Reflections from a successful social entrepreneur

Hi Andrina, it is great to speak to you about your experience as a successful social entrepreneur. You are the Social Lead of  Powercoders Switzerland the coding academy for refugees. Can you tell us in short what Powercoders is and why it exists?

Powercoders is a program for refugees and migrants, and we train them in the basics of programming skills and support them to get a foothold in the IT-industry. We do so by offering a 3 months bootcamp, followed by a 6 to 12 month internship with an IT team or IT company. Why does Powercoders exist? There are so many talented people with a refugee or migrant background who are eager to rebuild their careers and livelihoods here in Switzerland, and many of them struggle to get access to opportunities. At the same time, the IT industry is desperately in need of talents. It’s estimated that there will be 118,000 unfilled IT jobs in Switzerland by 2028 (according to ICT Berufsbildung Schweiz). Our program presents a solution both to talented candidates and the IT industry.

In other words, you are having a huge social impact, especially for people with a refugee or migration background. We can see in your latest impact report that Powercoders has a high success rate. Can you tell us a bit more about this, and where else you see the positive impact?

Overall, our success numbers are very high: 90% of the participants enter an internship after the bootcamp and an estimated 60% will successfully build an IT career. This means impact for the participants, but there is also positive impact for other stakeholders. One, there are massive social welfare costs saved over the years as participants get independent from social welfare. Two, companies get aware about the diversity of talented candidates – and can fill the positions with the talents they’re looking for. We make it possible for them to get in touch with people of other backgrounds and discover their skills and potential. Finally, we also see a big impact on the many volunteers that are involved; they benefit from a mutual knowledge exchange and learn a lot of valuable things too. 

Powercoders is all about making a positive impact. How important is a sustainable business model for you?

At the beginning, 4 years ago, we were funded on a project basis and by grants. We soon figured out that if we want to continue and to make a long-lasting impact, we cannot exclusively be dependent on grant money.  We needed to develop a functioning business model that generates revenue and secures financial resources. Powercoders is founded by former entrepreneurs and this knowledge geared us towards a business model that enables Powercoders to be financially self-sustaining. Today, our revenues stem from the cantons in the form of a participation fee for every candidate, and companies who make a contribution towards Powercoders for the training and support we provide to the candidates.

And what do you do with your profits?

We are a not-for-profit organization. All the extra resources we have are directly reinvested in Powercoders, to further develop our current programs and setup follow-up programs. 

Powercoders has activities in several Swiss cities and is expanding outside of Switzerland. Can you tell us something about your scaling strategy?

Since this year, the Powercoders programs of the Romandie and German-speaking Switzerland have been merged. This is to maximize our impact, support more talent, and to be able to connect to the nationwide industry. Beyond that, we have a strategy to scale our impact internationally. Currently we run a program in Italy and Turkey, and we are expanding to Spain soon. Hopefully many other countries will follow! We work exclusively with local partners to adapt the program to the local context, which is very important. The core focus will always be to train talented people who are facing barriers to enter the job market, and connect them to the industry.

Thank you for sharing Andrina, it is very impressive, and it shows that social entrepreneurship is a powerful tool to maximize and sustain your impact. Our last question, what is your best advice for fellow social entrepreneurs? 

My golden advice is: Find a great team! With a committed, skilled and complementary team, where everyone one knows what you are working towards, you can achieve anything!

Are you a social entrepreneur with a not-for-profit model and are you seeking support where you can exchange with your own peer-group? Don’t hesitate to apply for the first Social Impact Accelerator (SIA) in Switzerland! Initiated, developed and executed by SENS and SEIF, SIA will support you in maximizing your impact, sustaining your business model and setup scaling strategies! Questions? Get in touch with us via info@socialimpactaccelerator.ch or go directly to www.socialimpactaccelerator.ch.