Emanuele – Manu – is an author, speaker, trainer, strategic advisor and expert in open and social innovation. He is co-founder of Babele: an open-social innovation platform for the co-development of impact strategies & business models. Emanuele is a YTILI Fellow of the US States Department. He believes in the power of transparency and hold the potential of open and shared knowledge as the foundation for collective intelligence and sustainable innovation.
Imagine this: A Social Venturer born in Sardinia gets his undergraduate degree in engineering and follows that with a three-year MBA program at the European Business School that takes him to London, Paris and Rio de Janeiro. As part of his education, he gets to work in finance in London and Belgium, as a consultant to IBM in Brazil and as Innovation Manager at Procter & Gamble in Paris. He is climbing that corporate ladder and one day decides to relocate to Bucharest, Romania, to pour all of his expertise into building a digital platform solution for impact-focused accelerators. This is the story of Manu Musa.
“Everytime I moved I was always amazed that so many countries came up with different solutions. I was shocked that there was no knowledge transfer! How do you create a united Europe if you’re not sharing your information? During my MBA thesis in Brazil, I had the chance to work with Ricardo Guimarães on the UN sustainability report 2008. At the time, the UN Global Compact estimated an economic potential of 12 trillion dollars that we could realize by achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, and I was wrecking my brains how we might get people to work together toward these Goals. That’s when the idea of Babele was first born.
With my MBA in hand, I joined Procter & Gamble in Paris. At the time, more than half of the trucks that traveled across Europe were empty which lead – and still leads – to congestion, pollution and inefficiency. As innovation manager for logistics optimization I experienced first hand what impact we can achieve when different stakeholders collaborate and work together.
I worked on creating and implementing perfect logistic loops, so that the same truck was used to serve 3 companies at the same time through a circular economy approach. As the ruck was always full, we could eliminate traffic congestion, CO2 emissions and even decrease the transportation cost for all the parties involved… WIN WIN WIN!
After two and a half years, I felt the urge to return to an idea that I had hatched during my studies and I couldn’t think of a better place to do that than in Romania, Europe’s fastest growing economy.”
“Babele comes from the “tower of Babel” or “torre di Babele” in Italian. The legend says that, before the tower was built, everyone on Earth spoke the same language. Our goal with Babele is to get people to work together, so that they can speak the same language of sustainability and common good. Unfortunately, BABELE also means “old ladies” in Romanian, so it took us forever that we were not working on a sort of tinder for grandfathers.”
The journey of an entrepreneur takes you down a long and rocky road.
Manu first conceived of Babele during his Masters Thesis and started working on this idea, first in Paris, and then once he got to Romania. About his journey he says “I would have died of frustration if I hadn’t at least tried what I wrote about in my thesis, and what ended up becoming Babele. The journey of an entrepreneur takes you down a long and rocky road. You start, you have to change course a thousand times, and it takes time to be taken seriously.
Our goal with Babele is to engage stakeholders in social innovation.
On the one hand, with Babele we run amazing social innovation programs. Over the last three years, we designed and managed the SDGs accelerator program of the United Nations SDSN, engaging a network of social innovators from 65 countries. In Romania, we founded LEVEL-UP: a unique program that brings together large corporations and social ventures to work side-by-side for 6 months. Corporate employees attend the accelerator to support the social enterprise and develop the entrepreneurial mindset needed to change their company culture.
On top of that, with my team we co-founded the Eastern European chapter for the Circle of Intrapreneurs: we design corporate social innovation programs, with the aim to help reinventing organizations by nurturing social intrapreneurs – as they are change agents capable of leading the cultural transformation within large organizations.
On the other hand, we have developed a digital network + workspace to manage social impact innovation programs and engage stakeholders. We use the platform for our programs, but we also share it with the UN, Y-Gap, Yunus & Youth, Rockstart Impact, Berkeley University, EU funded projects, the British Council, etc. to manage their sustainability-driven programs, and engage their networks.
Our theory of change is to prevent these programs from working in silos, so they can leverage the collective knowledge and resources of a global social innovation network spread across 116 countries.
In other words, we bring different accelerators together and allow them to manage their programs and communities better than Facebook. Inviting everyone into a Slack or LinkedIn group is not enough to engage participants and leverage their collective intelligence.
Babele is built as an organized space where innovators, mentors, investors and Alumni can easily collaborate to develop innovative business models for greater impact.
Our client-base is two-fold: We work with social enterprise accelerators that want to better manage their acceleration program while keeping their stakeholders engaged. We learned very early that social enterprise accelerators are underfunded and overworked; they’re basically low-income clients and selling to them is very challenging because they just don’t have the budget.
On a systems level our goal is to create a vast ecosystem of different programs that support social entrepreneurship and innovation.
Our second client profile is corporate. A growing number of companies struggle with keeping their employees engaged. Social intrapreneurship – when done well – has the potential to bring with it a culture change that re-engages employees to bring their whole and best selves to work. Through our corporate engagements, we tap into their employees’ entrepreneurial skills in order to tackle social or environmental problems.
On a systems level our goal is to create a vast ecosystem of different programs that support social entrepreneurship and innovation. Our Theory of Change is designed to create a mega network of such programs by helping them work with their stakeholders and giving them space to collaborate with each other. At the same time – by virtue of becoming part of the Babele family – they can tap into other accelerators and their communities from 116 countries.”
Social entrepreneurship in Romania
With over 1,200 Romanian social entrepreneurs on the platform, Manu has some deep insights into social entrepreneurship in his chosen home country.
“Business models are pretty standard; they typically make a distinction between social and environmental impact. For example, we have worked with a local orphanage that is a nonprofit and subsidized through a farm share. The biggest challenges I see revolve around
- the legal entity,
- talent acquisition, and
Most Romanians have a pretty outdated understanding of social enterprise. Many assume a social enterprise is a company that employs people with a disability. Whereas clearly, there is so much more depth and variety to the different models. But we don’t have a legal entity yet that captures the novelty of social entrepreneurship.
Finding the right talent is problematic. On the one hand, too many social enterprises have a philanthropic mindset rather than that of a dynamic and innovative startup. On the other hand, the difficulty to scale businesses that reinvest their resources in impact makes it hard to afford the best professionals, that most of the time end up working for some corporations, paid to put some lame advertisement in a webpage.
We need more storytelling to talk about the importance of the team.
With regard to storytelling, and this is not unique to Romania, I worry that we focus too much on the hero, when in fact it’s always a team of people that bring a social enterprise to life. We need more storytelling to talk about the importance of the team.”
How can we support you in your efforts?
I’d love to talk to anyone who is interested in and has ideas about how we might create better and more connected ecosystems to tackle Sustainable Development Goals! I am always keen to talk and explore other ways to bring people together. Let’s fight the fragmentation of the social innovation ecosystem.
Author, speaker & trainer. Strategic advisor on open and social innovation. Father of two.