBE, the youngest person to IPO a company on the London Stock Exchange and talk about what NGO's can learn from the #tech sector, how she is scaling her company and how each of us can have an impact.

Listen to the Podcast:

Read the transcription:

[0:22] Maiko: In today's episode, I'm joined by Emma Sinclair, the youngest ever person in the UK to float the company at London Stock Exchange at the age of 29. She's the cofounder of the software company, EnterpriseJungle, and has been helping UNICEF since 2014, as a business mentor, and right now she just launched yesterday, a big crowdfunding campaign for UNICEF. So, welcome, Emma, thanks very much for coming. 

[00:45] Emma: Thanks for having me. 

[00:47] Maiko: Tell us a bit more about the involvement with UNICEF? Why would an NGO like them want to have the advice of an entrepreneur that's been involved in finance software, parking lots, how can you help them? Why would they want the advice?

[1:00] Emma: Well, I think it's probably much the same as being under the roof of Wayra, you bring different people together and when you bring different people together, good things happen. Obviously, UNICEF is part of the UN and has the most incredible broad reach, and is the most fascinating, sprawling organization you can think of. But that doesn't mean to say they have all the skills under the roof that they need to either reach audiences like the business audience, or to consider new ways to fundraise such as crowdfunding. So I think that really, my role is to engage a different audience in UNICEF, I have, you know, I have a tribe, I like to think of it, we all have people that we resonate with, you know, we go and see a football match of people that support the same team, we go to hike, if we like being on the outdoors, you know, my tribe, my people, so to speak, the people that I know very well as the entrepreneurial community, and the business community and the innovative tech community. And those are not necessarily people who engage with UNICEF on a regular basis. 

[02:00] Emma: So, here I am, everything I've done pretty much has been a bit of a first or a pilot, I was the first business mentor, and I'm now launching their first ever crowd fund.

[2:09] Maiko: So, why is that the case that entrepreneurs and NGOs like UNICEF don't attack as much in the daily life? Like, why is that still seen as like two very separate sectors that don't really talk much to each other?

[2:21] Emma: Well, you know, in life, people stereotype, so people stereotype the public sector and the private sector, they stereotype NGOs, they stereotype, you know, very disruptive young entrepreneurs, they stereotype disruptive tech companies, and there's a reason for stereotypes, you know, there is some truth behind it. NGOs have to operate with a different set of rules, and with a different set of principles. You know, the UNICEF operate in war zones, they have refugee camps, they have political sensitivities. And you know, there are the requirements in that space that are very different from, say, growing a young business, which is, you generally go in and you, I don't want to swear on a podcast, but you shake stuff up, you know, you have to really, you know, you have to be bold, you have to hustle, you have to knock down doors, sometimes you have to kick down doors and that doesn't necessarily work if you're in the confines of an NGO. So sometimes it takes someone from the outside to question processes, to poke at how things work and to propose new things. And I think it's easy when someone does that from the outside, really.

[3:22] Maiko: So, if you look at tech, obviously, it's disrupting one sector after the other, and NGOs haven't really been saved from that, right? So, even in fundraising, and NGOs, there's technology coming in, and changing the game?

[3:35] Emma: Slowly, only really, very slowly, I mean, I walked here today from the station, and there were people on the street that were stopping me from charities wanting me to sign up, I mean, old school, stopping you on the street, signing up your name, your phone number, your email address, and asking for a pledge. And actually, I'm not sure that giving is that technologically advanced, you know, we perhaps in the world that you and I inhabit, living worlds where we spend a lot of time online, we use our phones, our computers, our iPads, our whatever it is, for me, it's my touchscreen Lenovo, but we use software to really facilitate practically everything we do. I mean, I order my food online from Ricardo on an app on my iPhone, I, you know, pretty much do everything that way. But that doesn't necessarily, it doesn't reflect, you know, the broader world out there. 

