When I left corporate law and joined the On Purpose Programme I thought I was making a really tough decision but as soon as I walked into Virgin Unite on my first day I knew that this was going to be an incredible experience. Virgin Unite sits within Virgin HQ and shares the same entrepreneurial buzz of energy. Coming straight from a law firm this was not the environment I was used to but I could tell I was going to enjoy it!
I had read Richard Branson’s Screw Business as Usual before I started and knew that this was a place that was totally inline with my own objectives and combining the power of business with social and environmental objectives. I worked on all of Virgin Unite’s Entrepreneurial initiatives from Start Up Loans in the North East of England to the Branson Centres of Entrepreneurship in the Caribbean and South Africa. I loved meeting all of the entrepreneurs, their businesses varied hugely from Claire Reed with her visionary Reel Gardening from South Africa, Michael Movery with his spicy Coco Brown’s hot sauce from the Caribbean to Charlie Simpson-Daniel with his nutritious Kings Biltong from the UK. Despite their differences, they all had one thing in common, being involved in a Virgin Unite initiative had given them the confidence and the support to give their start up the best possible chance!
There really must be something in the water at Virgin as I was so inspired by the entrepreneurs and working somewhere where creativity was encouraged, I decided that after On Purpose I would love to start my own business. The only problem is what kind of business will this be? I know that I want it to be socially responsible and have positive impacts on society and the environment, but further than that I have no idea!
Another theme at Virgin Unite and Virgin is protecting ‘People and Planet’, and Richard Branson is particularly passionate about sharks, especially whale sharks, and is also an Ocean Elder. As a keen diver and after a talk from the incredible Ecovative Design who have designed packaging made from mushrooms so that it decomposes and does not get into the garbage patches in the oceans, I started to research more about the problems that the oceans are facing and how little we are doing to solve these problems. It was only then that I realised how large these problems are, from garbage patches to the overfishing, not to mention the problems facing particular species such as sharks as a result of the popularity of shark fin soup. There are already social entrepreneurs and companies who have some incredible programmes such as SafetyNet, a Virgin Media Pioneer, and Net-Works, an Interface initiative, but given the scale of the problem it is simply not enough.
I’m still not entirely sure what I will do when I finish my second On Purpose placement but my time at Virgin Unite has encouraged me to think entrepreneurially, to think big and to think about how my actions impact the world around me. I would love to set up a social enterprise that in some way helps protect the ocean, whether by protecting the reefs, decreasing overfishing or the rubbish dumps at sea. Looks like there will be plenty to discuss with my coach in our next meeting!