When profit surrenders its royal throne to social good and becomes a servant to it – great three Latvian women social entrepreneurs

  • 2023-07-14
  • Linas Jegelevicius

This year, the European women’s top 100 list of the Euclid Network, a European network of organisations that support social entrepreneurs, has included four Latvian social entrepreneurs, three of whom, Regita Zeiļa, director of the Social Entrepreneurship Association of Latvia, Inga Muizniece, founder of the call centre Sonido and Diana Lapkis, co-founder and CEO of the International Social Entrepreneurship and Innovation platform NewDoor, kindly agreed to talk to The Baltic Times Magazine.

What do you make of the recognition?

Regita Zeiļa: It's an honor and also a big responsibility to be listed with such inspiring and powerful women. As I'm leading the organisation for only the past three years, I see that this recognition goes to all of the team that has been working on social entrepreneurship development in Latvia, especially the previous leader of the organization Madara Ulande should be mentioned here. 

Inga Muizniece: I am engaged in various initiatives aimed at promoting social integration. As the Chairperson of the Social Entrepreneurship Council, I have been actively involved in supporting young individuals through innovation and business masterclasses, as well as assisting companies in attaining social entrepreneurship status. The "Let's Talk" project, which I am a part of, has garnered international recognition in social innovation competitions, and this has allowed me to gain recognition abroad.

Diana Lapkis: I feel excited and honoured to be included in the European women's top 100 list of the Euclid Network for social enterprise support organizations alongside three other remarkable Latvian social entrepreneurs. This recognition is not just a personal achievement for me, but it acknowledges the impact of NewDoor's team in the Latvian social entrepreneurship ecosystem. I hope this recognition will enable us to bring even a greater impact and connect with other organizations to help social entrepreneurs grow in number and in quality. As the leader of NewDoor for the past decade, I have seen numerous talented and inspiring social entrepreneurs in Latvia despite the challenges that come with leading an NGO or a social enterprise.

What does social entrepreneurship mean to you?

Regita Zeiļa: I truly believe in the power of communities to come together and create the solutions for the most pressing needs. It is a matter of giving them the right tools and help on their way for the change to actually happen. As we are still a very young nation, the ownership and empowerment of ordinary citizens is yet to develop and social entrepreneurship is an excellent format to do so, where everyone benefits from it at the end of the day! For me, social entrepreneurship is all about empowerment and leadership.

Inga Muizniece: For me, it's a balance between business and charity that brings satisfaction because I am able to solve a societal problem with my actions. I feel a sense of contribution not just for myself, but also for society, especially for the part that is often marginalized.

Diana Lapkis: To me, social entrepreneurship means using entrepreneurial principles and tools to create positive social and environmental impact. A social entrepreneur is someone who starts and runs a business with the primary goal of creating social or environmental impact, rather than only generating profit. Figuratively speaking, the profit surrenders its royal throne to the social good and becomes a servant to it.  I am always learning something new about social entrepreneurship, and I believe there is always more to discover.

Can you please talk of your successfully implemented social projects of different scales with a positive social impact, contributing to the achievement of the UN Sustainable Development Goals?

Regita Zeiļa: One of our main aims is to empower doers – those who create change on a daily basis. Every year, we create a wide range of opportunities for our members' growth, for example, last year's highlight was the educational programme “Impact academy” for social entrepreneur growth or the pitching competition "Let the good ideas grow" that has proven to be very valuable to create positive social impact. 

Inga Muizniece: As the leader of a call centre, I noticed that some people call the information hotline just to talk. This sparked the creation of an innovative initiative – a free phone line called "Let's Talk." The project is run by individuals from different social exclusion risk groups and financed through the company's main business – outsourcing call centre services. Existing clients of the Sonido call centre serve as the main supporters of the project, as the profits from commercial projects are invested in the "Let's Talk" phone line. Thanks to this service, individuals can alleviate loneliness by conversing with the “Let's Talk” team. We have implemented our direct line “Let's Talk” in one of Latvia's biggest companies, which supports the well-being of its employees in this manner. By employing individuals, social exclusion risk groups and addressing a pressing social issue - loneliness, the “Let's Talk” project has a social impact in areas such as decent work, reduced inequalities, good health, and well-being.

Diana Lapkis: Our initiatives have been aligned with several SDG goals. The majority of NewDoor projects work in a field of SDG 10 - Reduced Inequalities – a big number of our alumni work in a field of educational projects for kids and people with different kinds of physical and mental disabilities. They work with kids with the autistic spectrum to help them be equal in the educational system and achieve goals (www.solis.lv/specialisti, Solis is chaired by Diana Meksa; Ceribu sparni – SU Visi Var- Eva Vilkina, check the website www.visivar.lv, as well as www.barboleta.lv headed by Baiba Blomniece . Our alumni teach the Latvian language to integrate refugees and non-Latvian speaking communities into Latvian society (Olga Lezina, from www.mamatus.lv), Katerina Kazanovska from insaitcentrs.com and many more. Our alumni also help ex-prisoners to get back to life, because we as citizens pay taxes that are also spent on funding prisons – so, for the whole country it is better if these people are socialized back to society, and adapt well without relapses. (St. Luke group to be found on www.stlukegroup.lv) Another alumni organization helps people with drug and alcohol addictions and also works with young people to prevent addictions. (Sober Soul on www.facebook.com/YourSoberSoul).

