Ogunte: What drives you, Erica?
Erica van Engel: I believe that making a difference by doing business is the best way to handle the challenges we are facing in today’s world. I also believe in the power of women entrepreneurs making the change they want to see in this world. “This world” can be: your office, your industry, a community in your area, or one at the other side of the globe. I show them how to generate more impact, influence and income. I made the choice to only focus on "for-profit" business models because those are more sustainable and future proof.
Ogunte: How does your eagerness to be involved as a social entrepreneurs’ supporter stem from what happened in your early years?
Erica: My career is characterized by change. I started in the fashion industry and worked for several technical businesses. After that I gained a broad work experience as an office manager and policy advisor in the social and public sector.
In the year 2000, right after giving birth to my daughter, I almost died from a disease called Sarcoidosis. It was that experience that made me realize that I had two purposes in life. The first reason was to raise my daughter and the second was to achieve a purpose in some way, yet not knowing what that purpose should be. And it took some time to find it.
During a sabbatical in 2003 I started StageLoket, an internship agency that matches Dutch students with organizations in my country of origin: Surinam. This initiative arose from the conviction that knowledge contributes more to the development of developing countries than giving money. Our advocacy for internships in Surinam led to more than 1.000 students choosing for Surinam. This not only resulted in the transfer of knowledge and workforce but also in € 5.000.000 per year in income for the local entrepreneurs, tourism sector and local citizens who rented their house to the students.
This business became the basis for a new step in my career: social entrepreneurship. As I was asked to do lectures and speeches on how I started the StageLoket over and over, and was paid to do so, I started a consulting agency in 2006 and I also started coaching others who wanted to start a business.
Ogunte: If you were not doing what you are doing now, what other business, cause or activity would you be contributing to…?
Erica: I would still be a changemaker, by designing sustainable fashion. I studied fashion business but did not pursuit a fashion career due to several reasons. But sometimes when I look around I feel so sad that mainstreem fashion became so "poor" in the last two decades. Fashion is one of the biggest industries worldwide and also one of the most polluting. Most employees in the fashion sector are women and we are also the main consumers. So we can make a change here too.
Ogunte: Can you suggest women social entrepreneurs in your network, that the world should know about?
Hasmik Matevosyan, balancing fashion and sustainability
Sihame El Kaouakibi, investing today in the people of tomorrow.
Nada Al-Rubaiee, game changer in pharmaceutical patient care
Ogunte: How does your world look like in 2030?
Erica: I have a dream... that one day all children will grow up only knowing peace, pleasure and prosperity. We can make it happen if we close the gender gap, especially in influence and income. Women play an undeniable role in sustainable development.