HERA France: Rebuilding Lives Around the Passion for Entrepreneurship

Chiara Condi of HERA France
Chiara Condi
I started HERA France after a very long period of self-discovery. It all began the day I quit my job, not knowing what I would do next. It was not an immediate next step; it took me a long period of illness and loss to get me back to a reality that I love. To say it briefly and succinctly, my work for an international organization had left me so disappointed in my ability to change things that I just abandoned hope for a little too long.
Looking back, I not only see how difficult it was for me at the time, but today I also see precisely why: it was not because of the reality but because of how I saw it. I was plagued by feeling a terrible loss at having left my job where I had worked so hard and not knowing exactly what I was leaving it for. I refused to see that things could be any other way than they were or that I could bring new ideas and solutions. When I finally decided to move on, I had to start from zero. How do you build a structure to help women when you don’t have any money to do it?
For too long I hung on to the incorrect notion that it was an impossible dream. Then one day I decided that I could do it by inspiring others to see the same change that I wanted to see. I knew that eventually it would build enough followers, the right people I needed, to create something with others. From that day on I simply shared my vision far and wide with everyone I could, believing that eventually enough people would adhere to the notion. The great thing about working this way is that those who adhere somehow become investors in the process—your success becomes theirs and they work with you, not for you. I didn’t know that at the time, but that makes all the difference in the world in the long run.
la coccinellePerhaps the key was that I was so convinced about what I was doing that I knew it would happen and suddenly I stopped thinking about when. I no longer thought about how it was going to happen and started to concentrate on the first steps. That was perhaps the most important realization in the process, because one should not underestimate the power of seeing a first step. I’ve come to appreciate the fact that any success, no matter how small, fuels your next success.
Somehow over the past year and a half I did it, starting from scratch to build an organization that helps women who have been victims of violence and trafficking become entrepreneurs. The program lasts one year, throughout which it helps them go from passion to project.
In the process, I learned that belief in changing the world is also contagious. Soon enough that brought me to the right person in a business school who led to the program’s acceptance by its board of directors. One business school brought another, and entrepreneurs brought other entrepreneurs who then brought other people. That’s how it happened. You put in enthusiasm, knock on doors and then momentum plays a magic of its own. Today I thankfully find myself in the position where people find me. The program is heterogeneous, unexpected and full of character because it is not built around me, but around the talents and skills of the individuals I gathered around me who express themselves fully. I’ve come to believe that just like for the board of a company, this diversity is the best way to ensure success and hedge against failure—somewhere someone will always have a brilliant idea and it will be something you never thought of before.
And you can’t spend your life preparing. The truth is that you could spend your life preparing, but at some point you just have to announce to yourself that no matter what—perfect or imperfect—the show will start as is. It’s tough to go on stage because everyone sees your work and you will inevitably be judged. It’s true that it can always be better, but that’s what the future is for—otherwise what would we have to look forward to?
I don’t want to make it sound as if the path was easy and especially not as if it was drawn out and clear, because that is far from the truth. I’ve had to deal with the most unpredictable things that I could have ever imagined. How could I have guessed that those who help women are also so reluctant to expose them to new challenges, even when they have the possibility to help them reconstruct their lives? Thus, I learned that worrying too much was useless because in the end the things that actually do happen are the things you could have never foreseen. You just have to have faith and at every challenge and obstacle believe that you will find a solution.
What role has Le Playground played in this path? First of all, I always like to say that I do not make the women I help, nor my mentors for that matter, go through anything or any experience I have not tried myself. This is my stamp of integrity—that I promise people that I believe fully in every person and part of the program. This means that I asked them to be part of the adventure because of the impact they had on me and I believed they could have on the people I serve. The beauty of it is that it has become a pillar of the common HERA experience as much for the mentors as for the women involved, and it has helped us all come together around a common vision and a shared language for making it come true. It has brought others to believe in their own dreams as much as in our common dream as an organization.
HERA France logoWhat was the most rewarding part of the experience? Seeing that people can change and witnessing the change. I thought I would only see it in the mentees, but on the contrary I see it also in the mentors, and it has somehow spread to all those who come into contact with our group. I have come to see it as inevitable that we grow ourselves as we help others. It means that everyone is fully invested and we are not invested in a result but in a process—that means that we are open to the fact that the process will change us. And I am proud to say that for every one of us it has.
For more information, contact Chiara Condi at chiara@herafrance.org.