How would you tersely introduce the organization you’re leading?

Regita Zeiļa: Social Entrepreneurship Association of Latvia (SEAL) is the leading organisation for developing the ecosystem of the social economy in Latvia. Our main aim is to develop social entrepreneurship for long term change in Latvia. We bring together 138 members who believe in the power of change. SEAL works in advocacy, member capacity building and informing wider society about social entrepreneurship. You will find our activity report here: www.sua.lv/en/activity-report-of-year-2022

Inga Muizniece: Sonido is dedicated to creating an inclusive environment for individuals who may be at risk of social exclusion. The company offers expert and innovative employee training to ensure that their customer service is of the highest calibre. The company places significant emphasis on employee sustainability and regularly funds activities that enhance employee well-being, motivation, and sense of community.

Diana Lapkis: First of all, NewDoor was the first social entrepreneurship accelerator in the Baltics, and today we are also a social entrepreneurship support platform. We started our activities in 2013 and continue to make a significant impact in the local and Baltic social entrepreneurship ecosystem. 

The NewDoor core team is led by a board of three women - Diana Lapkis, Maria Povilaite, and Olga Kotova. What's remarkable about this team is that we began NewDoor as volunteers while juggling other jobs and businesses, developing NewDoor as a purely social project on the side. Despite a multitude of challenges and continuous uncertainty, we have persevered and we continue to achieve remarkable results. 

One of our greatest strengths is our signature business idea acceleration process. We developed and implemented it in 2016 and have continued to improve it to this day. We have managed to gather an amazing community of advisors, mentors, volunteers, supporters and lecturers – over 150 people across several countries. Since launching the first social entrepreneurship accelerator program, we have received over 500 applications to enter the program and 106 projects have graduated from the NewDoor accelerator. This is a testament to the hard work and dedication of the team and the community. We believe that the impact that our community brings is sure to be felt for years to come.

NewDoor has received support and endorsements from various international organizations, including the Swedish Institute, the British Council in Latvia, the Embassy of Israel in Latvia, the European Commission, the Nordic Council of Ministers, the Embassy of Sweden in Latvia, and the Embassy of the United States of America in Latvia, among others.

The organization has been recognized for its dedication to social entrepreneurship and a vision of a fairer society. In 2019, we were nominated for the prestigious Emerging Europe Awards 2019 (UK) as "Equality-Friendly Initiative of the Year". 

In addition to the accelerator program, New Door provides CSR consulting services to large organizations, explaining opportunities to support social entrepreneurship. 

NewDoor organizes and participates in social and green impact experience exchange programs with international partners from Eastern and Northern Europe, expanding its impact beyond Latvia.

In 2023, we have received over 80(!) applications for the accelerator program, which this year is fully financed by the Ministry of Welfare of Latvia. The framework of our accelerator allowed us to select 17 participants. We see that in Latvia there are many more social entrepreneurs that are worth investing in and continue to seek funding partners who share our vision to promote social entrepreneurship.

What else are you aiming to achieve as an entrepreneur and as a person?

Regita Zeiļa: My main aim is to continue empowering the change makers and strengthen their capabilities in creating a change in the long term.

Inga Muizniece: On a personal level, my aspiration is to affect positive change and foster a better environment for social welfare in my country. Leveraging my background in social entrepreneurship, I am already part of working groups at the Ministry of Welfare, serving as a consultant for the creation of regulatory measures in the social sector. I am confident that in the future, I will become a prominent leader in the realm of social welfare in our country.

Diana Lapkis: As an entrepreneur, I would like our social environment to become friendlier towards entrepreneurs in general and social entrepreneurs in particular. This will allow us to bring in foreign cooperation, attract people to Latvia, and motivate our fellow Latvians to take small risks more often, building new businesses, taking more responsibility for their lives and the environment. 

I hope to see at least 1500 social enterprises in Latvia by 2030. One of my dreams related to social entrepreneurship is to accelerate and support a social enterprise in Latvia that would set an example for the whole world, given that Latvia is already a model in Europe with its social entrepreneurship law. 

As a person, I would like to continue building strong communities with profound and important goals, promoting sustainable ways to do business. I emphasize the role of diversity and multiculturalism in business and social entrepreneurship, where each person is accepted and we celebrate our differences together.