Travelogue | My journey to Moscow by Matthew Manos

By Matthew Manos, Founder and Managing Director

Moscow, Russia  

As a media-skeptical American who has spent way to much time watching spy movies, I wasn't sure where I landed on the whole concept of flying to Russia by myself to speak, essentially, about how awesome capitalism is. I'm excited to say that my recent trip to Moscow to teach business-design and social entrepreneurship to local students and leaders, was among the most incredible experiences of my life.

Why I do what I do. 

My greatest passions in life fall under two categories: providing access to education and empowering others to create sustainable impact. It's no surprise, then, that my favorite thing that I get to do at verynice is facilitate workshops with communities and clients around the world. Over the course of my career, I have been able to work with thousands of students, entrepreneurs, community leaders, and organizations in order to build their capacity on topics that include branding, product design, and social entrepreneurship. With the launch of Models of Impact, the majority of my focus in the workshops I have lead more recently has been on impact-driven business-design.

I define "impact" quite broadly. Of course my roots are in social impact and social entrepreneurship, but we often experience that people have aspirations that may include environmental and personal impact as well. How can I help people? How can I help the planet? How can I help myself? These are the questions people that come to our Models of Impact workshop hope to find answers to. 

After helping to launch and grow hundreds of businesses and organizations over the past decade, I've spent a lot of time reflecting on what made the most successful get that way. What I learned was that the most successful of our clients got that way because they managed to strike a perfect balance between defining their impact and revenue strategy. As a result, our methodology teaches that a business model is the marriage of an impact model (how will I make social/environmental/personal impact?) and a revenue model (how will I make money and sustain myself?). 

Getting to Russia.

Over the course of a given month, I travel to 3-5 countries.... via Skype. This tends to look like me sitting in a dark office in the middle of the night, chatting with people around the world who want to learn more about pro-bono service, or impact-driven business. 

One of my personal goals for 2016 was to do more public speaking and workshop facilitation outside of the United States. The convenient thing is that shortly after making that resolution, I got an email from Maria Polyak of the Strelka Institute for Art and Design in Moscow, Russia. She invited me to come to their school in order to share our Models of Impact methodology with the Moscow community and film an online course for entrepreneurs across Russia. Obviously, it only took me a day to say "yes".

To prepare, I held regular meetings with Maria to gain a more clear understanding of the country's social/economic/political landscape. In addition, we developed scripts and web-friendly workshop activities for the online course, which is set to go live on Vector in April 2016. The school was kind enough to fly me out, and get my visa in order. However, because I embarrassingly haven't left the country since I was 11 years old, I had to scramble a bit to get an updated passport. That said, everything went as smooth as possible.

Day 01. 

The first day I was a bit jetlag, but I had a public lecture with 200 registrants just hours after landing in Moscow, so I had to pretend like sleep was not a necessity in life (it wouldn't be the first time I did that). The talk was about our Models of Impact research as well as my book and business model, "How to Give Half of Your Work Away for Free". Nothing new there, as I talk about those things at least 3 times per week, but what was thrilling was the fact that the majority of the audience did not speak English. As a result, I worked with a live translator to deliver my talk and to answer questions. This was the first time I had ever delivered a speech with a translator - super interesting. After the talk we hashed out a plan for the big day, tomorrow, where we were to film our online course.

Day 02. 

The entire second day was dedicated toward filming our online course for the Vector platform. This was an incredible journey which took months to plan in terms of content, and then was filmed over the course of about 6 hours on campus and around the city center of Moscow.

At verynice, we've taught hundreds of workshops, but one of the privileges of a workshop is that we are actually there, in-person, to provide clarity in moments of confusion. When you are teaching an online course, however, this privilege does not exist. As a result, we took the content very seriously and would play out every single scenario in which a student might be confused by our content in order to film answers to any perceivable question. Because the course was to be presented in Russian, we also had to make sure my statements would translate clearly. This resulted in a series of re-shoots to get it just right.

Aside from the intensive sessions where we filmed the meat of the course, we also developed a trailer to help promote the course. The trailer included footage of me hanging out at a local bar...., but also included several scenes where I was skateboarding (yes) around the snowy (yes) streets of the city center of Moscow (yes). Those are three things I never thought I would do, all in one scene. 

Apparently the filming went much smoother than anticipated. This means we ended the day about 3 hours ahead of schedule. To take advantage of this free time, I went on a 5km walk around the city center. We explored the Kremlin and the Red Square, and took the long way to avoid the wind. The beauty of taking the long way is you see things you might not have expected. For example, because of the cold weather (extra cold for a fragile Angeleno) their are tons of underground walkways to stay warm. It reminded me of a NYC Subway, but it was packed with small businesses where entrepreneurs were selling their goods and services to the community. We also were very close to the Cathedral where Pussy Riot was taken into custody. Awesome. 

After the stroll around Moscow, we head back to Strelka just in time for me to do a one-on-one session with their students. I was thoroughly impressed by the projects, and am excited to see how they further develop!

Day 03.

After hitting the hotel buffet once again for smoked salmon, canned peaches, and scrambled eggs, I head to Strelka to host an all-day Models of Impact workshop with local entrepreneurs and students. With over 1,000 people interested in signing up for the workshop BUT only 24 available seats, there was a lot of buzz, and expectations were high. The audience consisted of a balance of individuals who were already in the midst of launching their own business as well as individuals who have not quite come to an idea for their venture yet. As a result, we designed the workshop experience to best fit the needs of both participant profiles.

Workshop Part 01: During the first half of the workshop, students worked in 8 groups of 3-4 strangers in order to start a new business concept from scratch. They did this by leveraging our Models of Impact methodology. Through our process, students were tasked with the challenge of inventing business concepts from scratch that could benefit their community, or fulfill a personal passion.

Participants went through this process three times, and as a result, generated three separate business concepts. Over lunch the small groups collaborated to select their favorite concept, and upon returning from lunch, they delivered a pitch to the group as a whole.

Workshop Part 02: During the second half of the workshop, participants learned how to write a business plan using the models of impact framework. With the time remaining, each participant was given the option to leverage this framework for their existing concept OR to continue working with their small group in order to further develop their plan and concepts. The day ended with a series of amazing pitches. 

Social Enterprise and Pro-Bono as a Movement

Meeting with local entrepreneurs from Moscow and St. Petersburg, I learned that the startup movement is growing strongly. With the current economic crisis in Russia, many individuals are seeing an equal risk in starting a business of their own vs. applying for a full-time job. As a result, a wave of entrepreneurs are hitting the scene. In particular, there is a strong emphasis on the idea of Urban Futures and Urban Entrepreneurship among the local social enterprise scene. In addition, our approaches to pro-bono were well received. While there are many new entrepreneurs hitting the market, many of them do not have the necessary funds to launch their business. Pro-bono, as a result, is an attractive system to inject in the local entrepreneur community as a means of developing an ecosystem around helping one another. 

Personally, the experience was incredibly validating for me. The need for tools and resources that can lower the barrier-to-entry in social enterprise is urgent. I'm proud that Models of Impact can be a leader in this space. Where to next?

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