[04:26] Emma: And the idea with engaging technology a little bit more for UNICEF, and with this crowd fund is that there's a whole generation of younger people, that's also how they live. And so, you know, you need to really tap into people on the same medium that they're working on, that they're thinking on, that they're actively using. So, I'm not sure that that technology has really sort of done that quite yet, but it's coming. And what I really wanted for UNICEF was for them to be ahead of the curve and take advantage of everything that was on offer. And crowdfunding was a great fix way to solve what I saw as a problem and engage a community very quickly to help make something great happen, you know.

[5:03] Maiko: Do you think sometimes NGOs, you mentioned to street fundraising, and so on, is still stuck in very traditional methods of getting money? And obviously, at some point, they realized that maybe the old ways might not work as well anymore, sending out letters, cold mail, basically, to people, speaking to them on the street, basically beg for money few times a year, and do a bake sale, and all these kind of very traditional ways of fundraising, as a time to change and really disrupt NGO space and really rely on technology and introduce it to the space.

[5:32] Emma: I think that's probably a little bit bold, what I know, very subjectively speaking, the way that I see things is, that if something is working, it's great, you know, if I still see the bake sales, this school fares, all that is absolutely fantastic. Because in that way that I said, you have to engage people where they're spending their time, not everybody is online, I just think that you have to really open up the channels of communication. And if you're not really engaging with people online, that's an entire world of people that you're ignoring. And I think the problem is not, you know, suddenly getting rid of all these wonderful other ways that people fundraise, but it's making sure that you are leveraging all of the possible channels that people are on. And obviously, you know, we all know that digital is extremely important. And it's not to say that, you know, organizations such as UNICEF, and all these charities aren't online, they all are, you know, they absolutely all are. 

[06:21] Emma: But crowdfunding is a new and different way to raise money quickly for a particular project. And, the other wonderful thing it does is, it allows you to be very specific of what you're raising for. So, my first crowdfund is raising money to roll out innovation labs, in refugee camps. I was in Jordan, quite recently, I got to see an early pilot of the innovation labs. And in doing this crowdfunding in particularly highlighting why I think that we need to teach digital skills to young people who, you know, don't have any access to the same amount of education that we do but ultimately, are going to need to find jobs. I'm able to really articulate why this resonates with me why it's important. And so, I can engage people who also find that important and want to pledge with me to solve this problem. So, the other great thing about technology is it helps makes, the kind of cause and the details of the cause a bit more transparent. And I think that is very exciting.

[7:10] Maiko: Moving on, from NGOs and talking what NGOs can do, obviously, you have a day job of running an enterprise software company, right?

[07:18] Emma: I do.

[07:20] Maiko: Which you founded, EnterpriseJungle.

[7:21] Emma: Well, I cofounded, actually, there are two of us. And yes, our software powers the corporate alumni networks of very large companies

[7:27] Maiko: Alright and moving to that sector, what can businesses learn, in terms of having an impact on the world? Even businesses that might not be a social impact business as such, but what should businesses do in terms of having an impact on society or should they even bother?

[7:41] Emma: Well, I don't think that one size fits all, I don't think there should be a rule. I know that as an entrepreneur, and as a founder, I'm very motivated to make a difference to things and use my voice. So, that really, you know, that is at the core of what we do. And my business is essentially HR software, people is what we do for a living. And technology is a tool to interact, it's not the end game. So, people are at the heart of everything we do. I think that, you know, everybody has an opportunity to do something positive with their time, with their voice, with their influence. And what I would very much like to see is, for people to take a step back, and to remember that however busy they are, whatever it is they're doing, they do have time for other interests, and they do have time to help someone else. 

[08:23] Emma: One of the things, that most irritates me, is when people say, I don't have any time. And I have got to tell you, I don't have any time. You know, I wake up very early, I try and exercise in the morning, I have friends and family, I have a day job, I have a, right now a fairly intense role, working with UNICEF. And there are other things I do too, I really am not a person who has tons of spare time, but I make time. And I think everybody should make time to do something. Because as it happens, when you think about other people, it starts to help put your challenges into perspective, it helps you to think about things differently and there is a benefit for everybody. So, it's not just a selfless act, you know that, in finding a side gig and finding something else where you can give some of your time and energy you will receive benefits too.

[9:05] Maiko: Do you think businesses themselves can solve some of the issues we face in society and some of the big, grow-able problems better than politicians or NGOs might be able to?

