On the Enactus UK National Competition

So while I was going to write a post straight after the event, I knew that it would be full of gushing praise, riddled with emotion, and barely comprehensible. So instead, I’ve opted to wait a week, and then reflect on what an incredible few days I had at the Enactus UK National Competition. 

For the 3 of you who are going to read this blog and not know what Enactus is, a quick overview:

Enactus is a world-wide, not for profit organisation, that sees students all over the world engage in social outreach projects that tackle needs in their local and international communities. They do this by using the power of entrepreneurship to improve the quality of life and standard of living of those in need. Central to the Enactus model is a competition, and every year every country with an Enactus programme asks each competing team to present a 17 minute audio/visual presentation, along with an Annual Report, to determine which one of its teams will have the honour of representing their country at the Enactus World Cup. Last week, the games started, with the UK being the first to hold its National Competition.

While being judged, the teams are assessed on one criterion:

Considering the relevant economic, social, and environmental factors, which Enactus team most effectively empowered people in need by applying business and economic concepts in an entrepreneurial approach to improve quality of life and standard of living? 

So, in other words, teams must identify a need, and then find a solution to that need applying business concepts. While they are implementing this need, they must account for any (relevant) economic, social, and/or environmental factors.

I’m very fortunate in that I’m a mentor for a number of the Enactus teams in my area. I love mentoring – I get a huge buzz from it. Partly because its the closest I’ll ever get to being an Enactus student again, but mostly because I’m able to give back to the organisation that made me the person I am. And it’s incredible, being just a tiny part of the awe-inspiring work these guys do to help improve the lives of people all over the world. There are a few of teams that I’ve followed throughout the academic year, and seeing the transformation they’ve gone through is so humbling. Some have gone from a handful of members – one, in the case of one team – to sizeable and sustainable teams. All with great projects that have the potential to be huge. The National Competition is the chance for Enactus teams to showcase their work.

And how was the competition? Well, to use the favourite word of a very good friend of mine: “phenomenal”.

I had the privilege of judging the ‘Rookie League’, a competition separate from the main event for teams who had never competed before. The standard was incredible. The word ‘rookie’ conjures up images of people with a vague idea of how to implement a half-baked idea. But these students stood up in front of us and delivered slick presentations, explaining projects that were well researched, clearly thought out, and well orchestrated. These guys may have been ‘rookies’ by name, but that’s where the similarities ended.

From seeing the presentations, to talking to the teams throughout the day, the buzz and excitement was intoxicating. Everyone had pride in what they did – and very rightly so. If the Rookie League had blown me away on the first day, the semi-finals and Final Round were on a whole other level. Everyone agreed that this year, the competition was the toughest its ever been. The quality of the projects was unparalleled. When it got down to the Final Five, no one could call it. It was the tightest Final in Enactus UK history.

I (along with a fellow alumnus) had to give a quick speech about the Alumni Network whilst the Final Round scores were being counted. I talked for a little bit about the work that the mentors do and how, for me, being a mentor was one of the most rewarding things I’d done. It’s a bit of a running joke that I’m a little bit emotional when it comes to the Final of the Enactus Competition and, I’m not ashamed to admit, that my voiced did crack a little (it was cool – I covered, don’t think anyone noticed). But standing up there and seeing the room full of people who were all there because of one thing, was a pretty powerful moment. All of them had worked so hard this year, not for the trophies that sat behind me as I looked out – they were just something nice to aspire to. They ran projects to tackle issues that others were failing to address. Everyone in that room had made a difference – from the students themselves running their projects, to the business advisers who gave advice and support along the way, to the alumni mentors – every single one of them proud of their teams for the incredible achievements they’d made. And of course, the staff members – ran ragged for the entire year seeing teams, helping with projects, putting out fires – all of them there with incredibly large smiles on their sleep deprived faces, because they too couldn’t be happier with their teams. Being part of such an incredible network of people is something that will always inspire, excite, and humble me. 

I’ve barely scratched the surface of how incredible Enactus students are. Every year there are more innovative ways of providing solutions to needs that students – by all tests of logic – have no way of solving. Needs that are diverse and complex and deep. Needs that range from low grades in schools in the UK, to fuel poverty in parts of Africa. From high street stores closing down in Lincoln, to homeless people dying of hypothermia in Boliva. There are projects that help stop future landslides whilst also providing income to repair the damage caused by the previous ones. There are even projects that – I kid you not – deal not only with prostitution and human trafficking in the UK, but ALSO deals with the issue at its source thousands of miles away, by providing an alternative form of income.

Across the world, 38 countries have Enactus programmes, across over 1,600 university campuses. Together 62,000 students give up their free time – 7,300,000 hours of it this year alone – to deliver more than 6,700 projects. Every one of those students shares the same vision. Every one of them is an inspiration. That these projects are delivered, that real change happens just because they decide to get up in the morning and do something about it, that’s something everyone needs to stand up and take notice of. 

And for me, the thing that really sets this apart – the cherry that sits on the icing on the cake – is that this is all done by students. Students who have lectures and seminars, coursework and essays, 15,000 word dissertations and a multitude of 3 hour long exams. After all that, any normal person would go home. They’d switch on the TV, open a cold beer, and fall asleep to Downton Abbey. But not an Enactus student. Instead, after their long day, they head off to their project meeting. They Skype call a village on the other side of the world. They sit down to yet another blank piece of paper – but not to write an essay; they sketch out the plans for a project that will help hundreds of people they might never meet earn enough money to send their children to school.

The video below is from this year’s competition. It is the introductory video to Enactus Sheffield’s presentation – a presentation that saw them to the UK Final stage. I hope they don’t mind me sharing it with you, but it is without a doubt the best intro video I have ever seen. While it is specific to Sheffield, the overall message speaks to the work every Enactus student does all over the world. I could ramble on more and more – there’s pretty much nothing else in the world that would keep me talking for longer. Instead, I will leave you with this, with full credit to the Enactus Sheffield team.


[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aumgm08eX14&w=560&h=315]

At least I side-stepped that ‘being too emotional’ landmine…

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