Cecilia Wessinger joined the GEN team in March 2022 as the Director for Global Community.
My first few weeks at GEN have been a whirlwind. Coming on board just as the organization was preparing to host over 2,000 international delegates (and 10,000+ locals) at the Global Entrepreneurship Congress in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, was like cooking holiday dinner in a new kitchen while guests were arriving. While the work was familiar, it took time to find the ingredients and utensils and learn how hot the stove cooks.
Thankfully, I have been part of the global entrepreneurship community for a few years. Gladly, I have been building ecosystems for some time. Fortunately, I have wonderful colleagues and collaborators who offer assistance and grace. The knowledge and skills I have acquired through the years have been essential in this transition. I feel like I have been training for this moment and opportunity.
When I started in this field, it was by invitation and recognition that I was an early adopter. I was a bootstrapping entrepreneur who left behind a career two decades in the making. “Entrepreneurial ecosystem building” was not a common term and I had little idea what it meant. I studied and learned from thought leaders and colleagues, primarily in the United States. I helped compile a playbook, gathered and convened over a thousand ecosystem builders, and was a consultant with the leading foundation in this field. I absorbed a lot of information and also unlearned some things I thought were universally true about entrepreneurship and ecosystem building. For instance, I learned that there are many definitions for ‘entrepreneur’ and many perceptions of what ecosystem building is and how to do it. One size does not fit all, nor does one method work everywhere. As they say, there is more than one way to cook an egg.
As I met my new collaborators at GEC 2022, I heard many stories and learned more about the global entrepreneurship ecosystem. Some recounted tales of their triumphs, how they built this and won that. Others shared poignant stories of overcoming adversity, gaining unexpected allies and struggling to take the next steps. I was reminded that not having barriers in these endeavors does not mean you are better and those who combat greater adversity are not more valiant than those with privilege. Each ecosystem builder has a different journey, something we should be cognizant of and appreciate. In this intersection of community building and economic development, what I know for certain is one cannot build ecosystems by oneself. No one organization, group or person can do this work alone. Ecosystem building is a team sport.
This truth was on full display at GEC 2022, where in true entrepreneurial fashion, delegates started impromptu ‘unconferences’ while waiting to attend sessions. They used the time and opportunity to engage their fellow attendees and make the most of their time together. This reminded me that opportunities do not readily present themselves. It takes innovative and creative thinking and a ‘can do’ spirit to make things happen.
Throughout GEC 2022, there was much laughter, singing and joyful camaraderie. There was also great learning, powerful talks and amazing conversations filled with touching shares, mindful exchanges and solution-seeking. Hearing the cacophony of languages and accents speaking passionately about the makers, doers and dreamers of their respective countries reminded me why I do this work. It should be fun! It is hard and important work, but it is vital to include levity and joy.
We need to be accountable to each other, too. As we embark on this journey together, I encourage us all to advocate, champion and support each other while also calling out poor behavior (privately and when appropriate) and admitting to lackluster efforts. When we do this work with a culture of interdependence, we can use our collective hive mind and resources. When we are intentional about our inclusivity and collaboration, we are more creative, innovative and able to overcome the gaps, biases and blind spots we all have. The more I have learned, the more I realize how much more knowledge there is to acquire.
In the coming weeks, I will continue to learn the systems, processes and names of all the people I have the pleasure of working with. While this will take time, I come prepared with recipes and skills I learned from some of the best and brightest. Continuing to expand my knowledge and engaging at a global level is a gift and blessing. It’s a responsibility and endeavor I take seriously. The important efforts to support makers, doers and dreamers around the world are worth it. Having companions along the way to support, guide and cheer us on makes it much more enjoyable.