[9:14] Emma: Goodness me, I thought I was coming along for a podcast about social impact and tech for good but instead I'm being challenged on kind of major political questions. I mean, we're all biased, I note a few things, the private sector is able to make decisions faster than the public sector. When I decide to do something in my business, I may need to speak to my cofounder, I may collaborate and engage some of the key top team but really, I can make decisions very fast. I don't have to go to a vote in Parliament, I don't have to, you know, garner votes, I don't also have to be judged on my everyday activities and get voted in every couple of years. You know, I'm the cofounder of my business, and I own a significant stake, I don't have to fight for that every couple of months. 

[09:54] Emma: So, I think it is much easier from where I sit to operate in the private sector. And I very much believe that, you know, I can use what I'm doing the experiences I have, to impact things that count. And that doesn't just mean social good, I mean, I was with the Prime Minister in India on the trade mission last November, I went to Silicon Valley and met people like Sheryl Sandberg on behalf of the London Mayor with a group of female founders, I'm going to meeting macro in a couple of week’s time. So, I have the opportunity to really explain, partake in, participate in discussions where business is at the heart of it, but also politics makes a difference. And you know, I think it's an unenviable task to be a politician in the 21st century, quite frankly.

[10:35] Maiko: So, how can entrepreneurs help politicians make a bigger impact? How can you help when you meet those politicians?

[10:41] Emma: Well, I think that there are lots of ways that entrepreneurs and business people have always been engaged. In many ways, when you want to share a message with people, you often use a third-party spokesman or woman. So, I think part of for example, getting entrepreneurs and business people on trade missions is we're able to speak about operating in the UK, why we can do that, why we like the UK as a base, especially given Brexit and some uncertainty from other people about what the future may hold. So, in many ways, we're all able to talk about our experiences, honestly, and frankly, and share a message that perhaps politicians can't do because they don't run businesses. But there are there are also magnificent politicians who are, you know, who have wide reach and there are some fantastic politicians on Twitter, whose, you know, articles and comments, I read religiously, and there are some amazing politicians that are also pressing buttons and, you know, one of my favorites is a man called Tom Fletcher, who advised both Gordon Brown and David Cameron and then subsequently went on to be most, recently the ambassador for Lebanon. He's written a fantastic book called, The Naked Diplomat. Everything he writes really engages with me. And so, there were some wonderful politicians out there but, you know, I'm definitely sticking with the private sector for now.

[11:52] Maiko: What would you advise other entrepreneurs that want to maximize their impact and maybe running businesses similar to yours, pretty conventional businesses to say, so maybe not the niche of social impact, but that would like to engage more, how should they be thinking about this?

[12:06] Emma: Everybody has a skill, so use your skill to help other people. And it might be helping your neighbor a couple of desks along, it might be your neighbor, a couple of doors along where you live, it's just you know, I really believe in paying it forward and random acts of kindness. I believe that we should all try and do one nice thing for other people every day with no expectation of return, because number one, that makes the world a better place. Number two, it's just a wonderful thing to do. And third of all, when one day, you do need some help, you're going to have a bunch of people that really want to help you. So, those are ways, if you want to do things at scale, like I do. And for me, you know, the, one of the reasons for choosing UNICEF to work with is they really have scale, they have you know, more reach than any other charity on the planet and then there are so many other ways to do that. And, you know, whatever it is you're interested in, there's just somewhere you can find to help. And yeah, I would encourage anyone to do that.

[12:56] Maiko: How can people get involved in the UNICEF campaign? How can people that are listening to this now have an impact on what is the UNICEF campaign offering them?

[13:04] Emma: So, there are a number of ways that people can help my campaign if they feel minded, and I really hope that they do. The first and most important way is they can go to unicef.uk/crowdfund or just google Emma Sinclair and UNICEF crowdfund, and pledge, whatever you can do that campaign. This is a pilot, this is a first, we don't really have a marketing budget and the UNICEF offices, the world over watching this to see what happens. You know, people often talk about how can they help refugees, and what can they do and what can you really do? I went to Jordan, a couple of weeks ago, I went to the azraq camp, there are 650,000 Syrians in Jordan, at the moment of which, you know, many children and young people, they've been displaced through no fault of their own, they're not in proper education, they don't have access to resource. We live in this, you know, we live in this environment where we have access to the internet, accelerators, if you're under the roof of Wayra, you have all these incredible resources available to you, at the press of a button and these children, young people have absolutely none of that. 

