Nora Belahcen Fitzgerald built her social enterprise before she even knew there was a term for it, several years before she applied to the She Entrepreneurs programme in Sweden. She did not have a clear vision – that would evolve naturally. But she knew that she wanted to help local women in at-risk situations. After trying direct assistance through fundraising, she wanted to create a more lasting effect. That’s how she came to open a non-profit restaurant that provided women with job skills that could land them a job and financial independence.
‘I applied to She Entrepreneurs because I had stumbled into social entrepreneurship sort of by accident and it was not something I had studied or knew about from a theoretical framework. It was just something I was in. And I needed that expertise. But it wasn’t just about you as a social entrepreneur, but about you as a whole person. I am not a natural leader. I am an introvert and it pushed me out of my comfort zone and made me more confident as a leader.’
Even without formal training – besides a university degree in mathematics – her idea had developed into a success story, training as many as 30 women per year. But the programme would help her develop her social business even further.
‘The programme planted the seed of how to develop my social enterprise and it got things going. A year after the programme, I opened a catering business in parallel to the restaurant. And we also developed the social aspect, expanding our restaurant training to deaf people. Which led to us opening a sign language café that employed deaf people. The programme definitely had a tangible impact.’
The year after She Entrepreneurs, the Amal Women’s Training Centre & Moroccan Restaurant graduated twice as many people, 30 from the restaurant and 30 from the catering centre. And the ideas kept coming.
‘I came back with a lot of exciting new ideas and things I shared with my team.’
Those ideas are now about to give fruit in the way of an e-learning platform, as well as a line of energy bars set to go into production early next year, which would mean a for-profit aspect. Nora is also working on a book about her experience as a social entrepreneur and has started offering courses to other women.
‘As part of my own journey, I started to inspire others to move their good ideas closer to reality. I brought together a lot of different ideas for people who want to do something good but don’t know where to start. I have developed expertise over the years. I have something I could share.’
That side of Nora is a huge step from when she first came to She Entrepreneurs.
‘‘When I got accepted, I felt like an impostor because I had not invented something amazing. All I had was a restaurant. But then when I got there it gave me validation immediately: you really are a social entrepreneur, you deserve to be here, you’re in the right place.’