Interview - Are you a social entrepreneur?

10 minute read

Since we receive quite regularly some forms to fill in or request for meetings, aiming to help some ones or groups on their work or studies or else.
I wanted to start to publish my point of view, the questions and the responses I gave.
Because most of the time, we don’t get to see the result or the conclusion of theses studies.

Then it will be easier for me to just forward what is already done ^^, and also because I forget what I said

Special thanks to Sarah Louise Ledjou who ask, record, translate and write this interview.
Ok, I took the opportunity here to review my own responses and add some extra love. (And by love, I meant meme ^^)

The interview

What is your name ?

My name is Nicolas de Barquin

What is your age ?

I’m 40 years old.

What is your occupation ? Are you a social entrepreneur ?

I’m the founder of OpenFab, a Fablab located at Ixelles. Yes, I am (probably) a social entrepreneur.

How do you define ‘social entrepreneurship’?

For me, the social entrepreneurship can be defined by working in the “4th sector”, somewhere between business for profit and non profit, an independent structure aiming doing business for profit but to reinvest in activities which make sens.
OpenFab came from an idea of “social entrepreneurship.” (and we are still under asbl structure)


How do you define ‘social impact’? Or is it a buzz word?

Seriously, I think nobody knows exactly what it means, so yes it’s a buzz word! It’s like the word «innovation», that means everything and nothing at the same time!
So I don’t know…
Through the fablab, my objective is to empower people, to mark the way, to give them options.
How to work and live together, to develop news ideas and take the ownership.

Why did you become a social entrepreneur?

It was never my objective, so there is no «why», seems to me I just did.
But simply put, I’m like anyone else. I’m, or I was a sheep in society, trying to find my way in life among the solutions available, even if they aren’t adapted to me.
And at some point, I had two choices.
Even to continue like that, waiting for a better solution from elsewhere… Or just start to look on my own for my own solution. Which came by passion, making a 3Dprinter from a kit at frist, then quickly becoming a fablab where there is this human/social dimension which in time, take a lot of time but give a lot in return also.
It’s true that I learn by myself, I’m autodidact, but to continue to levelup myself and reach a point were I can live (aka earning enough money) from that activity who make sense for me, it will goes through the others.
At the end of the day, it’s really more about DoItTogether than DoItYourself.
I believe that we need to create a more complex ecosystem around ourself to go further, faster, stronger and to be more resilient.
And the real challenge became quickly “How can I teach others more effectively what I have learned myself in a self-taught way?”.
As an explorer, how can I show to others what I have found. How to mark the way so that others can join me in this ecosystem.
Look mom! I became a social entrepreneur. ^^

Is it a viable career path for you?

Today, no, it is not.
There is a huge potential, a new “niche” into the local ecosystem to develop!
But it will be viable, only within a group, within a more complex interaction system and a certain critical mass of empowered members.


What are you struggling with? And why?

The main one would be “how to engage the community?”
I mean, not only for me. Within Openfab projects, I had the chance to meet and talk to people from other fablabs in EU, and the most common challenge would be to overcome this “Pareto principle” which states that, for many events, roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes. In fablabs, there is roughly 80% of members who just consume what enable the work of 20% who contribute to the community.
80% of people who just come to use the place like a service shop. I mean, it’s normal, we are cheaper and we take time to help. We share knowledge and even give most of the time, more than what we receive.
It’s the same for opensource project. How many download for free and how many contribute in cash or in time?
So there is value here. There is a need and a use for what we offer and how we offer it. Even more than that, there is the quality of the social interaction.

It brings a lot of new questions, “How to transform this economic model?”, “how to exploit this Pareto principle?”, “How to highlight these positive externalities that are, by definition, not quantified by money.”
It is the social part which gives value of the fablab, not the tools or technology or anything else.
But at the end of the day, we still need money, so that’s the struggle.

Don’t value what we measure, measure what we value

I found that challenge quite exciting actually :)


What’s working well? And why?

It is a working progress. A working recipe is not developed yet, but they are somethings cooking, in testing.
After 6 years, I have been able to test a lot of things and today, the most encouraging path is gamification (aka behavior design) and the understanding of the eight main motivators. Through a specific framework, I want to reenable people to test things into a safe environment where the complexity of society is simplified at the local level of the workshop. The fablab could be seen as a sandbox mode. (like in software dev)

It’s about getting people involved in their own solution. First, finding a way to meet their own needs before asking questions that do not directly affect them.
For example: Climate change. We all know we need to do something, but first, I have to pay my rent and take care of the kids and get the groceries and to fix the squeaking door or leaking toilet…
The 20%-ish who get involved, is because they see their long term interest in getting involved.
The others are motivated by short term result, the have a need to fill first then, maybe, they will think about the long term. (ref to Maslow’s Pyramid)
However, with the empowerment strategy and the improvement of their skills, it is the 20% who are the real winners of the cooperation.

We attract people with tools, then we must find a way to include them in a virtuous spiral so that they can go further and maybe get interested in the problems of tomorrow.
This can sum up the purpose of the fablab.

What are the skills/mindsets needed to be a social entrepreneur?

First, the mindset. You have to be optimistic, to have a mental resilience, not to give up, to enjoy challenges, to be an explorer, to develop solutions by yourself, to be resourceful, to be self-taught. You have to be a maker, to like looking for things, not to admit defeat, to like to resolve things.
Then, you will found a way to learn or access the skills you need. That’s the fun part.


Did you learn this skills/mindsets at school? Where did you learn them?

No, I did not learn them at school, it’s kind of the point of being self-taught, right?
It is simple, either you wait or you act, there’s nothing like quantic physics here.

Do or do not… there is no try.

Scouts for example, they put you in the right conditions to do something then it’s up to you to do it.
Scouting is open to everyone, but it does not suit everyone.


How can you include the necessary skills/mindsets in the school program?

Could be by promoting pedagogy by project, by working on a specific project in group, and by developing specific solutions in relation to the problems related to the project.
Example: aquaponics.
You can learn about biology (fish, bacterials, plants), physics (fluids, pump, siphon, … ), chemistry (soil, nutriments, Nitrogen cycle), electricity and mechanics, history fo all theses, geography and climate change and so on…

Each person in the group will choose a field that interests them, they will search about it, develop it and share what they found with others.
Then, it will be necessary to give a more scientific explanation and also going more in depth for each elements of the project to develop.
This process gives opportunities to discover different fields, to stimulate curiosity, to search by yourself and learn things which were not obvious at the beginning.
It teaches a more holistic point of view. This is important.

Curiosity is important in the process, but curiosity is not to be forced, but must be cultivated.

note: If I forgot or misspell somethings, if you have an idea or anything coming in your mind (reading this of course), you can participate on this page by using issues on my github, feel at ease to contribute.