From Yerevan to Vienna – SIA Summit Awards

The Erste Campus in the Austrian Capital Vienna was buzzing with excitement on November 15, while a mass of 150 enthusiastic young social innovators from Europe, Central Asia, and East Africa gathered for the launch of the much-anticipated SIA Summit 2022!

This year, the Social Impact Awards fall under the scope of the Collaborate for Impact program, financed by the European Union in Armenia and implemented by the EVPA in partnership with Impact Hub Yerevan in Armenia. The SIA 2022 awards were a contribution from European Fund for Southeast Europe (EFSE) Development Facility.

The 4-day event has always been designed exclusively for SIA winners, but for the first time, it also included SIA Alumni from more than 18 countries worldwide. 

In addition to inspiring these innovators and providing them with knowledge and tools for taking their new ventures to the next level, the SIA Summit is a platform for strengthening connections and helping them to engage with the growing, vibrant SIA community. 

SIA Summit 2022 marked the return of the offline gathering format, after 2 whole years of being online due to COVID-19. That’s part of what made this experience more like a festival! 

Of course, there were workshops and networking sessions in five main formats: skills, labs, peer-to-peer, community, and expeditions. Participants had the chance to learn more about financial planning and fundraising, public pitching, building a team, and so much more! They were able to leave with all the info they need to manage their impactful social ventures. 

Over 30 entrepreneurs, experts, and leaders, such as Austria’s Federal Minister for Climate Action, Environment, Energy, Mobility, Innovation, and Technology Leonore Gewessler, Vice Mayor of Vienna and City Councillor for Education Christoph Wiederkehr, and the COE of Erste Foundation Boris Marte, shared their insights and expertise on building and growing successful and impactful social enterprises.

Sessions aside, peer-to-peer sessions were conducted where SIA winners, alumni, and various ecosystem players discussed and shared ideas on the challenges social enterprises face in a relaxed, informal and creative atmosphere. 

Within the framework of the Summit, the participants also got the opportunity to go out and visit Vienna’s most interesting and innovative spaces, enterprises, and organizations that aim to improve various social issues. 

These included Ankerbrotfabrik, Impact Hub Vienna, Hobby Lobby, Social Entrepreneurship Center at WU Vienna, Bikes and Rails Houseprojekt, Vollpension.  

Among these ventures and entrepreneurs were SIA winners or alumni from previous years. It was especially moving to be able to connect with them and listen to their experience following SIA as they described how the program contributed to the success of their social entrepreneurial journey. 

Meanwhile, facilitated sessions allowed participants from the same country to gather, dive deeply into some of the most pertinent issues for each participant’s social initiative, review it, and reevaluate it, before reuniting and checking in with peers from their own cohort. 

This assisted participants in identifying what they could take back and apply to their own environments, and how they could support one another along their journies.

Of course, the summit was anything but all work and no play. In fact, this year’s SIA summit managed to strike the perfect balance between work and life!

Each night, after the sessions were through, it was time to have some fun with good music, drinks, and snacks at Belushi’s Vienna bar, which was the official SIA Summit hangout spot. Not only did participants socialize and recharge, but they managed to create even stronger bonds and connections with other Summit participants. 

The informal atmosphere helped them to reflect together on the learnings of the day, and celebrate the connections and friendships made with generous toasts.

In short, the participants can genuinely say that SIA Summit 2022 delivered all that it had promised: it helped build up the skills needed to successfully overcome entrepreneurial challenges; it connected young social entrepreneurs with an international community of like-minded people who will support and celebrate their transformative journey; it introduced them to the inspiring stories and real-life experiences of other entrepreneurs, partners, and world-renowned experts; it enabled exchanges between impact ecosystem players, allowing for possible collaborations and connections to emerge.