Rafal Siepak, thoughtSeeker
He lives in Warsaw, Poland.
We first met in 2012 when we were heading towards the North Cape. He had just founded SENStation, a social entrepreneruship network, an online social impact accelerator focused on developing social innovation and social enterprise start-ups around the world.
Tell us a bit about yourself
I would say my life was full of challenges. I was always setting up high goals for myself. I left my home quite early when I was 17 and I was climbing virgin mountains in Kyrgyzstan and I climbed the highest mountain in Europe – 5.642 meters. I wanted to get to know different cultures so I decided to study in completely different cultures in Norway and the Netherlands. At the end I decided to come back to Poland and do Social Entrepreneurship.
What is something representative to you?
I remember this story when I was in high school and we were introducing each other by the first letter of the name. And I said yes I am Rafal and I like risk. I think that’s something which represents me. I think going over my comfort zone in my life was always a habit. I like to discover new things. I truly believe that if you really want to experience life you have to go out of your home try to do new things. I really love this quote from Christopher Columbus that you can’t cross the ocean unless you have the courage to lose the sight of the shore. So I think that’s really what inspires me to do new things.
How did you come to the idea of building SENStation?
It’s a long story but to be short, it started as a response to the crisis which is happening. First, I wanted to try to understand why it’s happening, so I looked into the system. Our system is currently driven by greed and fear. And I was thinking what would happen if it would be the opposite. What would happen if instead of greed we would have laugh and generosity? And instead of fear we would have courage. So I decided to dig into this and tried to think about confidence, about courage. I did my research and wrote my master thesis on the topic of confidence.
I learned two things. One is that the society is divided into two groups of people. On the one side you have people in the negative frame. These people have lower confidence; believe less in their skill and their knowledge. And they see usually problems in opportunities. On the other side you have people in the positive frame. People have higher level of confidence and believe more in their skills, in knowledge, trying to use it to look for opportunities. So these are people who are trying to use the courage in a positive way. There are two factors determining this. One is your mind. Nobody will change if you think positively or negatively, it’s up to you. Another thing is the environment. Together with my team, we decided that we will dive into the topic of environment and create more positivity through sharing the positive news of social entrepreneurs who are changing the word. This was our inspiration. With this inspiration we decided to create a station for a social entrepreneurship network, SENStation. SENStation is a network that has to connect social entrepreneurs and bring their positive stories to life in order to inspire other people to do social entrepreneurship. Together with CEMS we have organized the global social business competition in 26 different schools around the world. We got support from Academia, from program managers, from academic directors, social organizations, from students. And in the end we have got a lot of great ideas that might change the world.
What were the challenges?
There are many of them of course. At the beginning you have an idea, a goal, you want to do something. You try to do and you go for it. But there are challenges coming out. One was the fact that I am not a programmer. I had difficulties to program a platform. In the beginning I did it by myself through connecting some joomla modules, spending nights learning how to do it. And I wrote the first version. But my skills ended and I had to hire an IT team to do a better job at programming. Another challenge was related to the virtual team, SENStation was completely created with the heldp of a virtual team. Great people coming together each week on Skype from all over the world, working hard to develop a social project. And it is wonderful. Due to this great team, the inspiration, passion and this willingness to bring something good we were able to overcome the challenges.
Why haven’t you given up when the joomla prototype proved to be beyond your skills?
You know in life in general I believe you need to set up a goal, like in my case it was for example climbing mountains. For me the most important thing is to set up a goal and believe in your goal, to believe in your skills. At one point of time you will get there. If you strongly believe in it, it’s just a matter of time. So I think having this kind of confidence I was pushing the project by myself. There was also the many great people surrounding me who were supporting me, telling me that it was good, asking me, how is it going? How is the project? They were constantly adding value. I think people around me were the main success factor.
Where do you receive your power from?
Again I would say I receive it from people, like from my family for example and from great teams of social entrepreneurs. It is a completely different world when you say social entrepreneurship. Why? Because it is about people creating value not because of the returns but because they believe in the outcome of that specific social project. I think that being in this world is so inspiring, there is so much energy that you just gain the power to continue your work on the project and this is absolutely wonderful.
What motivated you in life in general until now?
I believe that each person has a mission and I also believe that my life has its own mission. Basically I was always trying to find something that I think it’s best for me and I am feeling good, it’s my passion. So when you kind of discover it, you know that this is the right thing to do, this really motivates you. You know it’s a journey, it’s a journey you travel in search for your goals. If you really want to experience life you have to just go for it. You have to look for what you love to do.
What is your secret success recipe?
I would say what we are doing is avery simple thing. What we do is to just sit down in front of our computers and type with our friends that are located all around Europe. You just have this goal in mind that you just try to realize. With these high-tech opportunities we have in the world, everything is connected and you can do really great things just from your home. You don’t have to be doing something really special.
What do you think the world lacks so it is a better place for all of us?
I think you can’t change the world, you can only improve it. Right now we are living in a really great moment of time. I believe that it’s a time when people really get connected. They get connected to improve things. So what I would say it is that individuals from all over the world (it’s happening right now, with many people having a high consciousness level) really try to help other people. That’s what we need from people who have a better situation in life. They will come to people who have a worse situation and help them out. So you need to create this balance. You need to have the courage to think positively. Go over your comfort zone, just come to the people that need your help and you can create something which is sustainable.
What is your message to the viewers?
I think you know that you are conditioned by many different things, by your family, by your culture and this is great. It’s the part of your legacy. But maybe sometimes you are not feeling you are entirely you, yourself. Therefore I think it is very important to have the courage to get out of the box and try to look for your passion. You have to find what you really want to do in your life. You can only do it when you have that courage to think positively and overcome daily challenges. I wish you all this and I would say: bring sense to your life.
More about SENStation
SENStation serves as a place where students, professionals, social entrepreneurs organizations, universities and investors come together to share their social ideas and develop a new generation of solutions.
SENStation facilitates the exchange of information and provides access to feedback, coaching and funding from our community and a variety of partners such as social entrepreneurs, non-profit organizations corporations, and investors.
SENStation has developed in strategic partnership with CEMS, a global alliance in management education connecting top business schools in 28 countries, 4 NGOs and around 80 corporations.
SENStation is also supported by such organizations as McKinsey&Co, NGOs, Fairtrade International, CARE International and Transparency International, and many social entrepreneurs from around the world. CEMS and SENStation work together to help CEMS achieve its goal of making a lasting social impact by becoming a world-class player in sustainable leadership with a strong social orientation as express in the CEMS Global Values Statement.