Carla Dossenbach (28 years, Switzerland) joined us at The Arc Lisbon 2018. When we met her we were literally enchanted by how charming and hands-on organized this woman really is. (To quote serial entrepreneur Daniel Lind: “You’ve really got your shit together!”)
Yet, as always there is more to this woman than meets the eye. Carla is Co-Founder and Coordinator of Step Into Action, a social entreprise based in Switzerland and Germany. Step Into Action incites teenagers to become active citizens by organising large scale events counting 800-1200 participants that create momentum to start their own project, become a volunteer or do something as simple as becoming a more aware consumer. – interview by ASTRID SCHRADER
The Arc: Carla, you are super young and already an entrepreneur. You co-founded step into action right after uni. What is your take on entrepreneurship?
Carla: To be fully honest, I always wanted to be an entrepreneur, but I never felt I had an idea. I had joined the step into action team during uni when they were still working based on volunteers. It just felt so natural. I had actually been looking for jobs, but quickly realized that my standards of purpose-driven work were probably too high. I just didn’t find much inspiration out of making a company even more money. At the same time, step into action was considering to spin-off from the larger social entreprise euforia. And suddenly: It happened. It was just pretty clear to me. I am often asked if it had taken me a lot of courage to do this, but – somehow – my answer is: “Not really”.
The Arc: The lack of ideas is something that prevents so many people from becoming a founder. You found yours pretty seamlessly. What’s your tip?
Carla: Spend time on what you really like. And don’t pressure yourself with the idea of having to become an entrepreneur. As said I too had been searching for a ‘normal’ job. But once step into action had all these spin-off discussions, I was just there – ready to take the challenge.
The Arc: Talking about challenges. What do you feel are your biggest challenges right now?
Carla: Money. Being a very young organization, we spend a lot of time raising funds. And honestly: I just love working on the project and would rather use my time for this.
In terms of leadership challenges: I find it pretty easy to work with my current team. What I find harder is to incentivise our volunteers. Yes, organizing Step Into Action is great fun. And teams learn a lot. Yet: even if they’re “just” volunteers, we need ownership and commitment from them. And we need them to deliver on organizing such a large event. So we’re always trying to find the right balance between having fun and letting the teams try out new things on the one hand and making sure that the quality and professionalism of the events stays the same (or even increases!) on the other hand.
The Arc: So how do you solve this?
Carla: We invest in team building. They meet as a group of strangers, but we build them into a real team by the time the organizing process starts. This is so important. Teams that have gone through proper team building are so much more dynamic. They support each other, they have more fun, there is just so much more energy. Theoretically you could just allocate tasks and let everyone work by themselves. But: The spirit of the ones leading the event will always spill over to participants. It is just so much better when an actual TEAM organizes such an event – compared to a group of strangers. The spirit just rocks. The team is what makes the event the actual event.
The spirit of the ones leading the event will always spill over to participants. It is just so much better when an actual TEAM organizes such an event – compared to a group of strangers. The spirit just rocks. The team is what makes the event the actual event.
The Arc: So out of curiosity, why have you joined The Arc?
Carla: I like challenges. Jumping into cold water. I didn’t know what to exactly expect. I did want to figure out the next steps in my personal development, but interestingly – with hindsight – I didn’t have a concrete question in my mind. I was however very curious and … I like surprises.
The Arc: Hahahha! Yes, this makes a lot of sense! So what have you taken away?
Carla: I practiced to be open with myself, to communicate my emotions, to show myself. I know that if I don’t show myself and if I keep hiding, I will just end up alone behind that mask. This applies to both my team leadership skills, but also – and maybe especially – to my private connections. I have a feeling that this experience provided a safe framework to explore myself, and what I want. At Step Into Action showing myself brought us closer together as a team. At the end of the day, we probably will be more impactful. Especially if I manage to bring that spirit to the volunteer teams and their training.
At Step Into Action showing myself brought us closer together as a team. At the end of the day, we probably will be more impactful. Especially if I manage to bring that spirit to the volunteer teams and their training.
The Arc: Ok, so last but not least! 30 seconds! Who do you dare to be and which impact do you wanna stand for?
Carla: I would say I dare to be a leader, as I struggle with calling myself that. A leader that inspires and empowers the people around me to explore and develop their potential. And to trust themselves and the process. Right now, I’m really focused on connectedness and kindness so I would love love love to bring more of it to the world. I believe in the potential and the power of people feeling more connected. And Step Into Action is definitely one way to accomplish this.