As a western European, white man, I grew up in Germany, a country where the economy thrives and education is free for everybody. I have never been confronted with life-threatening situations or the vicious circle of poverty. I've taken my education and my privileged life for granted. After my studies, I moved to Munich to work as an engineer at MAN Truck & Bus SE in the field of autonomous transport solutions. Another privilege that I took for granted: A very well-paid job in a safe city with opportunities that leave nothing to be desired.
10 months ago, I received the most impactful opportunity of my professional life. My colleagues asked me to join the MAN Impact Accelerator as a lead mentor to support eight social startups in the area of transport and logistics. First of all, I have never been in touch with social startups before and really wondered how I would be able to contribute with my industry background. I said yes, and started my mind-blowing journey in September last year.
It feels like yesterday when the startups introduced themselves and we worked together on their purpose of founding a social business. During these first days I realised that the Entrepreneurs were living a purposeful life to help people in need. There is Arnaud Blanchet who is trying to improve the living conditions in townships for disadvantaged humans or Ajaita Shah who is providing solar power electricity to rural areas by employing women as her distributors. These inspirational entrepreneurs actively decided to dedicate their intelligence, their power and their lifetime to people who are at the base of the pyramid. We are talking about people who are scared because they cannot warm their infants during a cold night or can lose their children to a snake bite because they have no light during their walk through their village. This dedication brought up the question, if I already have found my purpose or if I am still looking for one?
Tom Schneider presenting the successes of Shopit (Last Mile for BOP) during the MAN Impact Accelerator Journey at the Closing Ceremony in Munich.
I understood that I should question my own purpose and that I took my privileged life as a given while other humans are struggling every day to feed their children. Secondly, I understood that the MAN Impact Accelerator is the perfect opportunity to explore this feeling of purpose driven work and social responsibility.
To start with I followed my social business Last Mile for BoP to India, where we understood that their product could not lead to success. We sat together to develop a new, lean product in order to serve the town ship communities in a better and a more human-centric way. Drastic changes hurt but are always necessary!
Arriving in Cape Town I experienced the magic of South Africa while visiting the employees of my mentee startup at the waterfront. I really felt the dedication during my short stay at the co-working space – people from France, South Africa and Germany were all working together on the greater vision: Improving the lives of town ship inhabitants. It was great to hear about the first positive feedbacks and user growth rates from our mentoring session in India. The feeling came up that we really do something great.
Finally, we used this new momentum in San Francisco to improve our idea from India in a way which brought us more than 500% users compared to the program start. We really managed to ideate a new solution, implement it in the town ship ecosystem and thanks to the help of a great mentoring team, the idea grew We did it. We managed to impact the life of thousands of town ship inhabitants by combining the social purpose of our entrepreneurs with our business skills at MAN. I can use my skills to impact people who are in need. That was a mind-blowing experience.
Impact numbers of Shopit (Last mile for BOP) impressing a crowd of +200 attendees including social business enthusiasts, MAN employees, investors, journalists, press…
Walking through the streets of San Francisco made me really think about the gap between the poor and the rich. While the tech industry is thriving, others must have a second job as an Uber driver to pay their rent – if they can even afford a flat around San Francisco. Situations are changing quickly today and often a lot of people do not have the same opportunity as we do. Our Entrepreneurs are trying to help people all over the world to live a life free of fear, war or hunger.
Participating in the MAN Impact Accelerator showed me that I have the responsibility to use my skills to help people who are clearly in need. Acting responsibly means that from now on I will always ask myself if the task I am doing, is this harming or helping people who are in need. I learnt that dedicating one’s life to helping others is incredibly rewarding and may result in a less superficial way of living. Many more questions to investigate in the coming years and I look forward to diving further into the social business world…
Thanks to the MAN Impact Accelerator and all the inspirational participants during our journey. I am grateful for being a part of this life changing experience, and look forward to the next cohort.
APPLICATIONS TO BATCH #3
We spoke to Molly Burke co-founder of Cycle Connect, our latest investment in our Ugandan Fund. Cycle Connect provides rural smallholder farmers with the necessary tools to propel them out of poverty.
As demonstrated by the #MeToo movement, more and more women are helping society change the way we think about sexual harassment by sharing their experiences.
India has an enormous population of 1.4 billion, within it there are a staggering amount of people who live rurally with no access to a reliable or regular electricity supply. Roughly a third of the planet’s electricity deficit is in India with only 82% of its inhabitants having access to electricity – meaning a total of 239 million people are left in darkness (as of 2016).