[14:05] Emma: And if you think about some of the greatest innovators, Einstein, you know, the cofounder of Google, Sergey Brin, Dame, Shirley Stephanie, for example, these are all incredible people who were all refugees. And if this group of 50 million displaced people aren't given an opportunity to learn skills, there's an entirely displaced generation who have not fulfilled their potential. And that, quite frankly, can also be to our detriment, you know, where would we be without Google, for example. So, I would encourage everybody to log on, even if you can only spare a couple of pounds, please pledge it and you know, watch the campaign video, you can see a little bit more about what we're doing. And if you like the idea of helping more, if you think that you have a product or some software that might be useful in the camps, if you just want to get involved with this little bit more hands on and some campaigning, tweet me, reach me on LinkedIn, anything you like, I'd love to hear from you, the more people I can engage, the merrier because this is just the first, certainly won't be my last, I need all the help that I can get.

[14:59] Maiko: You said this won't be your last and I think as one final question, what is your vision in terms of your social impact going forward? Is there something that you would still like to accomplish that you've started with this mentoring at UNICEF that you would still like to do? That's one question. And the second part of the question, and what's your vision of doing with your business?

[15:17] Emma: In terms of what I still like to do with UNICEF, you know, I've only just begun, I just got started in 2014. At that point, I went to Zambia, and I had this fascinating trip, teaching entrepreneurship skills in hard to reach places, there are generations of young people in Africa, who can never hope to get a job, they can never hope to be employed and entrepreneurship is their only route. And now it's evolved into launching crowdfunding, which I hope in due course, will become a major source of income, not just for UNICEF in the United Kingdom, but UNICEF globally. So, as to, have I still got anything left to do? I've really only just begun, you know, so I look forward to seeing how this plays out. And then I'm definitely going to take a little break, because I have, as you say, got a day job but this is something very close to my heart. And I I'm a big lover of doing things at scale and working with UNICEF allows me to really do that. 

[16:05] Emma: As for what's happening with my business, well, so as I mentioned, our software powers corporate alumni networks, for very large companies. And again, you know, I suppose it's the same conversation, which is we're scaling, you know, most large enterprises, the world over will have an alumni network very soon. And these are not just cool ways to just stay in touch, which is typically been a bit antiquated and a bit manual, you know, we are the only fully integrated platform on the market that allows people, both the alumni and the corporates to engage, it's great for recruitment, for sales, for business development. And, really, you know, if you think about the life cycle of employees, and how people work, probably our grandparents had one job for life, maybe our parents or my parents had a couple of jobs in their lifetime. And now our generation, the next generation will have a handful of jobs, or maybe a couple hundred jobs all at the same time, how people are working is truly changing. 

[16:55] Emma: So, being able to engage with your alumni, the people that know your company, know your business, have the skills that you need, is just you know, being able to find them, just makes complete sense. So, we're scaling our business, we're growing our business, we're about to open a new and large office in Los Angeles and we'll be expanding in Europe further in 2018. And much like your question at the beginning about, you know, private sector and NGOs working together, we are an example of a growing business, working with very large enterprises, we're very different. Sometimes, you know, it can be tricky to kind of engage but we need each other. There's a real symbiosis between a company like us, that build software that corporates need, and very large corporates that, you know that we're getting through the door of. So, working hard on that, which probably explains why I'm pretty tired but really excited to be here and very excited that you're launching your new podcast series, and I like being the first. I like being the first to everything, I'm terribly competitive. So, this suits me down to the ground.

[17:53] Maiko: We're very happy that we had you as the first person on our podcast and thanks very much for sharing the insights and all the best for the campaign with UNICEF, Emma, thanks very much for coming.

[18:01] Emma: Thank you for having me.

[18:02] Maiko: Thank you very much.