Spotlight: Maria Gross

Maria long

What drives you?

To show that we can do business better and differently without causing damage.

Biggest SocEnt trend you have seen in the last 5 years?

Social entrepreneurship in Germany has exploded: Suddenly, the public sector and corporates have realized that it exists, as you can see in social impact’s work with SAP and Deutsche Bank. And we are not just talking financial support; we get their teams on board to help startups out with their expertise and through mentoring. With these sectors opening up, we had so many more connections – a great basis for good partnerships.

Currently reading

Self-esteem (“Selbstachtung”) by Poletti and Dobbs. I see many people burn out over their social start-ups and trying to make a living. It’s not sustainable, we need to learn to look after ourselves, so this is a good read.

Background

Maria started out with an apprenticeship as an industrial clerk in automobile industry and stayed on in HR in total for six years. She did a part-time bachelor in management but didn’t see herself in the for-profit industry. She tried out development aid in her role as program assistant at the Goethe Institute in Togo and realized it wasn’t for her. “… at least not the way international development works at the moment. I raised questions of sustainability and impact of the work we were doing. To me, it lacked of enablement and created dependencies.” She went on to get her masters in non-profit management in Berlin but found that she was missing the practical experiences and relationships to the world of practitioners. “Around that time, I met Stefan, Elizabeth and Christina who had founded ROCK YOUR LIFE!. As one of the first franchises, we launched ROCK YOUR LIFE! in Berlin. And that was my introduction to social entrepreneurship. I had found a way of doing good through an economic lense, and got a chance to combine my passion and skills.”

As a social entrepreneur in Berlin, she soon learned about Ashoka and the work Norbert Kunz was doing at the Social Impact Lab. “I applied ‘Young Leaders for Sustainability‘ at the Collective Leadership Institute and their program enabled me to train in leadership while also working at Social Impact (iq consult back then). I transitioned to project assistant and took over the lab management in 2013. This is where I met my current business partner Jan who was a Social Impact Start participant at the time. I had worked so much with startups, I loved the energy and wanted to get involved. I had the chance to join Vehement in September 2013 as CEO and have worked two jobs since then.”

Being CEO of a social venture herself and having worked in the support industry for several years, Maria has a great sense for the realities of running a social enterprise. I ask her about whether she ever considered quitting the impact space and she responds: “Yes. It is little money for all the days and nights you work. I have been living on a shoestring budget ever since I left my corporate job. When I see how the careers of my peers have developed, I know I could make more money and that is tempting. At the same time, deep down, I know I wouldn’t want to do it, it wouldn’t make me happy. And then, something great happens and I am reminded of why I do this.”


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